VBC’s enduring legacy, the Chennai-Dhoni love story

Being a young, long-distance loyalist of the Tamil Nadu Ranji team in the late 1980s and early 1990s required guzzling vast quantities of mythology served up by older family members and cousins back in Chennai during summer vacations. Most of it was on the following lines: If there was any justice in the world, and the selectors fair, the national team would be stacked with players from the state; Robin Singh was the next Kapil Dev; WV Raman was the next David Gower; M Senthilnathan the next David Boon (this I suspect had more to do with the similarity of their waistlines);and VB Chandrasekhar, India’s answer to Gordon Greenidge. Among Tamil Nadu’s “golden generation” of the 1980s that helped the state win the Ranji in 1988, Chandrasekhar, or VBC as he was known, always had a somewhat higher status in the imagination of fans in Chennai. Fifty-seven-year-old Chandrasekhar is suspected to have committed suicide on August 15, 2019. 

Tall and curly-haired, VBC was seen as a cultured dasher not just on the cricket field. He was well-educated and from an affluent family. His father VR Biksheswaran was a leading city lawyer whose Mercedes VB would often drive to matches at Chepauk. For the Chepauk faithful of those days, he was one of their own with wealth and a batting style to be aspired for. The 1988-89 Irani Trophy match at the MA Chidambaram stadium between Tamil Nadu and the Rest of India found him a permanent place in Chennai’s cricket folklore. Comparisons with the great Greenidge seemed a little less fictional. 

The match situation at Chepauk in 1989 when VBC came in to open and the 1984 Lord’s Test between England and West Indies were somewhat similar. Tamil Nadu had to chase 340 on a crumbling final day pitch and West Indies needed 342 in 78 overs. If Greenidge made 212 in double quick time, VBC’s hundred took just 56 balls with eight sixes and eleven fours. Both their teams made a mockery of what then were improbable last innings chases. 

“There are more than a few batsmen who hit the ball as hard as Chandrasekhar. What makes the youngster's style out of the ordinary is he can belt the ball while still being orthodox enough to be able to build innings,” wrote the Sportstar describing his knock. The magazine’s detailed account of the match with a B&W photograph of VBC lofting a spinner remained in my scrapbook for a very long time. That he only played seven one-day internationals (ODI) was a scandal worthy of conspiratorial speculation for Tamil Nadu fans.

I first met VBC at India Cement’s Chennai head quarters in 2008 during research for a book on the Indian Premier League (IPL). At the newly formed franchise Chennai Super Kings’ (CSK) he was the man-in-charge for picking the team and managing cricketing affairs. VBC walked in wearing a business shirt, sunglasses and forehead smeared in vibhooti. But for his fingers bent out of shape after years of fielding in the slips, he could be mistaken for a senior manager at the cement firm.

“You were one of my favourite cricketers,” I told him. I think it made him quite happy. “But why the past tense,” he asked with a smile. He spent the next hour or so fielding more questions about his unfulfilled international career than matters CSK. CSK’s philosophy on team identity and therefore the kind of players it wanted to get initially involved a lot of corporate hot air. According to an India Cements presentation I saw, the team’s brand identity had to be modelled on the personality traits of Boris Becker, Pele, Bruce Lee, Magic Johnson, and Sylvester Stallone. Srinivasan’s original choice as the marquee player for CSK had been Sehwag. But it was VBC who convinced the management to go for broke to get MS Dhoni. The Dhoni-Chennai love affair of today wouldn’t have been possible without VBC.

Cricket is a part of India Cements’ DNA. The company has been associated with cricket for more than half a century and it owns or sponsors nearly a dozen teams that play in the highly competitive city leagues in Chennai. Several India stars including Rahul Dravid have been employees of India Cements and would turn out for valuable pre-season practice. Having been associated with Cements ever since his playing days, VBC was pretty much a senior member of the company’s extensive cricket family. When the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (virtually a front for India Cements) started the Tamil Nadu Premier League, VBC brought the franchise that would be called Kanchi VB Veterans. 

In Chennai, India Cements has the reputation of supporting cricketers associated with it through times good and bad. The news of VBC suicide, allegedly on account of failed cricket-related ventures, is, therefore, all the more surprising. Perhaps the economic slowdown has finally arrived at cricket’s doorstep — a mythical land we thought far removed from humdrum reality. 

(TR Vivek is a Bengaluru-based journalist. He co-author of Cricket and Commerce: IPL an inside story (Roli: 2009))

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH. 

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