October 23, 2020
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'Peter Pan' Of Indian Cricket

Sarwate will always be remembered for his 249-run last wicket stand with Shute Banerjee against Surrey on India's tour of England in 1946

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'Peter Pan' Of Indian Cricket

It is a pity that on the heels of the death of Morappakam Gopalan, yet another stalwart of Indian cricket, Chandrasekhar Trimbak Sarwate, passed away on December 23 in Indore. An all-rounder who was a kingpin in the great Holkar side that won the Ranji Trophy on four occasions, Sarwate will always be remembered, more than anything, for his 249-run last wicket stand with Shute Banerjee against Surrey on India's tour of England in 1946.

A leggie and an offie rolled into one, Sarwate was also a forceful batsman, good enough to open the Indian innings, albeit with little success, in all the five Tests against Don Bradman's all-conquering team in Australia in 1947-48. He bowled leg-break with a generally low trajectory. Though he did not turn the ball much, he obtained surprising lift from hard wickets or on matting. But his most potent weapon was a whipping off-break with which he had bamboozled many a batsman.

Sarwate, who claimed 5 for 33 for Central Provinces and Berar against Hyderabad on first-class debut at the age of 16 and went on to score 4923 runs (including nine centuries and three double hundreds) and take 281 wickets in the Ranji Trophy alone, had a bizarre Test career. He was chosen primarily as a bowler on the 1946 tour of England. But his solitary appearance in the Manchester Test brought him 0 and 12 runs and no wicket at all. Although his action was a bit peculiar, it was perfectly fair and legitimate. But his captain, Iftiqar Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi, was afraid of using him for fear of being no-balled.

Not surprisingly, he played only a few matches on the tour, bagged 37 wickets at 25.37, including a hattrick against Scotland, batted usually at No. 10 and scored 382 runs at 23.87. But he did leave his all-round imprint in the match against Surrey at The Oval despite being ill-treated by the team management on the tour.

The peerless Alec Bedser was still about one and half month away from making his Test debut but he was breathing fire in India's first innings. He did not allow Vijay Hazare and Rusi Modi to open their accounts and, after some rearguard action from Vijay Merchant (53) and Gul Mahomed (89), the visitors were tottering at 205 for 9. It was then that Sarwate was joined by Banerjee.

Sure of removing the Indian tail in a jiffy, the Surrey skipper not only delayed the tea break but was also seen informing the groundsman what roller he would require before the start of the hosts' innings. But Sarwate and Banerjee had different ideas. Batting on, the two added a record 249 runs for the last wicket in three hours and 10 minutes before Banerjee was bowled by J.F. Parker for 121, leaving Sarwate unconquered on 124. Neither before nor since have both the No. 10 and No. 11 batsmen scored a century each in a first-class match.

In reply to India's 454, Surrey was bundled out for a paltry 135 thanks to some superb leg-spin bowling by C.S. Nayudu, who performed a hattrick. Following on, the hosts fared slightly better in the second innings and made 338 with Sarwate taking 5 for 54 with his curious mix of leg-breaks and off-breaks. India eventually romped home by nine wickets.

Strangely enough, when India embarked on her maiden tour of Australia under Lala Amarnath in 1947-48, this bowling all-rounder opened the innings with Vinoo Mankad in all the five Tests and hardly bowled! Howsoever hard he tried to hang in there, Sarwate was palpably ill-equipped to face the likes of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller.

So short was the team of openers that Sarwate could not be replaced despite his string of low scores. Except once, the Mankad-Sarwate opening partnerships in 10 innings were 0, 14, 2, 17, 124, 10, 6, 0, 3, 0. In the 124-run stand in the third Test at Melbourne, the make-shift opener's contribution was a gutsy 36, his highest score in the rubber. In many ways it was a disastrous series for Sarwate -- 100 runs in 10 innings and two wickets for 276 runs in 53 overs.

It was not that Sarwate did not get opportunities. The problem was the selectors were never sure which role they actually wanted him to play. All this told on his performance when playing for the country. He was nowhere near the kind of cricketer he usually was in first-class cricket in India in his remaining three Tests - two against the West Indies in 1948-49 and one versus England in 1951-52 - in all of which he scalped one wicket in 32 overs and compiled 106 runs with 37 being his highest.

Born on July 22, 1920 in Sagar town of Madhya Pradesh, the gentle Sarwate represented Central Provinces and Berar, Maharashtra, Hindus, Mumbai, Holkar, Madhya Bharat, Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha between 1936 to 1969, and scored 7430 runs (inclusive of 14 three-figure knocks) at 32.73, took 494 wickets at 23.54 and held 91 catches in 171 first-class matches.

His highest score was 246 for Holkar against Bengal in 1950-51. He had taken eight wickets in the "Test" that India won against the powerful Australian Services at Chennai in 1945. For Holkar against Mysore in 1949, he followed up his century (101) by taking 9 for 61 in 21.5 overs. He also captained Holkar.

Known as Peter Pan because of his small stature, Sarwate's boyish smile and pleasant nature won him many friends. He had a good sense of humour, too. The story goes that Sarwate and Mushtaq Ali had hatched a plot to tease Gul Mahomed after he bragged about a romantic attention bestowed upon him on the 1946 tour of England. Sarwate, a professional handwriting and finger print expert, penned an anonymous love letter to Gul. It contained an imaginary message from a lady who had a crush on him, asking him to meet her at the Waterloo station, miles away from London.

Irrespective of severe cold and rain, the excited Gul did indeed reach the Waterloo! Next day, when Sarwate and Mushtaq Ali asked him how he found his lady admirer, Gulu brushed them aside and said that somehow he could not meet her! Interestingly, even when the two told him that the message was actually composed by them, he was not prepared to believe a word they said. And for a very long time Gul was under the impression that a damsel had indeed written him a letter!

Sarvate was one of the national selectors who picked the Indian team that won the World Cup in England in 1983. Besides being the secretary of Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, he was also the chairman of its selection committee on number of occasions.

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