For four hours on Saturday (August 17) evening, the M Chinnaswamy Stadium rang out with laughter and applause as the Karnataka State Cricket Association's Platinum Jubilee celebrations reached a crescendo. The rain that has poured down on Bangalore for the last few days stayed away long enough for a galaxy of cricket stars, past and present, to be drenched only in nostalgia and appreciation.
The evening, in which close to 2200 people took their seats, in the stands and under a marquee, on the outfield of the famous ground, was underpinned by camaraderie and genuine affection. One moment, Sourav Ganguly was helping BS Chandrasekhar up the stairs on to the stage, and at another, Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar were in warm embrace. One moment, Rahul Dravid was in conversation with Gundappa Viswanath and at another, Bishan Singh Bedi was sharing a joke with Erapalli Prasanna.
The format of the programme was one that kept cricket at the forefront, with several generations of cricketers, administrators, scorers, statisticians and umpires taking centrestage to receive awards for their contribution to the game. The procession was interrupted most pleasantly by on-stage discussions, the first of which involved the chief guest of the evening, Sir Richard Hadlee, arguably the greatest seam bowler ever to play the game, talking about the nuances of his art with Javagal Srinath, Roger Binny and Venkatesh Prasad.
"I had been out of the game for about six months with a calf injury before I came to play my first Test at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in 1988. I was stuck on 373 wickets and back home I had visualised getting Kris Srikkanth out to take the record," recalled Hadlee, who went past Ian Botham's record. "All along, I had visualised Srikkanth in a blue helmet, but when he came out to bat in a white helmet, it put me off. At the other end was Arun Lal, who I had not bowled to before, so it was a bit of a nervy start for me. Ian Smith, the wicketkeeper, told me to pitch the ball up and in the 14th ball I did that and Lal obligingly edged to gully."
Srinath spoke of his first match for Karnataka and how Binny's calming influence made a difference. "The first few balls I bowled were off target and going down leg. Roger was right there but he did not once say a harsh word to me," said Srinath. "He just encouraged me. I then settled down and managed to get my line and length right."
Binny revealed that this was a legacy of Karnataka cricket. "When I made my debut, there were six Test cricketers in the dressing-room. I was very nervous, shattered even, and I was really tense," he said. "But every member of the team made me feel at home, spoke to me and made me feel a part of the team. That was something I wanted to pass on when the right time came."
The second tete-a-tete of the evening was set rolling by V Subramanya, widely considered to be Karnataka's most inspirational captain, showing a typically self-effacing nature. "One of the best things about that period was the top players we had. When you have high-quality players in your team, that is half the job done," said Subramanya, who made the trip from Brisbane to be a part of the celebrations. "We had a young side with great spirit, and then, when we started winning, we built on that and moved forward. Of course, it helped that we always had the support of good crowds when we played at home."
On the panel with Subramanya was Tendulkar, who highlighted the role of selectors. "Selection is about having the right kind of vision. If it was just about picking the batsmen who had made the most runs and slotting them in from one to six, you would not need selectors," said Tendulkar. "What selectors look for is whether a certain player has the ability to execute on the talent in him. We have seen so many examples of players who are exceptional in domestic cricket but don't make a successful transition to international cricket. You have to have the basics in place, especially in Tests, to a lesser extent in ODIs ... and in T20, well, you have to just go out there and play shots."
Dravid, for his part, stressed on the need to encourage individuality. "Every player has his own strengths and skills. These unique skill sets should be developed to the fullest," he pointed out. "You have to keep improving all the time, and try to innovate, but that has to be within the boundaries of your strengths. If I tried to play like Viru (Sehwag) or he tried to play like me, it would not have worked."
In between the cricket chats, there was room for music, and dance. The Raghu Dixit Project belted out their unique brand of music, effortlessly switching between the soulful lyrics of the saint poet Shishunala Sharif and a popular Sandalwood hit from the unusually named film 'Psycho'.
The final discussion of the evening had four magical spinners, Bedi, Prasanna, Chandra and Kumble on stage. Bedi, who is never shy to offer an opinion, trained his sights on the Decision Review System. "The genie is out of the bottle now and the bloody thing won't go back in," he said on the use of technology in cricket. "We have to live with it and things will get better with time. You have to consider, though, that modern cricketers can make things better by being honest. This will help eradicate errors."
The unbelievable rise of Chandra was best spelt out in his own words. "I was playing street cricket with my friends when someone from City Cricketers asked me to come and turn out for the club. I got wickets and within three or four months I was playing for India," he informed the crowd. "I was incredibly lucky with the kind of captains I had. I was a different kind of bowler so it was important that I had a captain who understood me. At Karnataka there was the great Subramanya, at South Zone, a master reader of the game in ML Jaisimha, and at India Tiger Pataudi."
Kumble spoke of the legacy of spin that he had to uphold. "To be honest, it was a tough legacy to take forward. It was always a challenge knowing that I had to live up not only to my own expectations, but also to the inevitable comparisons that people would make," said Kumble. "The advantage I had was that I came to the Chinnaswamy Stadium as a 15-year-old for a coaching camp, Chandra was in charge. One of the first things he did was to lengthen my run-up and this helped me through my career."
From Karnataka's finest to those who had led India, it was an evening to remember. Each of the individuals present would have left the venue feeling a buzz - being touched by a sense of history, feeling a part of a great occasion and being feted by the large family that is the cricket fraternity.