Hyderabad: Way back in the early 80s, a young cricketer was touted as the next big off-spinner for India. Legends like Erapalli Prasanna and Sunil Gavaskar had talked highly of this Hyderabad cricketer. Somewhere down the line, it did not go according to the script. From a talented off-spinner, he became a successful horse trainer. That in nutshell is the story of 58-year-old Ananta Vatsalya.
Off-spin came naturally to him from school days. “I use to play ‘gully’ cricket and in school I was not a permanent player till I played for Indian Schools’ team.’’ Like Prasanna, Vatsalya bowled open-chested. He also had the tantalising loop. “Prasanna sir was my idol. I tried to emulate him. It was more of an Ekalavya type. I watched him and practiced at the nets. The floater was one of the lethal deliveries which he specialised it with cross wind. It would come into the batsman and go out. It was a magic delivery.”
Vatsalya created ripples at the school level and played for the Indian Schools team against the visiting England and Pakistan teams in 1978 and 1979 home series. “I was the highest wicket-taker against England from three ‘Tests’.” During the next series against Pakistan, Vatsalya lost his father MPV Ananta, who was general manager of APSRTC.
Hailing from a land of off-spinners then, Vatsalya had to tread on an uncertain path. His promising career got stuck because of the stiff competition. Vatsalya had to fight for a place against Shivlal Yadav, Arshad Ayub, Kanwaljit Singh and others. “Even as my Indian school teammates like WV Raman, Gopal Sharma, Ravi Shastri, Bhaskar Pillai and K Srikkanth got opportunity for their respective Ranji teams, I was stuck. I was treated badly by the Hyderabad Cricket Association.” Mohd Azharuddin was his roommate in junior cricket for many years.
Having completed his engineering he joined HAL and moved to Karnataka in 1984 as all the doors were closed in Hyderabad. “I had no other alternative but to shift to Karnataka. I remember when I made my Ranji debut in Hubli, my captain and my hero Gundappa Viswanath telling Hyderabad captain MV Narasimha Rao ‘My team which has seven Test players and Vatsalya could found a place in the eleven but Hyderabad could not find a place for him.’
Vatsalya could play in two matches before he shifted back to Hyderabad. In 1989 he quit cricket once for all. “I had fond memories like the way I dismissed Yashpal Sharma with a well-flighted delivery and had him caught and bowled in Moin-ud-Dowla final.”
He was drawn into horse racing after his friends offered him a job as public relations manager in Rank Aqua Estates, who had horses too. “I quit HAL and soon they wanted me to become a trainer. I was back in Bangalore as an assistant trainer to Sydney Moses for three years before returning to Hyderabad in 1995.”
According to Vatsalya, cricket was his first love and then the horses came into his life. “There is always a stigma that horse racing is all about gambling but my job is to train and run them in the races. Horses are magnificent animals. It is now 25 years and I enjoy this sport.”
He tasted success in his first race as trainer as Dance of Life romped to victory. “I wanted to start with a winner and ran one horse on the first day as trainer in 1995 in Malakpet and I was successful.”
He has so far trained 600 winners. “My favourite horse is Amorous White. A white grey horse and in the last two years, it did me proud. It won 10 races for me. It is fast and a genuine horse. In the Sprinters Cup in Kolkata, he finished third among the best horses in the country. Horse racing is a different world. Each horse is different. A trainer has to understand the horse. Make him happy and he will do the rest.”
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