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Vol. XXXI No. 11, September 16-30, 2021

Five prominent sports writers from the City

by Partab Ramchand

As one who has closely followed the sports pages of the newspapers in the city first as a young sports lover and then as a professional sports writer, it has been my good fortune to be influenced by many outstanding seniors in the field. Chennai has produced some of the finest sports writers in the country who have graced the pages of newspapers and magazines through writing that is both colourful and the knowledgeable.

The first name that comes to mind is S.K. Gurunathan. For almost a decade from 1958 up to his death in 1966 he was the sports editor of The Hindu. By then he had earned an exalted status as one of the leading cricket writers in the country. Not for him the frills and hype associated with today’s sports writing for he was a serious writer who focused on the facts and presented them to the reader in impeccable English.

SKG, or Guru as he was popularly known to his colleagues, was the founder editor of Indian Cricket, an almanac based on Wisden from 1947 to 1965. He was also the Indian correspondent for Wisden. In days when touring abroad was almost unheard of, Gurunathan covered the Indian team’s tour of England in 1952 and also went to Pakistan to cover the 1954-55 tour. A traditionalist and a stickler for detail, Gurunathan’s copies were eagerly looked forward to every morning in the days of the radio. The sincere tributes paid when he died underlined the stature he commanded among the cricket fraternity in India and abroad.

P.N. Sundaresan succeeded Gurunathan both as cricket correspondent of The Hindu and as editor of Indian Cricket. Popularly known as Raja, Sundaresan freely acknowledged his predecessor as his guru even as he stepped into his big shoes. A sober and knowledgeable writer, he too specialised in cricket through he wrote felicitously on tennis and hockey. Sundaresan also succeeded Gurunathan as Indian correspondent for Wisden. Personally speaking, Sundaresan will always a special place in my life for it was he who brought me into the profession in 1968.

Sundaresan retired from The Hindu in 1974 but continued writing on a freelance basis for Sportsweek magazine, writing a couple of books and bringing out various publications on behalf of the BCCI. Sundaresan passed away in 1994 and among the many who came over to his house off Kasturi Ranga road to pay their respects was M.J. Gopalan, then well into his 80s and walking with the help of a stick. Such was the respect Sundaresan enjoyed from the sports fraternity.

N.S. Ramaswami, a contemporary of Gurunathan and Sundaresan, was a writer of a very different kind. He came straight out of the Neville Cardus school and adopted the nom de plume “The Cardusian” when penning his column “In the pavilion” for The Indian Express in the 60s. It made for delightful reading. He would describe the happenings of a nondescript third division or fourth division league match while sitting under a tree at the Marina or Vivekananda College. A scholarly writer who specialised in literary descriptions of players and events, NSR, as he was popularly known, was also a keen student of history and archaeology. He was perhaps at his happiest describing places associated with the Indus Valley Civilization while covering the Indian team’s tour of Pakistan in 1978.

Cricket-wise nothing pleased NSR more than the aesthetics of the game. Who can forget his masterly description of Gundappa Viswanath’s immortal 97 not out against the West Indies at Chepauk in 1975? NSR also worked for The Hindu and post retirement wrote match reports for news agencies. He passed away in 1987.

Another outstanding sports writer in the city from around the same time was T. Govindarajan of The Hindu, who was known to young and old simply as TG. Few writers could be as vividly descriptive in their match reports as TG; one could really picture the action as it happened in his writings. He wrote effortlessly on all sports but specialised in tennis and football. He was particularly pleased when Neale Fraser, the Australian captain during the Davis Cup tie against India at Bangalore in 1970, took copies of the newspaper along with him saying that the reports were some of the best he had read.

TG will always have a special place in my heart for he was my writing hero. I loved his style complete with the apt phrase and faultless English. As a rookie reporter, I tried to ape his style, but was unsuccessful in my attempt. He advised me to develop my own style adding that he should be taken “not as an example but as a warning” given his general cavalier approach to the profession. TG retired in 1989 and hardly wrote on sports thereafter. His death in a road accident in 1998 came as a big shock to the sporting fraternity in the city while for me it was a great personal loss.

And finally how can one forget J.C. Jacob? He was the sports editor of The Mail, a city evening daily that was around for well over 100 years before it folded up in 1982. Jacob’s English was exemplary, his knowledge of various sports profound and he wielded a facile pen. He could write with authority on a number of sports and the best tribute I can pay him is to say that I used to read his columns regularly no matter on which sport it was written. For example my knowledge of horse racing is next to nil but when Jacob wrote a comment piece on events at Guindy I was an avid reader. I found his style easy to follow. He stuck to the basics, never indulged in hyperbole and the phrases followed in a neat context. For balanced judgment on sporting events JC had few equals.

Fortunately even during his active days at The Mail, Jacob had been the sports correspondent for The Times of India and he reported for that newspaper almost till his last days. Shortly after I joined the profession, a senior colleague told me that K.N. Prabhu, the then sports editor of The Times of Bombay, had given instructions to the news desk that not even a word of Jacob’s copy was to be edited. Such was the respect that Prabhu – himself a doyen among sports writers – had for Jacob who started his career in journalism in 1937. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 89.

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