CS Nayudu, ace leg-spinner and a champion at the domestic level, was born on April 18, 1914. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the competent bowler who quite commendably performed the uphill task of coming out of the shadow of his illustrious brother — the towering CK Nayudu.
Nobody would have guessed that Cottari Subbanna Nayudu was the brother of the legendary CK: CS was almost 19 years younger; he was significantly shorter (5 feet 8 inches to his brother’s 6 feet 2 inches); CK was perhaps the biggest and cleanest six-hitter India has ever produced, while CS was a hard-working leg-break bowler; CK was the glamour man of his era, while CS was the perpetual workhorse; CS later took up a job at Hindalco in Renukoot in his later days — something that CK would possibly never have done.
CS, however, made an impression of his own — especially in the domestic circuit. In 174 First-Class matches spanning over 29 years he took 647 wickets at 26.54. He had also scored 5,786 runs at 23.90. In 56 Ranji Trophy matches Nayudu had scored 2,575 runs at 30.29 and had taken 295 wickets at 23.49 from 56 matches. The record of 295 wickets stood till 1970 when Vaman Kumar went past him. He also played in the Pentangular Trophy with distinction, picking up 103 wickets at 16.67.
Nayudu had a unique action: when he released the ball, he bent his body at an improbably low angle — so low that his head often drooped below his own waist! This, along with his fully stretched hands, meant that his entire bodyweight was on the ball, which resulted in the vicious pace and bounce he extracted off the track.
Additionally, he could turn the ball very sharply (a dangerous weapon to go with pace and bounce), which meant that despite his lack of consistency, every now and then he produced a gem that the batsman had no way to counter — more so because he had command over the googly and the top-spinner as much as he had over his leg-break. He did not care for the runs he gave away in the process. He always believed in experimentation, and lured the batsmen to commit errors.
But most importantly, Nayudu loved to bowl. It did not matter to him whether the track was true or treacherous, whether the score was 50 for three or 250 for one, whether it was the first session of the day or the last, or whether the weather was pleasant or testing. He simply loved to bowl.
He was also a brisk hitter of the ball, and his big-hitting made him a threat with the bat as well. Additionally, he was an exceptional fielder, capable of fielding in every possible position on the ground. Playing for Services XI against Indian XI, Douglas Jardine hit a ball from Shute Banerjee hard to Nayudu at gully, Nayudu stretched out his right hand, caught the ferocious shot, and hit down the stumps, giving Jardine no time to react. It was a phenomenal display of fielding, given the standards of the early 1940s.
Nayudu was at his best while playing for Holkar, who had made it to the Ranji Trophy final 10 times out of 11 between 1944-45 to 1954-55, missing out on only 1948-49. Holkar went on to win 6 of these 10 finals. Nayudu was the mainstay of the Holkar bowling attack during this phase. He won the Indian Cricketer of the Year in 1949-50.
The 40-wicket season
Before he began his career with Holkar, though, Nayudu became the first bowler to take 40 wickets in a single Ranji season — in 1942-43. Given the limited number of matches that were played in the tournament in those days, capturing 40 wickets in a season was a commendable feat: playing for Baroda, he took 3 for 129 and 4 for 75 against Maharashtra; 5 for 85 and 5 for 88 against Western India; 5 for 20 and 7 for 36 against Rajputana in the semi-final; and 6 for 60 and 6 for 21 against Hyderabad in the final — finishing with 40 wickets from four matches at 12.85. With scores of 127 in the semi-final and 45 in the final, he had almost single-handedly carried Baroda to the Ranji Trophy.
The marathon match
In his first season for Holkar — in 1944-45, he began well once again, taking 22 wickets from the first three matches — before he was up against Bombay in the final. Bombay won the toss and batted first, and were up against Nayudu. They piled up 462, but Nayudu kept the challenge going, with figures of 64.5-10-153-6. His role in the match was far from over, though.
Coming out to bat at 210 for 5, Nayudu scored an aggressive 54, outscoring Mushtaq Ali in a partnership of 77. Then Bombay struck back, and dismissed Holkar for 360, obtaining a 102-run lead.
What followed was an extreme test of endurance: Nayudu bowled on, and on, and on, and on. Vijay Merchant (278) added 226 for the third wicket with Rusi Modi (151), and 246 for the fourth wicket with Rusi Cooper (104). Bombay scored 764, but Nayudu bowled a marathon 88-15-275-5 on a placid track, not refusing to give in. In all, he finished with match figures of 152.5-25-428-11. The 917 balls he bowled in the match still remains a world record for First-Class matches, as does the 428 conceded by him.
Though Denis Compton scored a stunning 249 not out and Mushtaq scored his second hundred of the match, Holkar were bowled out for 492, and were defeated by a whopping 374 runs. It was Nayudu’s valiant effort, though, that made his name to the annals of the sport despite the defeat.
Nayudu was the ubiquitous traveller of Indian cricket. After playing for Central Provinces and Berar, Central India, Baroda, and Holkar, he captained Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh over a Ranji Trophy career that lasted till 1960-61.
He never got tired of cricket, especially bowling. Even in his last Ranji Trophy match, in his 47th year, he demolished Uttar Pradesh with figures of 6 for 33 and 3 for 48, along with scoring a crucial 34 while playing as the captain. Nayudu’s performances for his last two teams (56 wickets at 20.12 for Uttar Pradesh and 15 wickets at 15.80 for Madhya Pradesh) were phenomenal — especially because they had come at an age of over 40.
The Test career
Nayudu played 11 Tests, and surprisingly for a man of his calibre, performed very ordinarily at the highest level. His debut as a teenager was not that bad: he got to bowl only eight wicketless overs, but it was his batting that impressed everybody. An aggressive 36 in the first innings was not enough to save the follow-on for India, but he hung around grimly in the second innings. With hours of play left and India still requiring seven runs to save the innings-defeat, Nayudu batted for 135 minutes to score 15 and add 52 with Dilawar Hussain to guide India to safety.
It all went horribly wrong after that. Only once more — in his last Test against England at Kanpur — did he cross 20. He scored only 147 runs at 9.18. Additionally, he took only two Test wickets (Stan Worthington caught by CK at Old Trafford in 1936; and Laurie Fishlock caught by Merchant at The Oval in 1946) at 179.50.
For Indians who have played over 10 Tests, Nayudu’s batting average is the worst for any non tail-ender, and his bowling average is also the worst barring specialist batsmen. Given his stupendous performances at the domestic level, his failure at Test level is baffling to say the least.
He had one claim to fame, though on the English tour of 1946. In a match that has been immortalised Chandu Sarwate and Banerjee’s 249-run last-wicket partnership, Nayudu removed Fishlock (hit wicket), Nigel Bennett (caught by Mushtaq), and Alec Bedser (bowled) in consecutive deliveries, thereby securing the first hat-trick by an Indian on English soil.
Nayudu, despite being overshadowed by his illustrious brother in both frame and stature, managed to create a niche of his own in the domestic circuit. As a bowler, he never backed from shouldering responsibilities, thereby becoming the mainstay for all the teams he played for.
He had his eccentricities, though. For example, he always fielded in a navy-blue cap. However, when he came on to bowl, he exchanged his cap for a multicoloured one, much to the surprise of everyone around. As a batsman, it was his big-hitting that made him immensely popular: they always chanted his name, asking for sixes, when he walked out to bat. Seldom did he disappoint them, though: the towering sixes flew all over the ground, mostly thudding into the sight-screen or soaring well over it.
In writer-commentator Raju Bharatan’s words, “Cricket for CS was always a fun game, to the end he remained the true amateur. That we still instinctively associate the name of CS Nayudu with the best in wrist-spin is a measure of the impact he left on cricket in India when at his parabolic zenith. CS practised a specialist craft with skill and imagination, always retaining his sense of humour when collared.”
Nayudu passed away on November 22, 2002 at Indore, of persistent respiratory and heart problems.