DateLine: 23rd June 2006
It was Budhisagar Krishnappa Kunderan who started the trend of swashbuckling Indian wicket keeper batsmen a tradition that Mahender Singh Dhoni has carried on to this day. Before he burst upon the scene so dramatically in January 1960 Indian wicket keepers had a dour image. They were competent behind the stumps but added little by way of substance or entertainment in front of them.
Given the big break by selection committee chairman Lala Amarnath when only 20 Kunderan took little time in exhibiting his buccaneering exploits with the bat and in only his second Test hammered Alan Davidson and Ian Meckiff to all parts of the ground while top scoring with 71 in a total of 149. The Richie Benaud led Australians were flabbergasted by this young batsman who was treating the attack in cavalier fashion and it was amply driven home that India had discovered an immensely gifted player whose approach was refreshingly different from the dour image of the Indian batsman.
It did not matter to Kunderan that very soon there appeared on the Indian cricket horizon another young player who adopted a similar attitude. For the rest of the decade he and Farokh Engineer played a game of musical chairs as far as selection of stumper was concerned. Both batted at a nifty rate, took outrageous risks and could also open the batting but Engineer was probably marginally the better keeper and this meant that Kunderan really had competition. Thriving on this he took pains to improve his performance behind the stumps and in the first Test against England at Bombay in 1961-62 he brought off five dismissals in the first innings – an Indian record.
As far as batting was concerned Kunderan was Engineer’s equal both in skill and entertainment value. This is best reflected in figures for his career average is 32.70 compared to Engineer’s 31.08. Both had two centuries but whereas Kunderan played only 18 Tests Engineer figured in 46.
Kunderan’s two hundreds were made in one magical series – against England in 1963-64 when he became the first wicket keeper in Test history to top the 500-run mark in a series. The first of the hundreds had a storybook touch for Engineer was originally selected in the eleven and not Kunderan. It was only an injury to the former that saw Kunderan scramble into the side and for sheer daredevilry his batting on the opening day of the first Test at Madras has had few equals. He brought off audacious and unorthodox strokes that left the fielders bewildered and the packed crowd howling with excitement. Out of the first day’s total of 277 for two Kunderan hammered 170 and carried on well into the second morning before he was out for 192 then the highest score by an Indian against England. His seven-hour tenure did not in any way seem to affect his concentration behind the stumps for he ended the match with six dismissals. For good measure he added another hundred in the fourth Test at New Delhi. When after all this he was not considered for the series against Australia a few months later he was disillusioned but in keeping with his never say die attitude he continued to fight it out and another typically swashbuckling knock was his 79 in an hour and a half at No 9 against Hall, Griffith, Sobers and Gibbs at Bombay in December 1966.
An enterprising batsman like Kunderan was however seen in a totally different role at Lord’s in 1967. A totally outclassed Indian team was facing defeat by an innings and plenty but there was Kunderan refusing to bow to the inevitable and defying the England attack for almost three hours before he was last out for 47 in a total of 110 just failing to carry his bat. The next Test however proved to be his last for in one of the shocking omissions he was not included in the team that toured Australia in 1967-68. In this game in the absence of regular new ball bowlers Kunderan even opened the bowling. As he recalled later in an interview ``when the captain asked me `what do you bowl’ I said `I don’t know.'''
A career that had promised much came to a rather melancholic end with a touch of controversy. The Mangalore-born Kunderan shifted from Railways to Karnataka (then Mysore) in the sixties and after a couple of more seasons with them retired in 1970. In an interview before migrating to Britain he had a few uncharitable things to say about the functioning of the Indian Cricket Board. He alleged that ``from association to Board level players are made to feel they exist at the mercy of the officials. Sirring is a must for players.’’ Needless to say his comments did not go well with the administrators and from then on he was in their black books. Kunderan was later to deeply regret the comments made at a time of stress brought about by his wife’s illness as he clarified. But the damage was done and he was not invited by the Board to attend the Golden Jubilee Test against England at Bombay in February 1980. He even sent a letter to the Board expressing an unreserved apology adding that he would have been proud and honoured to be alongside the other Indian cricketers who were invited for the special occasion.
All this unpleasantness however did not in any way curb his enthusiasm for the game and Kunderan played as a professional in the North Lancashire league before becoming a successful and popular pro in Scotland turning out for the odd game even when past the age of 40. Last year he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had since been on treatment. He passed away on Friday and is survived by his English wife and two sons.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 CricketArchive)