Cricket is a sport played by a handful of nations. In its early days, before limited overs Internationals began its journey, cricket was played only in the form of Test Cricket and First Class Cricket. First class cricket in India was treated with utmost importance. In a war-ravaged nation, to emerge as a successful cricketer, it was always regarded as the stepping stone. Defying the mountain of difficulties that pre-independent India had on offer to a cricketer, a resolute team of 16 set off for a tour to England in 1946. It was a bright morning at the Oval on 11th of May. Choosing to bat first, India was 9 down against Surrey, with a mere 205 on board, when a certain Sarobindu Nath Banerjee came to the crease. And he did something that earned him a place in the history of Cricket.
Early Days :
Sarobindu Nath Banerjee, popularly known as Shute Banerjee, was born in Kolkata in October 1911. At the age of only 19, he made his first class debut for Bengal as a medium pace bowler. 6 years later, he was selected for the third unofficial test between India and England, following a superb 5 wicket haul against Jack Ryder’s Australian team. In the 1936-37 Ranji Trophy, he led a mediocre Bengal side to the final; taking 5 for 33 against Central India and scoring a crucial 47 not out against Hyderabad in the semi-final. Just before a spirited Bengal team went to play in the final, the prince of Nawanagar offered him a state service job which would make him eligible to play for Nawanagar and not Bengal. It was a major controversy whether he accepted the offer or not. Cricket Club of India probed into the fact and finally decided that Banerjee would not play for either of the team in the Ranji Finals. Needless to say, Bengal lost their spark in the bowling, ending up as the losing side.
One Test Wonder :
Shute Banerjee had an admirable first class career, stretching more than 30 years, took 385 wickets in 138 matches at an average of 26.61. His famous bowling figure came against Mumbai as he grabbed 8 victims conceding just 25 runs. Despite having a very successful first class career, Shute Banerjee played only one test, that too in 1949; 19 years after his debut. He took 5 wickets in that match, including a key 4 wicket haul in the second innings. India almost chased down a mammoth total of 361 in the fourth innings, falling 6 runs short with 2 wickets in hand. Surprisingly enough, he has never played any more test matches and is viewed as one of the One Test Wonders of India. He, however, played 5 unofficial test matches in his career.
The Miracle :
Going back to the story of the Oval, India was 205 for 9 against Surrey on their third practice match. Chandu Sarwate, the no. 10 batsman, was in the middle when Shute Banerjee took his stance. Together, in almost 3 hours, they added a record-breaking partnership of 249 runs in the 10th wicket. Shute Banerjee was bowled by fast bowler Jack Parker, after making a quintessential 121. It was the only time in the history of cricket where both the no. 10 and no. 11 batsman scored a century. Sarwate finished the innings with 124 not out and later took 5 for 54 in the second innings after Surrey was forced to follow on; thus helping India to win the match by 10 wickets. Their partnership is the 2nd best 10th wicket partnership till date, considering all forms of cricket.
All-round skills :
Over the years, India never failed to produce world class talents but it was never illustrious for its vivid supply of pace bowlers. On top of it, among the likes of Mohammad Nissar, Amar Singh, Jahangir Khan etc, Shute Banerjee never really flourished the way he could have. Banerjee’s stock delivery moved in to the batsman, often causing a thick edge to the wicket keeper. In his first overseas tour to England in 1936, he further developed his in-swinger. He had a lot of variations under his sleeve. Occasional slowers that seemed like a leg-break or out-swingers which moved away after pitching in line seemed to trouble the batsmen more than often.
Ramachandra Guha in his book ‘States of Indian cricket’, where he used a technique of selecting an All Time State XI to describe the history of cricket in a particular state, selected Shute Banerjee as a middle order batsman in his Bengal team. Shute Banerjee’s batting order differed because of his ability to chip in with handy knocks, but he was primarily a tail-ender.
(You can find the Part 1 of India’s forgotten Hero Series here)