Padma Shri winner and a pioneer for Hindi cricket commentary in India,he reported on 102 Tests and 215 ODIs,most alongside friend and mentor Suresh Saraiya
My relationship with Suresh goes back 36 long years. And I take great pride in knowing him both personally and professionally. I really admired him as a commentator and even more so as a person. Cricket commentary meant everything to Suresh. He was someone who ate,breathed and slept cricket commentary. There was little else he was passionate about.
Suresh was a thorough professional,and he took great joy in being able to communicate his opinions about the match in that unique fashion of his. But I don’t think anyone ever prepared as diligently as Suresh did for a commentary stint.
Being close family friends,I would regularly visit his home in Mumbai. And his late wife Meera would often joke about how nobody in the house was allowed to talk to her dear husband for two full days before a match. Suresh would be busy doing his homework,noting down statistics and writing trivia and important information into his diary. And he would not like to be disturbed. And I remember vividly how he would walk into the commentary box,armed with his trusted diary,and there would be words and numbers under-lined meticulously. Some in red,some in black and some in pink. And I can recall a perfect example of how well-versed he was with cricket and its rules.
It was during a one-dayer between India and Pakistan at Hyderabad back in 1987. The match was over with the scores tied. This was before Duckworth-Lewis came into being. Everyone was waiting with bated breath to know the eventual result of the contest. I was listening to Suresh on All India Radio (AIR),and five minutes before the umpires announced the result,he had already given his verdict,stating that according to the rule-book,India had won as a result of losing fewer wickets. Imagine,it took the officials longer than him to announce the result. That’s how well he knew his cricket.
Suresh’s emergence in radio commentary came about during the last 1960s. Back then,there were a number of stalwarts nearing the end of their careers. There was the Maharaj of Vizianagram or Vizzy as he was called and of course Berry Sarbadhikari from Kolkata,a man who I really admired the most. There were also the likes of Pearson Surita,Anand Rao from Chennai and Devraj Puri. But they were on their last legs,and it is then that the next generation,the likes of Suresh,Raj Singh Dungarpur and Anant Setvald,who I think was world-class,came onto the scene with the dawn of the 1970s. This lot was different,and they had no stuck-ups. They were all leaning towards the future and were very welcoming towards the changes that were occuring in cricket.
And Suresh was the most different of the lot. He was unique with everything he did. He was witty,and always liked to twist and turn words around. He would pun in the same offbeat manner,regardless of whether he was at a dinner table or while he was describing a shot over mid-wicket. And Suresh loved to slip in phrases and quotations in Hindi and Gujarati even during his English commentary stint. His favourite was using his Bombaiya Hindi. “Team ki tho vaat lag gayee” he would say.
There were few more exciting commentators than Suresh. In fact I would say he was more excited than his listeners were with what was happening on the field. We worked on many matches together. The most memorable one though has to be India’s historic run-chase at Port-of-Spain in 1976. That too by a team the West Indians called a two-and-half-batsmen team. But Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Vishwanath just proved how good they were and ensured that India became the only team apart from Don Bradman’s Invincibles in 1948 to chase down a target of over 400 in a Test match. Both Suresh and I were over the moon too,and I in fact broke down. It was a very emotional moment though.
The only anecdote that can pip that is when Suresh and I managed to meet the great Don in Adelaide during India’s 1981 tour Down Under. Back then,Sir Don had become a very private person and even the Prime Minister of Australia couldn’t meet him too easily. But Suresh discovered that Bradman was very close to Rusi Mody,and got a letter of recommendation from him and posted it to the Don’s house. We were in Adelaide covering a day-night game,and that’s when Suresh received a letter informing him about our appointment with the Don the very next day for lunch. And I will never forget the moment when the great man walked down to the hotel lobby where we were waiting for him. The condition was that we wouldn’t talk cricket and the Don inquired about our families and other topics. We had even arranged for a photo session,and then we were even joined by Raj bhai (Dungarpur) and Ashish Ray. Those two too had been trying to set up a meeting with Bradman but had failed. Imagine what Raj bhai couldn’t achieve,Suresh did. That was his passion for cricket.
Noted Hindi commentator formed a famous combination with Saraiya in the radio commentary box
I can assure you that cricket commentary has lost a doyen. The man who really turned commentary into an art-form in our country. Nobody can even come close to the passion and drive that Suresh bhai had towards cricket commentary. He was one of the originals. Like the Kishore Kumar or Lata Mangeshkar of his field. His passing away is a personal loss for me. He was always an elder brother to me.
A man with a bigger heart you wouldn’t find anywhere. He used to stay in a small flat near the sea in Mumbai but his heart was as vast as the sea. Anyone could just go make themselves at home at his abode. Suresh bhai was someone that even the cricketers respected. Such was his widespread acclaim. It really saddens me to think that it was his loneliness that resulted in his eventual death. That someone who brought so much joy to millions of people had to pass away alone.
There was so much to admire with Suresh bhai’s commentary. He was very rhythmic in his style of delivery and he had a crystal-clear voice. Many commentators struggle to get that clarity with their final word. But not Suresh bhai. He spoke from the heart and touched your heart.
He was stylish and sophisticated in the way he dressed. And he was a stylist with his commentary. He took cricket to the masses with his panache behind the mike. I have heard kids on Napean Sea Road and in the streets of Indore,imitating him during their gully games. The way he would say ‘deliverryyy’ and ‘we’re back on’. And the way he would describe a four. Those were legendary lines. Such was his popularity that he would be thronged by people wherever he would go. He was a cult-hero in Ahmedabad. The amazing thing about his meticulous homework was that he used to practise his commentary in front of a mirror each morning,just to see where his range was. He was an artist and took pride with every word he spoke. He was chiefly responsible for cricket commentary gaining respect in the country. He just had to speak one line,and everyone would know that it was Suresh bhai behind the microphone. That was his hallmark. Suresh bhai had classical tastes and he always preferred Test matches to one-day cricket. ‘A one-day match is like pop music. It pops out of your head before you realize it. While a Test match remains in there forever,’ he would say famously.
There were many popular commentators before him like Dicky Rutnagur,VN Chakrapani and others. But few garnered the kind of attention that Suresh bhai did. He had a bigger than life persona and he could entertain people of all age-groups even when he wasn’t commentating. He was always surrounded by people,and you would never get bored with Suresh bhai around.
Sunil Gavaskar was his favourite. He would just get more poetic when Sunny was batting. He admired Mohinder Amarnath for his grit,Dilip Vengsarkar for his cover-drives in England,and how he loved Kapil Dev,his side-on action and his outswing. He also loved to watch Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall in action. Speed and swing always pepped him up in the commentary box.
He was the kindest human being I’ve ever met,but was still a hard task-master with the scorers and statisticians in the box. He always wanted every detail available. But one way to his heart was by buying him a tie. He used to have over 1000 ties at home. He never wanted money or anything else. But he would never say no to a tie. I will dearly miss Suresh bhai. We were so close that I even introduced my then future-wife to him as soon as I got engaged. We really hit it off both on and off the field. The memories with him I will treasure forever.
(As told to Bharat Sundaresan)