Legendary cricketer P.K. Belliappa ruled the roost in the 1960s, much before Robin Uthappa wrote history in the annals of Coorg. Belliappa, wicketkeeper and right-hand batsman, captained the Tamil Nadu team. This stylish cricketer narrowly missed playing for India. The charisma of Belliappa has been captured in a recent TOI report:
CHENNAI: At a recent get-together hosted by the 1983 World Cup winning Team India manager Man Singh in the city for former state cricketers, P K Belliappa was undoubtedly the soul of whole meet. The sheer camaraderie and warmth they shared at the do showed ample proof of the respect Belliappa commanded from his former teammates.
Belliappa, the former Tamil Nadu skipper, had come from Coorg, where he lives, just to meet his old teammates. “I shuttle between Coorg and Canada. But, I wouldn’t have missed a chance of meeting my former teammates for anything. More than the runs or catches I took on the field, earning the respect and love of teammates remains my biggest asset,” said the 74-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman who played 94 first-class matches for the state.
The Loyola College alumnus was a born leader. “Belliappa was a shrewd captain, and was adept at analysing our opposition’s weaknesses. He would study the opposition in detail, and draw plans for each of their players,” recalled his former teammate AG Milkha Singh.
Milkha recounted an incident which showed the crowd’s love for Belliappa. During a league match at Chepauk, the home ground of Madras Cricket Club (MCC), the Kishore Kumar number ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ was being played. “Kishore sings ‘Giligili Appa-Giligili Appa’ but the entire crowd replaced it in the chorus with ‘Belli Appa-Belli Appa’. This happened numerous times and we were all in splits,” said Milkha.
Belliappa said, “It was a pleasure playing those days, and the crowd support was unmatched. Even for league matches at Chepauk, we would have 7,000 to 8,000 people coming and cheering us. I don’t see that happening for first-class matches anymore.”
B Kalyanasundaram, another teammate, said Belliappa was blessed with a good cricketing acumen. “Being a wicketkeeper himself, Belliappa had a good idea of what the bowler was up to, and would accordingly set the field. He would make everyone feel at ease, and that according to me is the hallmark of a great leader,” said Kalyanasundaram.
The ex-skipper regrets not winning the 1967-68 Ranji Trophy. “We played the final against Bombay. We made 258 batting first, and should have got the prized wicket of Ashok Mankad. We had him caught at mid-on but the umpire thought otherwise. Ashok went on to score his maiden hundred and Bombay never looked back,” said Belliappa.
While Belliappa regrets not winning the most prized trophy in domestic circuit, he isn’t too perturbed about not having played for India. “I led Madras for some time, and was fortunate enough to have played for long,” said Belliappa, who has 4,061 runs to his name in first-class cricket.