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`I'm not finished yet'

How's it like being in the Indian team one day and then finding yourself left out the next? Ask Sadagopan Ramesh, the man who has taken it all in his stride

PHOTO: S. R. Raghunathan

THROUGH THCIK AND THIN: Sadagopan Ramesh with wife and daughter

He appeared bright and fresh, striding down the hotel lobby, flashing a smile here, signing an autograph there, and then drifting into the coffee shop.

India had lost the Colombo Test decider in the series of 2001, but then Sadagopan Ramesh's scores of 46 and 55 were reasonable returns in a side that has often struggled with openers.

Sipping his tea and shifting his attention to the moving figure of Ramesh, Indian coach John Wright said, "Ramesh looks a lot more solid now. He has tightened up his game. The signs are good."

In a bizarre twist to a sporting journey, Ramesh has not figured in a Test since.

Flash forward: The giant television screen brings back old memories. The sixth India-Pakistan ODI is in progress. The year is 2005. Ramesh keeps an eye on the contest in New Delhi even as he kisses his baby girl. "It is baffling. My last Test innings was a half century," he mulls.

Then, in a moment of brutal frankness, he admits, "Being in the Indian team and then finding yourself left out... it can kill you. Thankfully, I have my little daughter Rithika to lift my spirits."

The sequence of events following the tour of Sri Lanka is all too well known. Ramesh pulled out of the campaign in South Africa citing a back injury and soon found accusing fingers pointing at him — "He wanted to duck playing on the bouncy South African pitches against quality pace bowling," a few said.

Ramesh is quick to defend himself: "Before the series, I flew down to Mumbai for a meeting with the BCCI doctor Anant Joshi and he was convinced that I had a worrying injury and needed rest."

Look at his Test record and it is creditable. The 29-year-old Ramesh has 1367 runs in 19 Tests at 37.97 with two hundreds, and his unruffled ways — read sound temperament — at the crease earned him much praise.

He finds himself in the wilderness now.

An aspect of Ramesh's personality that has often come under scrutiny is his `attitude.' Over to the man himself: "Some, who eventually became my good friends, say I had seemed to be a reserved person before they really got to know me. I love a laugh, am an easy going guy, but it's also true that I don't open up easily. And I am not arrogant."

In the post 2001 years, he came tantalisingly close to a Test recall in 2003. Ramesh notched up a 110 for India `A' against New Zealand in Rajkot, earning a place in the Indian Test squad for the tour of Australia.

The Tamil Nadu left-hander staked his claim with a determined 87 at the expense of the Victorian attack but found the door to the Test XI remained firmly shut. Worse, he was omitted from the side for the historic tour of Pakistan, with a middle-order batsman in Yuvraj Singh thrust into the slot of an additional opener. "That decision did not help anyone."

Source of strength

Ramesh says his wife Aparna — they were married in 2002 — bore the brunt of his frustrations. "She has been a source of strength to me. So have been my in-laws."

The season gone by was a forgettable one for him, with the southpaw's lacklustre form leading to his omission from the Ranji side. "I bear no grudges, and I admit that I was not in the best of touch. But having contributed to the State side for so long, you expect a little support during a stage when you are not doing well," he says.

He cherishes his moments in international cricket — sitting next to Sachin Tendulkar in the dressing room during his debut, taking on the versatile Wasim Akram, figuring in the 1999 World Cup.

Sadagopan Ramesh says he is not finished, not as yet.

S. DINAKAR

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