VB Chandrasekhar: Cricket devotee, talent spotter
Chandrasekhar, who died on Thursday at 57, played only seven ODIs for India but his contribution off the field was immeasurable.
He would pop his head in at the press box door, cheeky smile at the ready, crack a joke that was always funny, occasionally risqué and be gone before the laughter settled down.
VB Chandrasekhar, the former Tamil Nadu and India batsman, who died yesterday (Thursday, August 15) aged 57 at his Mylapore residence in Chennai, was a popular figure around the traps in cricket. To hear he was gone of a cardiac arrest was heartbreaking and when the police later insisted it was suicide, it was soul-killing.
At his best as a player, VB, as he was and will always be known, was so attacking that he put his opening partner, Krishnamachary Srikkanth in the shade. When Tamil Nadu won only their second Ranji Trophy title in 1987-88 season, VB made 160 in the quarter-final against Uttar Pradesh, and 89 in the final against Railways.
His finest cricketing hour came in the Irani Trophy soon after when he cracked a 56-ball century against Rest of India. This was the fastest first-class century on Indian soil, but more vitally it came when Tamil Nadu were chasing an improbable 340 in the final innings, with time at a premium.
On the back of this, VB played seven times for India in ODIs for returns disproportionate to his ability, making a best score of 53.
After cricket though, he blossomed, as coach and talent spotter. VB was integral in bringing a teenager by the name of Rahul Dravid to play for India Cements in Tamil Nadu’s first-division league. The youngster stayed in VB’s home while he learned the ropes. Dravid, who was still processing the death of a gentleman, was mind-numbed, and in some ways shattered when he got the news.
When the Indian Premier League (IPL) was launched and franchises were years away from figuring out what might work, VB raised the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) paddle at the inaugural auction to bid $1.5 million for Mahendra Singh Dhoni. No punter in the world, at any odds, would have laid down a rupee on a Jharkhandi becoming the crux of the only IPL team that has maintained its core through thick and thin.
When Indian cricket transitioned from John Wright to Greg Chappell, in the troubled times when nobody knew what to do with Sourav Ganguly, VB was part of the national selection committee that belled the cat, or the Bengal Tiger, in this case. VB only played seven ODIs but he preserved the stature of the post he occupied.
In death we sometimes remember people differently, but let it not be so with VB.
Here lies a man who wanted for nothing and drove his father’s Mercedes Benz to Ranji matches he played in — back in the day in Madras (not Chennai) — not out of arrogance but because that was his mode of transport.
Here lies a man who started a residential cricket academy in Chennai that gave many young cricketers their first taste of real cricket — not because he wanted to make a buck — but because he genuinely believed he had an eye for talent.
Here lies a man who caught the ear with his urbane and yet tongue-in-cheek commentary, who put his hand in his own pocket to give talent a leg up — and yet allegedly killed himself because he was hounded by creditors — and this cannot be the whole story.
VB, who recited the Sandhyavandanam (a religious ritual) all his life, who doted on his two daughters who are now carnatic vocalists, whose wife describes his devotion to cricket as akin to Hanuman’s servitude to his Lord Rama, could not have taken this extreme step over a mere debt, however pressing.
Cricket is obsessed with statistics, but there is one it should not be proud of. In 1991, David Frith wrote the book “By His Own Hand”, enumerating the suicides the game had engendered. It was updated in 2011, titled: “Silence of the Heart.”
You may dispute the numbers and deride the findings, but please find another sport that has a book dedicated purely to its practitioners who took their own lives.
The man who wrote the preface to Frith’s first book, later wrote in a review: “Be gentle with yourselves, my friends, and do not expect more of life than it can give.” The writer was Peter Roebuck, the cricketer whose life ended when he threw himself out of a sixth-floor window in a Cape Town hotel.
When VB popped his head into a room, he left us in splits, but in his leaving, all that’s left are tears.