Bangalore: Rusi Surti, the former Indian Test cricketer, passed away on Sunday (January 13) morning in Mumbai. He was 76 years old, and is survived by his two sons.
Surti’s health had been unsteady since he suffered a massive heart attack on Thursday afternoon. Doctors at Jaslok Hospital, where he was being treated, suspected a neurological disorder and he had been put on ventilator.
Surti, a left-handed batsman and a left-arm bowler who could bowl both pace and spin, was a valuable asset to the Indian team during the 1960s. His versatility, as well as the reputation of being one of the finest close-in fielders of his generation, had earned him the tag of ‘poor man’s Garry Sobers’.
He made his Test debut against Pakistan in Mumbai in December 1960, and did not take long to make an impression, scoring 64 in his second match. However, that was to be his last Test till the West Indies tour of 1961-62, when he scored 246 runs in five matches against Wesley Hall, Lance Gibbs and Sobers.
It was, however, only during the tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1967-68 that Surti’s credentials as an allrounder were truly established. In Australia he picked up 15 wickets in four matches and returned his best innings figures of 5 for 74 in the Adelaide Test. Then in New Zealand, he played a key role with the bat in India’s first overseas Test series win. Surti’s 99 – his career-best – in the second innings of the fourth Test in Auckland helped India win the match by an empathic margin of 272 runs and seal the series 3-1.
In the eight Tests during the two series, he was India’s most successful batsman with 688 runs at an average of 45.50, and took 22 wickets.
His performance, interestingly, earned him a contract with Queensland, which made him the first Indian to play in the Sheffield Shield, Australia’s domestic first-class competition. Surti scored 1859 runs and took 51 wickets in 35 matches for Queensland.
However, Surti was to play in only three more Tests after the Auckland win. He finished his 26-Test career – at Brabourne Stadium where he made his debut – with 1263 runs and 42 wickets.
In the Ranji Trophy, Surti was a key member of the Rajasthan and Gujarat sides in the 1950s and 1960s. His highest first-class score of 246 not out came for Rajasthan against Uttar Pradesh in 1959-60. He retired from first-class cricket in 1973 with an overall aggregate of 8066 runs and 284 wickets in 160 matches.
Surti settled in Australia after his retirement, and ran a private coaching clinic in Brisbane, and was a regular presence at the Indian team’s practice sessions whenever the team was in town while on tour.