Photo courtesy: Bhagwandas Suthar
Photo courtesy: Bhagwandas Suthar

18.2º Celsius, as the weather pundits inform us, is the average January day temperature at Indore, with the weather normally set fair at this time of the year, and an average wind-speed of about 2 according to the Beaufort scale; in short, ideal conditions for a game of cricket. Conditions on Monday, January 19, 1959 were probably well in keeping with the predicted mean. Madhya Pradesh were to take on Vidarbha in a 3-day Ranji Trophy match at Yeshwant Club Ground. ALSO READ: Ken McEwan: Itinerant lucky charm?

Chandu Sarwate, the astute and experienced Madhya Pradesh skipper, won the toss and sent the visitors in. He may have seen something either on the wicket or in the ambient weather, because the visitors were dismissed for 151 in their 1st innings. Madan Joshi with 52 and Kamraj Kesari with 39 made the only contributions worth mentioning with the bat. For the hosts, captain Sarwate took 5 for 33, reaching a personal milestone of 250 Ranji Trophy wicket with his 4th scalp, and Hiralal Gaekwad took 3 for 45.

Madhya Pradesh declared on 238 for 9, taking a lead of 87 runs. For the hosts, Khandu Rangnekar scored 113, though there were no other significant individual scores. For the visitors Wasuderao Sane took 6 for 90. ND Bokey took 3 for 89.

Vidarbha’s 2nd-innings effort was even worse — 108, the only notable individual score being 45 by wicketkeeper Dinkar Deshpande. There were no heroics from the home skipper in this innings, though.

A fresh- faced youth, all of 15 years 188 days, playing in only his 2nd First-Class match, grabbed 5 for 32, going into the record books as the youngest Indian bowler ever to take a 5-wicket haul in a First-Class match. Meet Bhagwandas Suthar, the shy, home-grown, local boy. Madhya Pradesh then scored the required 22 runs in 4 overs for the loss of 3 wickets.

Suthar was born July 15, 1943 at Indore, and developed into a right-hand batsman and right-arm off-break bowler. From the bio-data that Mr Suthar has very kindly provided to the author, his early cricketing exploits include his playing for the Madhya Pradesh Schools Team in the All India Schools’ Tournament at Assam in 1957-58. He also represented East Zone Schools and Central Zone schools at Hyderabad and Calcutta in 1958 and 1959 respectively. In later years, he represented Vikram University from 1959-60 to 1962-63.

His profile in the archives informs us that he played 66 First-Class matches between 1958-59 and 1978-79, scoring 2,351 runs with a highest of 91 and an average of 26.41. He held 49 catches. He captured 51 wickets with a best analysis of 7 for 89 and a bowling average of 24.41. He had 4 five-fors and a 10-for. He would go on to play First-Class cricket for Madhya Pradesh, Indian Universities and Central Zone.

Suthar made his First-Class debut with Madhya Pradesh against Rajasthan in a 3-day match at Indore in January 1959, scoring 0 not out in his only innings and taking no wickets in his 4 overs of the only Rajasthan innings. His disappointing debut might have inspired his performance in his second match, as depicted above.

Under the captaincy of CS Nayudu, Suthar enjoyed another good bowling stint for Madhya Pradesh against Rajasthan in a Ranji Trophy match at Indore in November 1960, when he captured 7 for 89 in the Rajasthan 1st innings. His victims included Vijay Manjrekar, Salim Durani, Hanumant Singh, and Subhash Gupte — all household names in Indian cricket. It may be mentioned here that Gaekwad disposed of Vinoo Mankad and Rusi Surti in the same innings. This list will give some idea about the quality of the opponents’ batting strength, so it is no surprise that Rajasthan won the match by 7 wickets.

His best bowling performance was in his 5th match, against Uttar Pradesh at Daly College Ground, Indore, in January 1960. The home team scored 278 in the 1st innings, with solid performances by Manohar Sharma (56) and Ramesh Bhatia (49 not out). Strangely, there were 3 run outs in the innings. The opposition were dismissed for 108 in their 1st innings, with Nirmal Dutta playing a lone hand for 53. Suthar took 5 for 49 and held 3 catches as well. Gaekwad snared 4 for 42.

Following on, Uttar Pradesh were dismissed for 235, Suthar capturing 7 for 102. With only 66 needed in the 4th innings, Madhya Pradesh won the match by 8 wickets. Suthar’s 12 for 151 remained the only 10-wicket haul in his career.

The archives speak of his having played a drawn match for Indian Universities against the touring Pakistan team at Poona in November 1960. The tourists overwhelmed the colts to a considerable extent, declaring on 535 for 4, Hanif Mohammad (222, he was on 107 not out at lunch on Day 1), Mushtaq Mohammad (125 not out) and Wallis Mathias (103 not out) all scoring centuries.

Suthar did not cover himself with glory in this match with the ball, with figures of 0/147 from 30 overs in the match. He did, however, redeem himself somewhat by scoring 40 in the only innings he batted, and this against an attack comprising captain Fazal Mahmood, Mahmood Hussain, Mohammad Farooq, Nasim-ul-Ghani and Intikhab Alam.

Suthar was in very good company in this match because his team-mates included KS Indrajitsinhji, Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai (making his First-Class debut), Prem Bhatia, Ajay Divecha and Milkha Singh, who, however, was unable to bat, having sustained an injury in the field during the Pakistan innings.

He was to play 2 more matches against the visiting Pakistan team that season, for Central Zone and for Madhya Pradesh, but without any notable success.

Although his principal function in the team was that of a bowler, he was, as the saying goes, “no mug with the bat” either. We find from the archives that he had 13 scores of 50 or above from 102 innings, with a sterling performance against Vidarbha in a Ranji Trophy match at Nagpur in January 1972, when he scored 41 not out and 91 (with 15 fours) in a match Madhya Pradesh won by 189 runs. Surprisingly, captain Subodh Saxena gave him only two overs in the match.

Suthar played Duleep Trophy for Central Zone in the following seasons: 1961-62 (semi-final against East Zone), 1963-64, 1971-72 to 1973-74, and 1975/76.

In November 1961 he was selected to represent Central Zone against Ted Dexter’s MCC. The drawn match was played at Nagpur. Suthar took the wickets of both MCC openers, Peter Richardson and Geoff Pullar, in the MCC 1st innings of 405 for 3. For MCC, Peter Parfitt (166*) and Eric Russell (101) scored centuries.

Our man earned a black mark against his name in this match, however, being called for throwing twice in the MCC 1st innings by umpire KB Saxena. Central Zone were bowled out for 234 and 235, Suryaveer Singh scoring 112. Against the MCC side of 1963-64 led by Mike Smith, he played for a combined Central-East Zone team.

Suthar was to play against another MCC team on behalf of Central Zone, the team of 1972/73 under Tony Lewis, at Indore in December 1972. In a match with two individual centuries, Suryaveer (102) for the hosts and Barry Wood (117) for the visitors, there were no remarkable bowling performances, and Suthar was not required to bowl at all.

Suthar led Madhya Pradesh in the 1973-74 and 1975-76 editions of Ranji Trophy, and in his last season (1978-79), when he captained in all 4 matches he played, against Railways, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Baroda.

By now, he was generally not bowling at all, and the team was relying more on his experience. He did, however, score 24 and 40 against Railways and 48 and 25 in his very last match, against Baroda, in February 1979. His 48 was the top score out of a total of 193, while his 25 came in a team score of 150. Baroda won this match by an innings, captain Anshuman Gaekwad scoring 128 out of 346 all out in Baroda’s only innings.

Having completed his active playing career, Suthar turned his attention to another role in Indian cricket, that of a dedicated coach, particularly for the junior teams, and mentored several groups from 1978-79 to 1997.

The next logical step up was that of Team Manager, first with the junior teams, then with Madhya Pradesh, and finally with the Central Zone Duleep trophy team. He was a National Selector for junior teams from 1984-85 to 1986-87, becoming the Chairman of Selectors in his last year.

He fulfilled the role of Match Referee from February 1996 to March 2005, officiating in 8 Ranji Trophy matches, an Irani Cup match and a Duleep Trophy match. He had been Joint Secretary of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association for 8 years and at almost 73 years of age, he still has not severed all connections with cricket, being actively associated with the BCCI in various capacities.

As if all this is not enough, Suthar is a yoga expert and trainer who has been taking yoga classes for cricketers and general public at Nehru Stadium, Indore for the last 20 years. His son, Manish Panchasara, has played 2 List A matches for Madhya Pradesh.

The shy schoolboy First-Class debutant of 1959 has certainly come a long way from the time he had set an Indian record as the youngest player to take 5 wickets in an innings in First-Class cricket.

(Pradip Dhole is a retired medical doctor with a life-long interest in cricket history and statistics)