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Vol. XXXII No. 2, May 1-15, 2022

Sankar and Sport

“You must dedicate the last page of MM to sports,” was an oft-repeated dictum of N Sankar’s. In fact that was probably the only editorial aspect that he ever expressed an opinion on. We therefore dedicate this last page to his involvement in sport. – Editor

The Sanmar family has been instrumental in developing domestic cricket for the past five decades. The Sanmar Group has been a serious champion of sport, one of the few Indian corporate houses to offer sustained patronage. The avid interest shown by the founders – K.S. Narayanan, Chairman Emeritus, N. Sankar, Chairman, N. Kumar, Vice Chairman, and Vijay Sankar, Deputy Chairman, has played a major role in the success of the two cricket teams managed by The Sanmar Group – Jolly Rovers (since 1966) and Alwarpet Cricket Club (since 2000).

The sporting spirit owes much of its prevalence in Sanmar to K.S. Narayanan.
Both Sankar and Kumar became tennis enthusiasts, being coached in the game by T.K. Ramanathan, the father of R. Krishnan. Undaunted by polio with afflicted him when he was 17 or so, Sankar continued to play the game for as long as he was able. He went on to become the president of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA). “The way I got involved with this body is quite interesting,” begins Sankar. “I got an invite from MAM Ramaswamy to have tea with him at Chettinad Palace. I went to find several other tennis enthusiasts present. A sumptuous tea was served and at the end of it I found I was the President. The TNTA needed money – it was in the red to the tune of a few lakhs. I hit upon the idea of asking Rs 10,000 from various corporate houses that were headed by tennis enthusiasts. I appealed to them to help this way for five years. I was however not promising anything in return other than the guarantee that the city would see some good tennis. We went about with the begging bowl. Support came and we turned the corner.”

During his tenure, tennis activity in the city took a distinct upturn. Several tournaments were run. The City League was revitalised, and prize money was introduced. Sanmar was the first sponsor, and continued to sponsor the TNTA City League for over 25 years. The League is now one of the most popular and well-run in the Indian Metros.

It was Sankar’s dream that top-ranking tennis players come back to play in Chennai, just as they had in the 50s and 60s when the National Hard Courts Tournaments and Davis Cup matches took place in the city. In 1992, this became a reality when the TNTA conducted a national level tournament styled ‘The Indian Bank Classic,’ with participation from the current top Indian players like Leander Paes, Ramesh Krishnan and others. Sankar was President of TNTA for two terms, totaling eight years.

Sankar with Kapil Dev when the latter was made honorary member of the MCC.

Sankar was also President of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association but it was his father, KSN, who steered India Cements towards nurturing a team, thereby making it one of the very first indigenous corporate entities of India to do so. In 1966, the company became the patron of Jolly Rovers, a first division cricket team of Madras. In 1977/1978, N. Sankar took control of Jolly Rovers. The team was strengthened by strategically picking players, assigning them to appropriate roles in Sanmar and ensuring the best by way of coaching, training, counselling and monitoring was made available. The bringing in of star cricketer Bharath Reddy made a big difference.

Serious, focused interest in the teams’ performance was led from the top with N. Sankar turning out at many matches and making his notes. Cricket was taken so seriously by the Group that it has a department of 75 people working on it!

Sanmar had attempted to sponsor different grounds like the University Union Ground and then the facility belonging to the Vivekananda College, but they didn’t last too long. However in 1995 Sanmar signed a deal with IIT-Madras. The IIT Sanmar Ground, was declared open by the cricketing legend Neil Harvey. All staff, with respect to this ground, is paid by Chemplast. There are 10 employees, with a Supervisor, who are available at the ground round the clock. The Indian Team practised in this ground for the 2011 World Cup.

2016 marked 50 years of one family being involved with a single team and this was a matter of pride both for Chemplast and Jolly Rovers. The celebrations saw the release of a book on Jolly Rovers, written by V. Ramnarayan, a first class cricketer himself with a long association with Sanmar. The Group had earlier sponsored Mosquitoes and Other Jolly Rovers, the story of Tamil Nadu cricket, a book by the same author.

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