As a dapper wicket-keeper Sadananda Viswanath caught the eye of world before fading away. DH Photo/ Srikanta Sharma R
If you YouTube Sadanand Vishwanath, the first search result most likely would be his magical performance against England in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia.
On a fine night at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground, wicket-keeper Vishwanath, showing lightning quick reflexes, effected five dismissals. Talked about even today, that remains, perhaps, the happiest moment in Vishwanath's life. Much of his journey, before and after that, has been about setbacks and trying hard to overcome it.
Set to turn 55 on November 29, Vishwanath's birthday gift from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is something that he is accepting with reluctance. Having taken up an umpire's job 22 years ago as a way of reconnecting with cricket after going adrift, Vishwanath will no more be officiating in a game as he crosses the age limit.
"Well, it's very sad that I can't be officiating a game anymore," rued Vishwanath in a conversation with DH. "I feel I'm still good enough to officiate in a game. Two decades of experience has only made me richer. But since I'm not part of the elite panel nor do I have any international experience, I have to step down. If you have officiated an international game or been part of the elite panel, you can continue till 60. Since I have neither of these two, I have to accept retirement reluctantly.
"Until recently, even if you cross the age limit during the season, you could complete it. But now rules have changed. Your term expires the moment you cross the age limit. The BCCI, which has been very helpful to me, has promised to look into the matter and grant extension to umpires like me. I'm just hoping for some positive news."
Vishwanath, who played three Tests and 22 ODIs in a career that promised plenty but ended up with very little owing to many factors, chose umpiring in a bid to put his life back in order and help rekindle his love affair with the sport. He had just returned from a high paying job in the Middle-East in 1991 in the hope of getting married to his girlfriend only to find out she had migrated to Australia along with her family. He then took up a job in a bank to keep himself afloat before quitting it three years later after being transferred. Meandering along in life, Vishwanath, whose glovework had earned praise from all quarters including the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, then saw a BCCI's invite in 1995 calling former Test players to apply for umpires' job.
He promptly applied for it and came through the tests to begin a new journey. Most of his assignments in a two-decade long career involved lower tier matches with just a handful of Ranji Trophy games.
He also officiated a women's World Cup match in 1997-98 and an India 'A' vs Australia 'A' game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in 2008. But Vishwanath couldn't make it to the elite panel.
"That's my biggest regret, not officiating an international game. I admired S Venkataraghavan and hoped to emulate him. I tried but I couldn't. Making it to the elite level is not easy. So many factors come into the picture if you have to make the cut to the elite. You need solid backing. Maybe I didn't have it. However, I've had a memorable journey.
"During the early days, we had to travel by train and sometimes the journey would last 2-3 days. I made some very good friends along the way. Also, I've had the privilege of seeing some of India's current superstars first hand. Be it (Virat) Kohli, (MS) Dhoni or Yuvraj (Singh), I've had the joy of officiating their games even before they could make it big. Umpiring has acted as a balm to a lot of pain that I've had to undergo very young in my life," said Vishwanath.
Among the first setbacks that Vishwanath suffered was seeing his parents separate in the early 1980s. He then lost his father in 1984. Amidst that agony came the ultimate gift for a budding cricketer - an India call-up - a year later. He grabbed that with both hands and announced himself in style with eye-catching performances at the World Championship of Cricket but the demise of his mother soon after jolted his career. Unable to handle the grief and the coinciding rise as a cricketer, Vishwanath faded away.
"I was too young to handle all of it. Losing both my parents in a short span of time really set me back. I couldn't recover. My siblings, who are doing well now, coped with it better than me. Looking back, I should have. Years later, I couldn't marry the love of my life to whom I returned home. Life has taught me numerous lessons. But I'm happy that I've been able to fight through all this. Yes, I could have achieved a lot with the talent I had, but that's the way it's made out for me. No point blaming others as part of the mistake lies with me. No regrets," said Vishwanath.
Having fought his way through many tough situations, Vishwanath is looking forward to two things with great hope. "Hopefully, there's an extension as an umpire. Secondly, all of us need companions. I've lived a life of solitude mostly which isn't all that great. I hope to find a partner. Never give up!"