Cricket news - 'Didn't even touch my bat once I decided to retire'

Ramesh made an instant impression in 1999 - and went on to play 19 Tests for India.

Ramesh made an instant impression in 1999 - and went on to play 19 Tests for India.

That Sadagoppan Ramesh would end up playing only 19 Test matches for India remains as surprising to him as it was to many who followed his rapid rise through the ranks of Tamil Nadu cricket. At a time in 1999, when India sifted through Test openers, Ramesh emphatically checked an early box when he top-scored for India in his debut assignment - a hotly contested home series against a Pakistan team featuring Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq.

Despite regular aspersions over his footwork, Ramesh had two hundreds and a batting average of 56 after seven Tests. The Australians pushed that average back towards a more modest 40, and after the 2001 series in Sri Lanka, Ramesh was dropped and never played a Test again. He ploughed on in the first-class circuit for seven more years before deciding to pull the plug on his career - incidentally after scoring 97 & 101* in his last two first-class innings.

When did you decide that you were done?

I had moved to Assam and in the last game of the season, I got a 100. But I didn't decide anything as we finished that game. You come back home [to Chennai] and you see the consequences of your performances and if they are not in your favour, you tend to take a big call. Lot of people told me I could have played another 2-3 years. The thing is I had to be very truthful to myself about what I was doing. After Tamil Nadu, for two years I played for Kerala. In about 10 games I scored 800 runs [949 runs at 67.78] and I wasn't even picked for South Zone. Now I wasn't making even East Zone sides.

You were only 31 though and still in good nick like your numbers showed...

At some point you just lose motivation. What is the point? When you go and play for different states, you are taking that extra effort, you are staying away from the family through the domestic season... you are going to be away for 3-4 months and those things can be really demotivating unless there is a reward for your performances at the end of the tunnel. So that's what I thought. I'm not climbing up the ladder and I'm staying away from my daughter who was four years old and I was missing her badly. I took a call, I'd stay back in Chennai, maybe play some domestic leagues or whatever but not travel anywhere for serious cricket. Once you lose your zest to play, the best thing is at least you spend some quality time with your kids.

Can you just give up something you've done for nearly two decades just like that?

When you want to give up something you love, and when you are giving it up for something you love even more, it's easy. As I told you, I wanted to give it up for my daughter. When I put the two things on a weighing balance, obviously my daughter gains priority for me. If I was taking up something lesser than cricket, then I would have really missed cricket. Because I couldn't spend quality time with her when she was born and stuff, and she is the best thing to happen to me... She is here, so why should I bother about cricket.

Were there any withdrawal symptoms during the course of that first day as an ex professional cricketer. A 'Oh dear what have I done' moment?

Not at all. After my last league match appearance, I didn't even touch my bat.

How did your family react to it?

My wife was very surprised. She would come and ask every other day "How come you've cut yourself out of cricket so much, you don't play even tennis-ball cricket or even hold the bat to get the feel" I would just shrug and say I don't know , I just cut it out. In fact, it was only in 2016 that I saw my bat again when one of my friends requested me.

The Gandhinagar Club was chasing me for a year to play one club level tournament in Chennai and finally managed to convince me to play two games. After all those years, I had to dig out my cricket stuff - the whites, t-shirts, trousers from the store-room. I had to sit and wash them all for two days. My wife was so surprised, she even took a picture of me. "It's been ages since I've seen you wear all this," she said.

That game I actually played as a bowler, I just got 3-4 wickets and we won the tournament. Between 2010 to 2020, only two times I entered the cricket field. That's all. I was totally out of touch holding the bat, but they expect a former India Test cricketer to be a match winner in local games. So, I played as a bowler, some off-spin I bowled. That was enough. Honestly, again they called me for next year, I was like no! I didn't have the motivation to just get back to any kind of cricket.

What did those days immediately after retiring feel like?

Free! No pressure. Zero. I went to play one club cricket game [after that Assam game], I just went out to enjoy myself. No expectations. The country is not looking up to you. The selectors aren't waiting under trees to pick or discard you. It was a different type of freedom. What you eat, when you sleep. You can relax. No targets in fitness to meet. You can enjoy the typical relaxed type of weekend.

Basically, I felt if you've slogged yourself so much for sports in your 20s, if you've done your best, then obviously you would have enjoyed some periods of success... retirement is the sort of leverage to relax, enjoy your life up to 35. It's a short span of window in sports, 15 years max, it's not like movies where you are acting till 50-60. But you know 20 to 30, especially sport is competitive, it is crucial for you to slog yourself, you have to sacrifice.

Was it good to not have a schedule in place for a few days?

Schedule is fine actually, because it is with family. Even now I asked you how long you'll need for the interview because I don't want it to eat into family time. We did a lot of things as a family. Everyday for one hour we clean-up - one specific thing or room. I started cooking - Sambhar and potato curry. Me, my son and daughter play Wii games, and compete. My kids were so excited to see me spend so much time with them.

How long was the weaning-off period from cricket? Or did you end up watching more cricket as they went further into retirement?

I never talk cricket. I never watch cricket. I've never felt gloomy about missing cricket, I was actually happy. Even now, if you were to come and ask me who is India playing next or where, I don't know. I'm the wrong person for that. I started watching only when I started commentating. Otherwise the only sport I always watch on TV is badminton. I've always been a big fan. Even when I was playing for India, whenever we didn't have games, I would pop into a court and play shuttle. After I retired, I've just had more time to work on my badminton skills.

How long did you wait before jumping into cinema and music?

Oh, I always liked movies. In fact, when you've played for the country, you realize there's a big interconnect between the two fields in India. You see it now in the IPL. I remember in 1999, I was finishing a TN vs Maharasthra game and coming back from Pune. I was reading a book and somebody came and pushed the book away. It was Mani Ratnam [renowned and multi-award winning Film Director] sir. And we spoke. I did get opportunities to act even when I was active, like the move Ullam Kekume More... But they wanted six months of my time and I was trying to come back to the Indian team. I didn't want to say goodbye to my cricketing career.

Santosh Subramaniam happened because I was told I look like Jayam Ravi [the lead], to play his brother. Between shoots, people would sit around and ask for stories about Indian cricket and Sachin Tendulkar. One of those guys, then came up with a script as a lead for another movie - Patta Patti 50 50. Movies, I just did for people I know. You need lots of patience for that.

And Music?

Music has been a huge passion. I'm a huge fan of SPB [SP Balasubramanium] sir. I always used to carry a walkman in my kit from my u-16 days, buy lots of cassettes and listen to him before games etc. I've always been a music buff. So I setup Swaraas recently, a Karaoke studio in Chennai. It happened because we have a few common friends, some of them like to sing. I can sing decently. I've always felt music is one of the best things available, to stay calm, be composed. I don't know languages... but I'll listen to Kishore [Kumar], [Mohammad]Rafi, Ilayaraja , RD Burman...

We now have 25 members, we meet on Sunday morning and do group sessions. People book the studios for practice. We do theme-based events, SPB day, 70s and 80s music day, 3Bs day for Baratiraja, Balachandar and Bhagyaraj.

Amidst all this, you never took time to reflect on your cricket career?

No, no can't say never. Someone will tag you in a Facebook post of the Chennai or Delhi Tests from 99 or a clip of Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar or Adam Gilchrist bat. Then you think, maybe you could have done better. Especially that [last] Sri Lanka series, I think I could have probably got one big 100 and maybe I could have played 10-15 more Tests. Given that my last Test score was 55, there's a pinch of the game I could have done more. But that's all.

Also read: S Badrinath's post-retirement bliss of no alarms and a guilt-free sweet indulgence