The Cricket Cables

Even SMSes are passé now,as the cricket world has taken to Twitter with a vengeance and a Test debutant is more likely to learn of his selection on micro-blogging websites and TV channels than wait for a postman to deliver an official announcement on a letterhead. But in an age gone by,those wonderful call-ups came via telegram,the service that is being terminated next month. This dash-dot world of communication also accidentally led to the coining of the ‘Bodyline’ term. The Sunday Express looks back at those times when telegrams brought players on tour news of childbirths and congratulatory message from Raj Kapoor.

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi | Published:June 23, 2013 4:07 am

Bishan Singh Bedi

The telegram gave the cricket world the word,‘Bodyline’. During the 1932-33 Ashes series Down Under,a journalist had written in his dispatch that Douglas Jardine’s England were trying to hit the Australians with ‘body-line bowling’. He,however,had to cut short a few words because the wire was costly and edited it down to ‘..BODYLINE..’

As regard to telegrams I have received,I can still remember the one I got from Mrs Indira Gandhi after we won a Test match for the first time in Australia in 1977-78. Australia were not at their full strength in that series. But they still had Jeff Thomson. We lost the first two Tests and the third at Melbourne turned out to be a make-or-break affair in the four-Test series. We won it by 222 runs. Mrs Gandhi was not in power then but she had wired her message and it meant a lot. She had always been a keen follower of Indian cricket.

G R Viswanath

My fondest memory of the telegram is the one I got from film star Raj Kapoor. It was after I scored the hundred on my Test debut against Australia at Kanpur in 1969. It came as a very pleasant surprise. Now,Chandra (Bhagwat Chandrashekar) was a huge Raj Kapoor and Mukesh fan and he intercepted the telegram. We were great friends and Chandra told me he would rather keep it. “I’m a veteran of two Test matches but I didn’t get it from my hero and you are playing your first match and got it!” Chandra said jokingly. Eventually,after a lot of persuasion,he handed it back to me. In the end,we both had a hearty laugh.

Anshuman Gaekwad

I remember two telegrams I received and they resulted in contrasting emotions. The first one was sent by Ghulam Ahmed,the BCCI secretary based in Hyderabad,to inform me that I was selected in the Test team for the first time to play the West Indies in Kolkata. Those days spelling errors were common in a telegram,so I read it twice to doubly check the fact that it was indeed me selected in the Test team.

On another occasion,I was to captain the Rest of India side versus Mumbai in an Irani tie at Nagpur. As I was leaving from New Delhi,I received a telegram that my grandmother had passed away. I had to change my travel plans and missed that particular game. Kapil Dev stood in for me as skipper. He also became the front-runner to lead India from then and I missed out on an opportunity to lead the country.

Erapalli Prasanna

My first call-up to the Indian team came through a telegram. It was 1960-61 and I was asked to join the squad in Calcutta as a reserve fielder. I knew I was not going to play. Still it was a big moment. We used to travel by train during those days. But the telegram from the BCCI came a little late. Actually,I don’t remember who got injured and I was asked to come in as cover for him. However,after almost a 48-hour-long train journey,I managed to reach Calcutta before the start of the Test match. Most of the communications from the BCCI were done through telegrams during those days. The decision to do away with the service has made people like me nostalgic.

Narendra Hirwani

My association with the telegram dates back to when I was a small boy in Gorakhpur. Out there and in those times,if anybody received a telegram,then it was presumed that someone had died,and there were instances when people would start crying even before the telegram was opened. But for me it came in handy when I came to Indore. As I was staying alone in a rented apartment I would often send a telegram back home,asking for money. It used to cost Rs 7 for some few words.

I used to borrow money sometimes but people tend to hesitate when lending. But when I would tell them,‘telegram bhejna hai’ they would readily part with the money. The only thing I would send is “Paise khatam ho gaye”,‘NO MONEY. PLEASE SEND.’ And my family would immediately dispatch Rs 450.

Mohinder Amarnath

I remember the day after I was hit on the head in Barbados and had to retire hurt (on 18) for stitches and still batted on (scoring 80) against Michael Holding during the Bridgetown Test on India’s tour of the West Indies in 1982-83. I got a message the next day from my father (Lala Amarnath) in a telegram saying ‘I M PROUD OF YOU MY SON’. Those were encouraging words from my father.

I would always wait for a telegram because during those days whenever you were selected to play,the news would come via a telegram. And I got quite a few of those because of my comebacks!

There was no TV and no instant news then. My association with telegrams started at the age of 14. I studied in a boarding school so whenever my father or family wanted to visit me they would telegram me. Even later,I myself sent telegrams. But one thing which I have noticed is that all good news by telegram would come in the day-time,while evenings were reserved for sad or serious news.

Venkatapathy Raju

In 1991,after we won the Test against Sri Lanka in Chandigarh,I was flooded with telegrams. More than a hundred came from a village in Andhra Pradesh called Alamuru. Actually,that is my native place.

It had just one post office and no television sets. People came to know about my first five-wicket haul through newspapers and radio,and I was told some of the villagers waited in a queue for three-four hours to send me a congratulatory message. Facilities were so poor that I had to move from Alamuru to Hyderabad.

Syed Kirmani

I got more than 250 telegrams after we won the 1983 World Cup. Some of them came from the United States and Saudi Arabia. I went through each one of them. Getting a wire cable was expected from relatives and friends who would be eager to congratulate the team. But what surprised me was that a lot of the telegrams came from fans who lived in places where cricket was never very popular. The fans didn’t know my address and sent them to the Karnataka State Cricket Association office.

Madhav Apte

I received a telegram when I scored my first hundred against the West Indies at Port of Spain in 1953. Getting a congratulatory message from back home refreshes you.

Another incident was on India’s 1952 tour to England. Vinoo Mankad was not picked for the Indian team but after India’s poor performance in Leeds,CK Nayudu wanted Mankad to be part of the team in the second Test. But Vinoo wanted some assurance from Nayudu so he made the Indian board send him a telegram,which used to be called a cable then,to Haslinden Cricket Club (Lancashire) where Mankad was playing.

The BCCI informed them that they wanted him only for those Test match days and that he would be returned to the club soon after. After the cable reached,Mankad was allowed to join the Indian team.

I had my family business so if they wanted to communicate with me on that,there would be a code word for every message. If they wanted to send me something regarding the sugar industry,then the message used to be a rising star and if it was for textile,then it used to be OUDARYA which means generosity.

Dilip Vengsarkar

While abroad we received many congratulatory messages after we did well. Be it after my performance in England or winning the Asia Cup,telegrams always brought messages of joy for me.

However,the one message which I remember till date is the Podar College principal telegramming me in 1978. I was in Pakistan at that time and I received a message from my college stating CONGRATULATIONS MR DILIP VENGSARKAR FOR COMPLETING YOUR GRADUATION. It was really a big moment for me because as a cricketer I had achieved what I wanted to,but at the same time I managed to complete my graduation.

Milind Rege

There was this former Mumbai speedster,the late Nitin Shirodkar (father of former Miss India Namrata Shirodkar and Bollywood actress Shilpa Shirodkar) who played in our side. We used to play tournaments across India. We noticed that whenever Nitin received telegrams from home,he wouldn’t take them seriously. Finally one day we asked him if everything was fine because he had received and ignored yet another telegram. With a straight face,he answered,“It can’t be my wife’s telegram because this is not her handwriting.”

Farokh Engineer

India was playing England in 1967 and on the morning of the Lord’s Test,the team was meeting the Queen in the legendary Long Room. My mind,though,was in Mumbai because my then wife was pregnant. She was due at that time,so I was clearly distracted.

While the formal introductions were being carried out,I noticed from the corner of my eye that a messenger had handed over an envelope to Billy Griffith of the Marylebone Cricket Club.

Griffith in turn handed it to one of the aides of the Queen. After reading the contents the telegram,the Queen turned to me and said,“Congratulations,Mr Engineer,you have become a father.” When I asked her if it was a boy or a girl,the Queen asked me what I had wished for. I said “a girl”. And the Queen said,“Your wish has been granted.”

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