Bobby Rao at 60
Modireddy Venkat Narasimha Rao
Bobby Rao, nobody in cricket from Secunderahad to Strabane ever called him anything other than this variation of his childhood family nickname of Bobjee, was a remarkable all round cricketer.
In fact, considering that, at the age of 56, he has recently ( Summer 2010) completed a full season with the Donegal club, St Johnston, perhaps the present tense would be more appropriate!
He was a sound middle order batsman - capable however of devastating stroke play - who often opened in NWCU cricket, a brilliant close fielder, and, a leg spinner whom the Indian selectors once preferred to Chandrasekhar.
His height and high arm action meant that he could extract unusually high bounce from the wicket. As he also delivered the ball rather faster than many of his kind, he could be a very difficult proposition.
In all first class cricket, which included four Tests, he scored 4845 runs at a very respectable 40.71, hitting 9 hundreds and 30 fifties.
His highest score - 160* - came in the 1984/85 season for Hyderabad, his Ranji Trophy side, against Kerala when he top scored in a total of 511-6 declared.
He played only four first class innings that season. Not out on all but one occasion, he averaged 275.00. Two of his hundreds 105* also against Kerala and 127 against Maharashtra came in 1972/73, sharing on each occasion in big stands with his captain ML Jaishima, whom he was to succeed in leading Hyderabad.
In the 1979-80 season he scored 435 runs at 87.00, finishing second in the Ranji averages. He hit three hundreds, two being accompanied by useful bowling figures. Thus against Andhra at Nizamaba, he took 2-27 as the hosts crumbled for 180. Then Hyderabad "led by a fluent century by Narasimha Rao who hit sixteen 4s in a run-a-minute knock reached 244" (Indian Cricket 1980). Ahead by 64 Bobby took 4-53 to set up a 10 wicket victory.
An even better all round performance followed against his favourite opposition, Kerala, at Palghat. Kerala batted first but "To the Hyderabad skipper Narasimha Rao belonged the opening day. He claimed six wickets for 59 runs with his fast leg breaks and then remained unbeaten with a quickly made 44" (Indian Cricket 1980). The next day Hyderabad made 400-9, Bobby going on to make 159 with twenty two 4s and two 6s in a 270 minutes stay. He did not need to bowl in the second innings as Kerala fell for 80.
His third hundred came in the rain ruined Pre Quarter Final at Eden Gardens, Calcutta (now Kolkata). He reached 107* but the match was decided on the toss of a coin. Rather surprisingly for one who was to prove such an effective league cricketer, he never really found his best form in List A matches.
His highest score was 52* and he had no really significant bowling figures. It is also true that four Test matches - two against West Indies in 1978/9 and two more against Australia the following season - did not reveal the form he was capable of, bringing him only 46 runs at 9.80 and taking 5-249.
He did show his true class as a close fieldsman, holding eight catches. His last appearance in the Fifth Test against Australia attracted mixed comments. Set to make 247 by a controversial Kim Hughes declaration, India struggled not against spin as had been expected - but against the left arm pace of Geoff Dymock, who reduced them to 123-4,when Bobby came in. He finished on 20*, some reports, notably "Wisden" which declared "Narasimha Rao could not going," condemned him for not pushing on for a win, others saw him as having saved the match.
The summer of 1979 saw him playing league cricket in the north west of England and making one appearance for Lancashire in the Second XI Championship. He took 10 Worcestershire wickets in the match, completely confusing the middle order and tail, but the Red Rose did not come calling again.
Thus in 1980 he began his long association with cricket in the NWCU area. He started with Strabane, helping them to the semi final of the Cup in 1983, when he did his utmost to see off the challenge of Sion Mills, making a brilliant 89. Unfortunately for him and his team-mates, fellow professional Mark Harper was also in form, his 100 seeing the villagers to the final where they defeated Ardmore by 7 wickets.
In 1986 however Bobby and John Gillespie both reached three figures in the semi final against Brigade, but Strabane then fell to Coleraine in the final. That season Bobby was in fine all round form, heading the Union's batting averages with 852 runs at 50.41and finishing third in the bowling with 42 wickets at 9.88.
By 1988 he had begun his long and fruitful association with Sion Mills, scoring 50 in his first match. His feats for the Village are too numerous to recount here, those who wish to find out more are referred to Billy Platt's comprehensive History of the Club. We must be content with a few highlights.
He hit a brilliant century for an Invitation XI against the Club's President's XI in 1989, a match to mark the 20th anniversary of Ireland's historic victory over the West Indies. Clive Lloyd, a member of the Windies side that day, was also in the side, but the President's XI won the match thanks to fine knocks from Ivan Anderson, who had also played in 1969, and Graham Gooch, the latter no doubt relieved that this was one occasion that season when he could not be lbw b Alderman!
Among Bobby's many other fine batting performances, were two scores of 103, the first undefeated, against Limavady in 1990. Another was a remarkable 105* against Brigade in the League in 1997. Facing a challenging target of 202, Bobby made light of it, seeing his side to an 8 wicket win.
There were of course many fine all round performances, epitomised by the 1993 season, when he headed the North West batting averages with 1019 runs at 63.68 and also took 30 wickets at 15.23.
Five years later, he had a fine all round match against Eglinton, scoring 60 from a total of 174, then taking 6-40 to secure victory by 22 runs. Another notable performance with the ball came the following year in late August against Ardmore, a must win match to avoid possible relegation. Rain reduced the game to 37 overs each, Sion then scoring 148-7. An achievable target, but Bobby had other ideas, his 7-24 bringing a 51 run victory.
Leaving the Village after his long and successful career, Bobby rejoined Strabane whom he helped to both the Royal Liver Irish Senior Cup and Northern Bank NWCU Finals in 2004. Both matches were lost but Bobby's efforts should not go uncommented on. In the Irish Final - an NW derby with Limavady, Strabane lost by 88 runs despite Bobby, high up in the order,, making 26 and bowling as tightly as ever to take 2-23 in his 12 overs.
In the Northern Bank final against Donemana, Strabane were defeated by 8 wickets, Bobby missed out with the bat in both innings, but his first innings four wickets, all top order batsmen, were taken at the cost of 37 runs, easily Strabane's best bowling figures.
He moved to a new club, Eglinton, at an age when many of us have decided - or are considering - confining our cricket to the boundary edge or an armchair. Not so Bobby. His all round performances saw Eglinton to the Cup Final in 2006, where two crucial innings brought him the Man of the Match award. He was, as Barry Chambers reported in the Irish Cricket Annual, "involved in two substantial partnerships towards the end of both innings."
As late as 2010, Bobby played 16 matches for St Johnston, showing that his skills had far from deserted him.
Qualification doubts limited Bobby's appearances in interprovincial matches, which was certainly a pity for the North West if a bonus for their opponents. Eventually selected in 1993, he made dazzling 103* against Ulster Town in only his second match, putting on 157 for the 3rd wicket with Stephen Smyth (77). NW reached 267-5 and won by 82 runs.
The following year saw a high scoring match with North Leinster at Phoenix.. The hosts led off with a formidable 288-6 declared, Alf Masood making 120*. The visitors, however, replied with 289-4, Bobby reaching 105, having put on 208 for the first wicket with David Cooke.
In the same season, at home, he bowled Ulster Country out for 164, his leg spin bamboozling the middle and lower order, taking the last 6 wickets to fall, finishing with figures of 20-8-33-6. He then fell first ball to Neil Doak but his bowling had already assured the hosts of victory.
His last big innings in the competition - in which he averaged over 70 with the bat and 10.53 with the ball - came in 1995 at Eglinton, when he contributed 93 to the hosts' 263, putting on 170 for the second wicket with Smyth who top scored with 96. A 149 run victory resulted.
Bobby's appearances for Ireland were few and probably came too late. He eventually qualified by residence but was then hamstrung by ICC regulations which meant that he fell out of consideration. He thus never had time to show himself to the best advantage, giving only glimpses of what might have been.
On his debut in a Nat West first round match at Northampton in June 1994 he made 47*, coming in at 105-4 against a rampant Curtley Ambrose. He faced only 52 balls, hitting four 4s and a huge 6 off Zimbabwe paceman Kevin Curran. Ireland made 52 off the last 6 overs to finish on 183-6. Northants had little difficulty in passing the score but Bobby with 2-32 off 12 overs showed that they could be restricted.
He also bowled economically in the first of two matches against New Zealand that season but his other innings of note came against England Amateur XI in the Triple Crown when his aggressive 38* enabled Ireland to set a target, which - however - did not prove to be enough.
No account of Bobby's contribution to cricket would be complete without a mention of his coaching. In this all important aspect of the game, has done much at club, provincial and national level, NW Warriors being the current beneficiaries.
Modireddy Venkat Narasimha Rao remains one of the most popular figures in North West cricket and, married to a local woman, has also become a valued member of the community away from the playing field.
In the 2011 New Years Honours, Bobby Rao was awarded the MBE for his services to cricket and community relations. It was richly deserved and gave great pleasure to many more peopole than the delighted recipient.
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