Somewhat impetuous Surat’s famous cricketing son who earned fame for his fielding and catching Rusi Framroze Surti passed away at the Jaslok Hospital at 5 a.m. here on Sunday. He was 76 and a divorcee.
He played for Gujarat (1956-57 to 1967-68) and in between for Rajasthan (1959-60 and 1960-71) in the Ranji Trophy and ended his first class career with Queensland. He played for India in 26 Tests, scored 1263 runs with nine 50s, held 26 catches and took 42 wickets. In all he played 160 first class matches, scored a 8066 runs with six centuries and 54 fifties and 246 not out as the highest, held 122 catches and took 284 wickets. He had settled down in Queensland from the early 1970s and was on his annual visit to Mumbai. His eldest son Percy lives in Gold Coast, Australia and the second son Kaizad in Austria.
Surti’s nephew Keki Surti told The Hindu: “He came to Mumbai on November 12 last year and was hale and hearty. About a week ago, his hands suddenly became numb. The neurologists put him under observation and the initial diagnosis did not reveal anything to cause concern. Even the MRI tests were negative. But last Thursday (Jan.10) he had breakfast and collapsed while talking to the doctors. He had suffered a severe stoke and he died today morning. Both Percy and Kaizad flew to Mumbai after he suffered the stroke.’’
Surti had a chequered career for India. He batted and bowled (seam, swing and on odd occasions spin) with the left hand and modelled himself on Sir Garfield Sobers and was known jocularly as ‘poor man’s Sobers.’ He made his Test debut and ended his career at the Brabourne Stadium. He impressed as an all-rounder in 18 first class matches and before playing his first Test against Fazal Mahmood’s Pakistan in December 1960 and he thereafter went on to play against the West Indies, England, Australia and New Zealand.
Madhav Apte who played his last Test in the 1952-53 series against the West Indies, but has been in touch with the game and proved to be expert in dissecting the nuance-aspect of the game at all levels and takes interest in team selections said: “I would describe Rusi as a utility cricketer. He was an excellent fielder and similar to Eknath Solkar. Solkar was better at short leg though, but both were almost on par in batting and bowling. Rusi was a natural striker and had an eye for the ball. The Nawab (Tiger Pataudi) I think was the first to bring the dart-like throws as the West Indians did, but Rusi, Abid Ali, Solkar were all good and gutsy fielders.’’
His best performances
Rusi’s best performances came during the 1967-68 tour of Australia and New Zealand. He made 367 runs in Australia (70, 53 at Adelaide, 30,43 at Melbourne, 52,64 at Brisbane, 29,26 at Sydney) against Graham McKenzie, Allan Connolly, Dave Renneberg and 321 (28,44 at Dunedin, 67,45 at Christchurch, 10,0 at Wellington, 28,99 at Auckland ( in New Zealand against fast bowler Dick Motz and Bruce Taylor. He also took 15 wickets in Australia. “He was dropped by Chairman Vijay Merchant after the first Test against Australia at the Brabourne. He did not do much in the two Tests against New Zealand at the Brabourne and at Nagpur. But he dismissed Bill Lawry and Keith Stackpole at the Brabourne and should have played a few more. I think he told Pataudi that he would field at short leg for Bedi and Prasanna. I have umpired in matches he played for the Parsee Cyclists and Tatas in the local division,’’ said Piloo Reporter.
Rusi was one among the many parsees who played for India; the others being Sorabji Colah, Phiroze Palia, Jenni Irani, Rustomji Jamshedi, K. R.Meherhomji, Polly Umrigar, Nari Contractor, Farokh Engineer, Rusi Modi and Keki Tarapore. Rusi Bhumgara, former President, Parsee Gymkhana and who has known Surti for almost six decades said: “We all met Rusi Surti at Homi Metha’s grandson’s navjote ceremony. He was in good health. I played for Tata Mills and he for Indian Hotels. He was a better fielder,’’ said Bhumgara.
The Vice President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Niranjan Shah on Sunday expressed shock over the sad demise of Surti. “He was a brilliant all-rounder. He was an asset to any side he played for. He set a new height in the fielding department in Indian Cricket,” said Shah.