Willow wielders by the side of a bungalow

There is a touch of Malgudi to Aruna Cricket Club: it began as a neighbourhood team centred around Nungambakkam, but though its Playing XI has long ceased to be packed with youngsters from the locality, it still maintains a connection with the area in so many other ways

Deeply attached to the willow sport, this family would let youngsters from the neighbourhood turn the open space around their bungalow into a makeshift ground. It would tolerate the raucous appeals, the constant jabber of on-field instructions and probably, even the occasional verbal duel over an umpiring decision.

An invisible line had however been drawn, and one unsuspecting day, the neighbourhood cricket team crossed it. A thumping whack from the bat resulting in a broken window glass, it was close of play for this all-Nungambakkam cricket team, forever.

Shivakumar Krishnamurthy, who has heard this story narrated by his elders many a time, explains that the family gently chided the young cricketers for the damage, but let the boys know in unmistakable terms that they valued not only cricket, but also an intact house.

The youngsters got the hint and shifted their operations to the Nungambakkam Corporation ground where the SDAT Tennis Stadium would come up decades later.

M.M. Sundaram, the founder and secretary of Aruna Cricket Club from its inception to 2011, is seated third from left. Photo: Special Arrangement

M.M. Sundaram, the founder and secretary of Aruna Cricket Club from its inception to 2011, is seated third from left. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Besides memories of cricket played around this bungalow named “Aruna” on Mangadu Swamy Street in Nungambakkam, the youngsters would also carry its name with them. They would call their team Aruna Cricket Club, a name that now lives on in league cricket, representing what is now a second-division team.

“Mangadu Swamy Street is parallel to Village Road, and found behind the police station, that is where it all began in the 1950s. The team also traces its genesis to Veerabadran Street, one street away from Mangadu Swamy Street. The prime force behind starting the team was MM Sundaram, its founder,” recalls Shivakumar, secretary of Aruna CC and a resident of Nungambakkam.

For many decades, Aruna CC continued as a team comprising players drawn from Nungambakkam and surrounding areas. There was a supplementary selection process that enabled it to maintain its character as a team rooted in Nungambakkam.

“In those early decades, another team in Nungambakkam, Springfield Recreation Club (SRC) served as a feeder club for Aruna CC. SRC was never a league team, but its players would practise at the Lake Area ground, where the TE Srinivasans of the world were born. Those who excelled in SRC would get drafted into Aruna CC for league cricket,” explains Shivakumar.

Beyond Nungambakkam

The world would eventually open up, and there was no reason for neighbourhood-centric Aruna CC to swim against the tide, but every reason to go with the flow. In the 1990s, increasing mobility in terms of overseas education and employment meant that the talent pool of young cricketers within every neighbourhood would be limited. And eventually, the concept of neighbourhood cricket teams would not keep stride with this development.

“I would say the churn happened in the mid- to late-1990s,” recalls Shivakumar. “Now, we probably have only one player from Nungambakkam and the rest are from outside the neighbourhood.”

The team

The team  

However, Aruna CC has retained its Nungambakkam flavour by virtue of the people managing and supporting it.

Shivakumar points out that as a non-corporate team it is “sustained by the love and support of friends and family”, and a majority of them have a connection with Nungambakkam, something that they are inclined to sustain.

“There are twelve of us: Some of us holding high positions in companies, some semi-retired and others retired. The expenses, which include players’ fee, equipment cost and breakfast and lunch, are shared, with each deciding where they could contribute,” says Shivakumar. “The Aruna CC management team — S. Gopalakrishnan, P.K. Vishwanath, N.S. Shankar, V. Gopalakrishnan, S. Premkumar and V. Murali — is marked by a combination of senior corporate executives and successful entrepreneurs. What is more significant is that all of them are Nungambakkam natives.”

Those who had earlier associated with the team seem to find a way to continue supporting it.

When Mambalam Mosquitos had an address in Adyar

  • Since its birth in the 1940s, ‘Mambalam Mosquitos’ has been a conversation starter even before a ball is bowled. After decades of speculation over whether one should think of a boxer or a buzzing insect or both, when this name is called, here is an all-new perspective. The first word of the name and what it means also deserve the same high-brow analysis.
  • It gives the cricket team the halo of a neighbourhood institution. Now, how long did it stay true to that image?
  • P.C. Prakash, who played for Tamil Nadu and who is currently head coach of Karaikudi Kaalai in the Tamil Nadu Premier League, is secretary of Mambalam Mosquitos, which plays in the fourth-division.
  • Prakash’s father P.S. Chander and his uncle P.S. Shanker had founded the team.
  • “My father would ensure the team got filled up with players from our neighbourhood Mambalam, just to make sure local talent was encouraged,” says Prakash. “Then the team was off the league for a long time. It was revived in the late 1970s, and by then, we were no longer residents of Mambalam, having moved to Indiranagar, Adyar. It was interesting to note that a team that practised in facilities around the Adyar area was named after Mambalam.”
  • Prakash points out that in the revival phase, Mambalam Mosquitos again upheld the core value on which it had been founded in the 1940s: Promoting local talent. So, there was this team with talent drawn almost entirely from the Adyar area, but still choosing to continue with a name whose recall value would not dimnish in a thousand years.
  • However, Mambalam Mosquitos would evolve just as other neighbourhood teams would, and become more diverse in its composition.
  • “Unlike in those decades, teams are now formed through academies. Location is hardly a consideration, and teams cut across areas. Just like ours, there is a team that is originally from Gandhinagar — named Gandhinagar Starlets — which represented the locality through its composition. But a time arrived when it was not sustainable; and began to be populated with players from all over.”

“Precision Infomatic was sponsor for more than a decade in the 2000s. Precision promoters Mathew Chacko, V. Murali, who is part of Aruna CC’s managing committee, and T.G. Ramesh have been a support to the team. Mathew Chacko played for the Anna University team that won Rohinton Baria Trophy; and he played for Aruna CC for a decade,” says Shivakumar. “Beyond their contribution as players of Aruna CC, the N.P. brothers — N.P. Shankar, N.P. Rajendran and N.P. Manohar (who represented the Indian school boys) — have helped in the management of the team.”

In attendance

There are many facets to the support received by Aruna CC. One of them is the older generation offering their morale-boosting presence by showing up at the matches.

T.E. Srinivasan’s brother T.E. Kannan, who lives in Raja Annamalai Puram and is on the wrong side of the seventies, is a regular at Aruna CC games.

“Kannan would take a bus and come to my house in Nungambakkam from where we would drive down to wherever the match was being held,” says Shivakumar. “There must be eight other former Aruna CC players who come to watch the Club’s games even now.”

Shivakumar believes this loyalty derives from the sense of family the Club has managed to foster, not just on the field.

He underlines the pride that comes from knowing that players like Thirunavukarasu Kumaran and Aniruda Srikkanth have worn the Aruna CC colours; and also that its players have made an indelible mark in careers outside the cricket field — “two of the former Aruna CC players donned senior government roles: G. Parthasarathy, a distinguished IFS officer and a former Indian Ambassador to Pakistan and V. Sundaram, IAS officer of Maharashtra cadre”.

Shivakumar points out that the fulfilment that comes from making a difference in the lives of players who obviously need a leg-up, is no less heady.

“We do everything we can to place players who have served us well, in good jobs — if they require that kind of a support. We also help some players reskill by getting them to do a course. Thinking of an immediate example, there is Tamildasan, who just finished his MSC maths, and we are trying to get him into a proper job, and part of the exercise, we have been helping him write competitive exams such as the ones from Indian Oil and Indian Air Force.”

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