Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 5, June 16-30, 2019
There has been terrible news recently for cricket followers. Popular Tamil Nadu coach P.K. Dharmalingam, former Karnataka all-rounder V.S. Vijayakumar and young cricket writer Siddhanta Patnaik, have all left us almost at the same time. Two of these, Dharma and Vijay, were good friends of mine. An aggressive opening batsman and new ball bowler, Vijayakumar was replaced in the Karnataka team by Roger Binny who went on to represent India with some distinction. With Dharmalingam, I had a long and happy association, first as a young admirer of his all-round skills, and later as a colleague, when he came to coach the TVS and Alwarpet CC cricket teams of which I was a senior member. We were often roommates on our cricket tours, usually within Tamil Nadu, and I found him a pleasant, considerate companion, neat and clean in the way he kept the room and his personal belongings. He was a soft spoken man with a keen interest in the game of cricket, wherever it was played.
I first met Dharma in the 1960s, when he was playing for Indian Air Force, Tambaram in the Chennai league. A short service commission recruit in the forces, he was a successful all rounder for the Services XI in the Ranji Trophy, leading to his eventual selection for a place in the North Zone squad in the Duleep Trophy. His exploits in the league and in first class cricket were quite sensational, and he regularly hit the headlines with several good bowling performances and dazzling innings. So it was that when I first met him at a mutual friend’s wedding reception one evening, I was completely taken aback by his slim, compact physique of medium height and his gentle demeanour and ready smile, for I had expected a tough, towering airforceman.
Dharma then took a special release from the armed forces and returned to his home state, joining India Cements at Sankarnagar, Tirunelveli, and playing for Jolly Rovers CC in the Madras league as a key member of a champion outfit. His nicely controlled, flighted legspin was a useful aspect of his game, his batting was positive and attacking, and his fielding and throwing were a sight for sore eyes.
It was as a coach that Dharma made a valuable contribution to cricket. An NIS (National Institute of Sports) accredited coach, he made a mark as a Tamil Nadu state coach at numerous levels. He also assisted the chief coach at the international level, during Test matches and conditioning camps. A great friend and well-wisher, he certainly was, but he unwittingly knocked me out of contention during one of these camps when a flat catch at express speed from his bat at fielding practice dislocated my finger.
Dharma also conducted his own private coaching programmes, mainly for schoolboy cricketers, generally at the Sishya School ground at Adyar. Hundreds of his wards went on to play excellent cricket at the league, state and even national levels. Some of them like W.V. Raman and L. Sivaramakrishnan, he coached at Grand Prix CC, in the 1980s, eventually coming over to TVS group-backed Alwarpet CC, where, along with my hugely talented teammates, I experienced the pleasure of his company, quiet encouragement, and strict discipline. We went on to win a few titles including the prestigious Hindu Trophy and MCC Dyanora Cup.
Dharma’s outstanding achievement as a coach was perhaps his work with women’s cricket as arguably the first leading cricketer in India to don that role. Many Indian women cricketers owe their success to his mentorship.
Dharmalingam had a few health issues in the last decade of his life, but his was an invariably cheerful presence at every cricket get-together of that period. He will be sorely missed.