The passing of Rusi Surti has affected me deeply as he was a personal friend. I found him straightforward who would take no nonsense from anyone yet went out of his way to help a friend.
An elegant left-hander, he was referred to as poor man’s Garry Sobers. He could bat like a millionaire, bowl like a miser and field like a superman. He was India’s first agile fielder.
To see him perform in the middle was like sipping a glass of champagne, lots of bubbles and fizz with a glorious after-taste. Even a short innings by Rusi gave endless pleasure as this short-tempered Parsi was a brilliant cricketer, a panther on the prowl.
When he toured Australia and New Zealand in 1967-68 under the Nawab of Pataudi, we saw a mature Surti, not flashy but doggedly consistent. He outscored all Indians on that combined tour by scoring 688 runs at 45.87 in eight Tests.
In the final Test against New Zealand at Auckland he made 99, which sadly remained his highest Test score. New Zealand writer Dick Brittenden summed up: “Surti looked the best of them as a batsman and comparisons made with Garry Sobers were in many respects valid. For watchfulness and sub-conscious elegance, he stood alone.”
The next season he was invited to play Sheffield Shield for Queensland, the first Indian to be asked. Soon he was hitting headlines. Against Western Australia in Perth in 1969 he scored 63 and took six wickets including the hat-trick.
It was the first hat-trick taken by a Queensland bowler in Sheffield Shield. In 1980s he represented Australia in an indoor cricket match as a wicketkeeper, something even the great Sobers did not achieve in his career!
Rusi was a respected coach for top clubs in Queensland. We hosted him when he visited us in Sydney. He enjoyed dhan-saak cooked by my wife who also taught his sons Percy and Kaizad to do kasti prayers for their Navjote.
When I asked him about his most exciting moment in cricket he mentioned neither a Test nor a Shield match. “My finest hour was in 1975 as a batsman in the semi-final of Channel O knock-out tournament. This ‘thrilla on Gabba’ was played between Easts and University. The ending was nail-biting.
Universities made 175 and we were in strife at 5 for 58 when I entered.
“But soon I pulled my leg-muscle and retired. I returned as last man as Easts needed 41 to win in 27 balls. In a dramatic countdown we added 16 runs in one over, 13 by me.”
Frank O’Callaghan wrote in Courier Mail, “Surti was in charge, dominating the strike like a military strategist.” He would have made an excellent T20 player.
Once in 1980s, he took me round the Gabba. Everyone on the ground greeted him Aussie-style, “Good-dai Rossi Serti.” He got along with his mates like meat pie and sauce.
I’ll miss you, Rusi, my mate.
No condolence message from BCCI
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) did not issue a condolence message yesterday like they always do through a media release when an India player passes away. However, former stumper Farokh Engineer has said that the team should wear black arm bands to mourn the death of Rusi Surti during their one-day international against England at Kochi on Tuesday.