Pitch perfect

Pitch perfect

Pitch perfect

Talking to Raghavendra Rao is akin to flipping through the pages of cricketing history. The octogenarian lists names and dates with unerring accuracy, a trait enhanced by his hobby of collecting  autographs of Test cricketers.  

"It all started when my father introduced me and my brother to cricket. In high school I started collecting cricket pictures from magazines and  newspapers.  Soon, I started collecting autographs of players," he says.  A unique factor is that Raghavendra has not approached  any cricketer personally. Over the last 67 years, he has written several hundred letters to individual players, captains, managers and even Board officials.  

"I would enclose a self-addressed envelope while requesting autographs from players within India. For those abroad, I enclosed international reply coupons. You could be sure that the letters would reach them and you could be equally sure that their responses would come," he adds.    His collection comprises of names like Don Bradman,  Keith Miller,  Harold Larwood,  Denis Compton,  C K Nayudu, Mushtaq Ali, Hazare, right up to recently-retired stars and the current crop of players.  

While working in the  Bhilai Steel Plant, Raghavendra was a regular at the Ranji Trophy matches. There, he got a chance to meet players like  Sandeep Patil, Rajesh Chauhan,  Narendra Hirwani and more.  

Apart from procuring precious autographs, he was also able to build a rapport with several  famous personalities.  "Mushtaq Ali was my father's favourite cricketer and our hero. I have several letters from him. His son, Gulrez Ali and his grandson Abbas Ali, both of whom were playing for Madhya Pradesh, would visit Bhilai every year. They would come to my place to relish 'Masala dosa'   prepared by my wife," he says.

"Sunil Gavaskar is another acquaintance. In June 2002, I had sent him some pictures to be signed and requested him to  convey my regards to Rohan Gavaskar, his son, who had  just been selected for the India A-team. Along with the signed photos, he sent a reply saying, 'Thank you for the good wishes you sent for Rohan. I guess he's waiting for his opportunity but his father seems to have used all the cricketing luck!'.  

"But now, players are busy throughout the year and have no time to respond. I depend on friends who are able to meet these players and get their  autographs," says Raghavendra.