HE IS a businessman who runs a textile factory that employs around 1,000 people in Tiruppur and exports to most of Europe, the Oceania region and North America. A former Tamil Nadu athlete in the 110m hurdles at national championships, he also holds an MBA and an MS in Psychology.
But then, that’s not really why V Ramesh Kumar is under the spotlight in the cricket circuit.
The 44-year-old is the head curator of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), the man in charge of the pitch at the iconic M A Chidambaram stadium in Chennai — and now, all set to oversee preparations for the upcoming ODI against Australia and the IPL.
It’s an interesting journey that’s taken more than a decade.
Kumar says it started sometime around 2010, when he was unable to find a curator to make a turf pitch at his own academy, Tiruppur School of Cricket. “So I enrolled for the BCCI course (to become a certified curator) in 2016. And here I’m now,” Kumar told The Indian Express.
Kumar first grabbed eyeballs when he prepared pitches for India’s two Test matches against England in Chennai last year. For a curator who had never earlier been involved in making pitches even for First-Class matches, it was a leap of faith by the TNCA. But now, as 2023 approaches, Kumar has a more busy schedule ahead of him — apart from the Australia game and IPL, the BCCI has lined-up several more turf assignments in view of his ability to roll out balanced and format-suited pitches.
A cricketer till his college days, Kumar’s foray into the game at a serious level began with his academy, which is one of the most popular such centres in western Tamil Nadu and currently has about 90 students enrolled.
Out of those 90, almost half of the wards are coached free of cost and the academy takes care of their school and college fees, too. Nine players, boys and girls, from the academy are part of the Tamil Nadu side across age-groups. Kumar has also given jobs to the unemployed parents of a few of these children.
While those initial years were restricted to his academy, the TNCA first approached him to assist in a few age-group matches in Tiruppur, says Kumar. With those pitches receiving impressive feedback in successive seasons, the state association moved to rope him in as the head curator at the M A Chidambaram Stadium. But Kumar had a condition: he will offer his services free of cost.
“We have been trying hard to convince him to charge at least a minimal fee. But he is hell-bent on not taking even a single penny,” says R I Palani, TNCA secretary.
Says Ramesh, “I’m not here to make money. Who would charge for following a passion?”
With the association rolling out new venues in Salem, Coimbatore, Tiruppur and Dindigul, and another coming up in Trichy, Kumar gets to spend “very little time at home”, leaving the responsibility of running his business to his wife Malarvizhi Giri, a chartered accountant.
These days, says Kumar, Malarizhi single-handedly runs the business, while he offers help only when he is at home, apart from taking care of their three-year-old daughter. “I’ve no choice but to leave it to my wife. And it is only because of her encouragement and support that I’m able to do this,” he says.
On Tuesday, Kumar’s skills were evident at the SNR College Ground in Coimbatore, when Andhra ended up making 277/5 on Day 1 of the Ranji Trophy second round match against Tamil Nadu, with the pitch offering good and consistent bounce.
“You need to have a pitch that has everything for everyone. That is what I learnt from (well-known curators) Ashish Bhowmick (Bengal), Tapas Chatterjee (Rajasthan), Sunil Chauhan (Himachal), Daljit Singh (Punjab), P R Vishwanath (TN) and Prashanth (Karnataka). These guys encouraged me a lot because I was the youngest when I did the course in 2016,” says Kumar.
Over the past few years, whenever Kumar has flown abroad for business, he has made it a point to visit a few grounds there, too. “When I’m in the UK, I take permission from a few counties to be with their groundsmen when they make pitches. When I went to Australia, I went to Perth to know why there is a lot of bounce there,” he says.
When Coimbatore hosted the Duleep Trophy earlier this year, the pitches he produced received the thumbs-up from former India star Ajinkya Rahane, who captained West Zone to the title. But for Kumar, the biggest applause came from the Indian team in 2021 for the pitches he made at Chepauk against England.
“There was just a three-day gap between two Tests, so there was little time to prepare for the second match. It was under the sun when the first Test was on and in the end, everyone liked it. Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Rohit Sharma, Ravi Shastri all signed a hat and sent it across. Due to bio-bubble protocols, I couldn’t meet them. It was wonderful of them.”