Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 1, April 16-30, 2022
The sad news of the death of “Alley” R Sridhar on 6th April left me benumbed, for the left handed architect of many a stirring fightback of the Presidency College cricket team of the 1960s (and later the State Bank of India team) had been on my mind, and I had actually enquired of him just a few days earlier. Alley and I had been teammates at college and had played under each other’s captaincy at different times. I had a fairly successful cricket career, but it might never have taken off but for Alley’s timely intervention one afternoon in 1964. We were both first year undergraduate students at Presidency College, running into each other there, after we first met at net practice organised at Vivekananda College the previous summer by Ram Ramesh, another benefactor to whom I owed a similar debt.
That fateful afternoon was the first day of trials to select the Presidency College cricket team. I had not made the grade the previous year during my Pre-University Course at Vivekananda College, and anticipating a similar experience again, I had decided against attending the trials. Alley said to me, ”See you at the selection this evening.” He would not take ‘no’ for an answer, and because I lived in distant Shastrinagar, went to his Royapettah residence on his scooter and brought me a pair of keds and other gear. He practically dragged me to the nets, and made sure the selectors had a look at me. Also present in an extra-constitutional capacity, Ram Ramesh, probably feeling guilty he had, as captain, overlooked me in the Viveka selection trials earlier, managed to browbeat his friends, the Presidency captain and vice-captain to include me in the team.
Alley and I played together for the college for the next three years, when I came to appreciate his talent and strategic nous. It was his tactical acumen as a captain that enabled us to beat College of Engineering Guindy for the first time in the 1966-67 season after unsuccessful attempts in multiple tournaments before that. CEG was the strongest outfit in the city then, and we defeated them in the Jain College Gold Cup that year, only after Test cricketer S Venkataraghavan had graduated. Alley made some runs in the game, besides claiming a couple of wickets and fielding brilliantly, but he also rang some bowling changes and exerted psychological pressure on the batsmen with some canny field placements.
Sridhar was not your standard, “naturally graceful left hander,” but made up for style with plenty of spunk and a range of attacking shots. He punched way above his weight. The stronger the opposition, the more stubborn and aggressive he became. He hit the ball hard, harder than most batsmen of his era. He was the perfect man for a crisis, as a batsman and as a partnership breaker. He never forgave me for saying, “I don’t want to experiment,” when he once offered to bowl against a rampaging AG Satvinder Singh at the Pachaiyappa’s College. He was absolutely right in feeling peeved with me. His fielding and catching could be spectacular, while he used to hit the stumps with his throws with almost Jadeja-like regularity.
Alley was an idiosyncratic cricketer with some unique habits over and above the usual fetishes of putting on the left pad first, wearing a kerchief round his neck, and repeating favourite shirts. Whenever the twelfth man brought something like a change of bat or gloves during his innings, he used to insist that he drop it on the ground rather than hand it over to Alley. “Keezhe podu, keezhe pottudu,” he would admonish. He was also a great buttermilk drinker who gave much business to the Udupi restaurants of Triplicane towards the cost of the beverage. I learnt recently that in addition to calling him by the moniker Alley, his friends in State Bank acknowledged his contribution to the buttermilk industry by also calling him More Sridhar.
Though I knew Sridhar for nearly five decades, I never once asked him or figured out the reason why he was called Alley. It was his wife Usha who clarified to me the other day that he was named after Bill Alley, the English cricketer turned umpire. And I did notice a certain resemblance to Sridhar in a photograph of the original Alley.
Besides cricket, Sridhar was an all round sportsman, good at tennis and snooker.
It was comforting to know that Alley did not suffer, just gradually faded away. He is survived by wife Usha – who went to Presidency College during our time – and daughters Nirupama and Nivedita.