Last Thursday was one of the saddest days in the history of Tamil Nadu cricket.
Chandrasekhar, simply ‘VB' to all, was one of its most popular characters and he decided to end his life that day. He was a friend to many and he gave back liberally to the game in setting up his academy on a pretty ground near Kelambakkam. He was liberal with his time too for the game, as selector, commentator and team official with Chennai super Kings.
As with many former cricketers, ‘VB’ wore many hats. He went a step further than his Tamil Nadu colleagues by owning a team in the TNPL. This may have brought his downfall in some way. There was some chatter from the netherworld, but that was only to be expected when one so prominent decides to go. We will never know what dark fears or foreboding led him to take the most drastic step anyone can in his lifetime.
Cricket is a strange game. It was often compared to a perfumed harlot by Peter Roebuck, probably the preeminent cricket writer of modern days. He thought the game was a bewitching mistress who was most capricious in the favours she would bestow - good fortune in one instant only to snatch it away in the next. As irony would have it, Roebuck flung himself from a height in a moment of brain fade to take his own life.
The historian David Frith wrote a whole book about the number of suicides among cricketers and proved how the game was particularly harsh on the minds of so many that they had to end it before the full stop of their natural time on earth could arrive. The cricket suicide rate is probably not as high as those we see every year among students, riddled with anxiety over exam results, or even petrified at the very thought of faring badly in tests. But it is far too high when compared to other sports.
Ironically, Roebuck himself believed that the suicide rate among spinners, particularly of the left arm variety, was higher. He might have said that in jest. But he too became a victim of the cricketer syndrome when a challenge came to him in the form of a sexual assault charge. It went to show how cricket sometimes becomes a metaphor for life and death, although the game as a symbol of fair play is eternally enshrined in the censorious “It’s not cricket,”line which has come to be a moral template for fair play, although observed in the breach on occasion.
Cricket was not always fair to VB when he was a player. He was not in contention long enough even after that blistering knock in the Irani Cup match fourth innings that so many of us remember so vividly. My personal sadness at his passing was, perhaps, more because I had had a small role to play in his making it to the New Zealand tour party in 1990. The selectors were divided on picking VB or Robin Singh and the then chairman of selectors, Raj Singh Dungarpur, left it to me to split the tie.
Having been given the difficult selection choice to make, I mulled over it for a couple of hours before picking VB as his attacking cricket was dear to my heart. As luck would have it, he had less of a chance to shine on those damp wickets and the swinging and seaming ball propelled by the likes of Danny Morrison of
New Zealand and the quicks of Australia in a tri-series. Had he got more chances to play in Indian conditions, it was far more likely he would have tried to replicate the natural aggressiveness of his Irani Cup showing.
Off the field, VB was a major hit. He struck up a great friendship with Bishan Bedi, the two conversationalists trading wit and repartee right through even on what was a disastrous tour for India under the new captain M. Azharuddin. The coach and the swashbuckling opener were always sparring with words, which might have helped them keep their mood up on a tour on which Bedi had threatened to throw the Indian batsmen into the Pacific Ocean after they collapsed against Sir Richard Hadlee in the first Test.
It is sad then that such a wonderful person who got along well with everyone should have been driven by circumstances into such a corner that he should take his own life. No one had ever had a bad word to say about VB. While speculation will always swirl around his passing, it would be in the fitness of things if we could remember him fondly for the things he achieved and for his willingness to help young cricketers....