He was to cricket what Zubin Mehta was to music. He conducted himself as the quintessential professional. Not for him the literary flourishes of a K.N. Prabhu or an N.S. Ramaswami. Dicky Rutnagur was first a reporter, only then an opinion moulder. His smooth narrative style held you spellbound.
This was reflected in the absorption with which his Editorial Musings and his day-to-day account of Test matches were read — months after the events took place.
That was in The Indian Cricket Field Annual, edited by him, as a steal, at Rs. 4.50.
It spanned 711 pages encapsulating every single aspect of the game. As Pearson Surita, his Associate Editor, became the first Indian to make it to the BBC panel, Dicky was generous in his praise. Yet Dicky himself was no ordinary commentator. He rose to broadcasting eminence in the era in which Berry Sarbadhikary and Dev Raj Puri had all but captured the AIR mike from the redoubtable A.F.S. Talyarkhan.
Dicky’s breakthrough in journalism came as the illustrious Hindustan Times editor, S. Mulgaonkar, handpicked him to report Test cricket, at home and abroad, replacing Berry Sarbadhikary. By the early 1960s Rutnagur had distinguished himself as writer and commentator alike. He excelled at writing on table tennis and squash too. Yet his passion was cricket.
His roaming spirit made him the exemplary freelance. No one enlivened the pressbox more with his puckish presence. As one Palsule from a vernacular paper kept importuning Dicky for return of a sum, his response was vintage Rutnagur: “If you ask for your money one more time, I will never borrow from you again!”
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for that casting vote!” — were Dicky’s famous words on the air. He was referring, not to Vijay Merchant’s deposing Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, but to M. Dutta Ray’s retaining our ‘Tiger’ performer as Indian skipper. As Dicky chose to settle in England by the mid-1960s, he served The Daily Telegraph with total commitment through the years. He, therefore, had reason to feel diminished as he was passed over for its plum cricket correspondent posting. His charmingly pragmatic wife of Caribbean Indian origin made him feel more settled in life. His one ambition, unfulfilled, was to see his son Richard Sohrab playing cricket at the highest level.
No setback, personal or professional, affected the quality of his writing. He covered a litany of Test series, the world over, in the company of S.K. Gurunathan (The Hindu), S.V. Seshadri (PTI) and K.N. Prabhu (The Times of India).
A love-hate relationship his was with K.N. Prabhu. Yet no two men were closer inside and outside the pressbox.
As a well-rounded cricketing personality of international repute, Dicky knew everyone in the media closely, ranging from Jim Swanton to John Arlott to John Woodcock. Our Test players, to a man, respected him for his integrity, suffering his pranks stoically. Truly was Dicky Rutnagur one of a kind, a cricketing genie knowing no taming.