Budhi Kunderan, the dashing wicketkeeper-batsman of the 1960s, passed away at the age of 66 today. He had been suffering from lung cancer, diagnosed in October 2005.
Against England in 1963-64, he became the first wicketkeeper in history to pass 500 runs for a Test series. Looking back at the series, the 1964 edition of the Indian Cricket almanack writes:
"It was strength and depth in batting that made India look a shade stronger than England. They were given a splendid start in the first Test itself by Kunderan, who played a breath-taking innings of 192, and Manjrekar, who hit up a classic hundred. India were indeed lucky that Kunderan played instead of Engineer who hurt his finger on the eve of the match, and Kunderan never looked back. He went on to play another three-figure innings, in the fourth Test. It was different in character, being more controlled and more responsible, but throughout the series he remained a most colourful batsman."
His rivalry and camaraderie with Farokh Engineer, another great 'keeper-batsman, was fabled in domestic and Test cricket. Perhaps there was no other intense yet healthy rivalry. Both kept wickets very well, to pace and spin alike and both had the ability to smash a hundred in a session.
Kunderan's rollicking 192 against England is regarded as one the greatest innings from an Indian 'keeper. Kunderan was, in some ways, the original MS Dhoni.
In The States of Indian Cricket, Ramachandra Guha introduces Kunderan, who he admired greatly:
"Once or twice a year I take what must be one of the loveliest short drives in the country, the fifty-mile road that runs from Mangalore’s Bajpae airport to the university town of Manipal. Keeping the sea on the left, the road passes through acres of paddy fields, interspersed with areca gardens and the odd remnant of rain forest. Every five miles or so we drive over a river, a leisurely boatman in the water. The artefacts of man that one encounters include mosques, churches, Jain monasteries, and Hindu temples. Here in western Karnataka cultural diversity matches ecological diversity, the D’Souzas mixing with the Alis and the Raos, the forests with the fields and the ocean.
The names of the towns en route are charmingly quaint too. There is Parbidri and there is Kapu and, exactly halfway between them, there is Karnad. Whenever my taxi enters this settlement the driver will surely tell me, ‘Saar, Girish Karnad coming from here.’ I can sense and share his pride in the achievements of the writer-actor, a man who has brought lustre to his town, his state, and his country. But I wish I could, at least once, summon up wit to tell the driver, as he passes through the next town on our way: ‘Saar, this is Mulki. Budhi Kunderan coming from here."