Baloo Gupte's effort in the match was as heroic as any in history.
Baloo Gupte’s effort in the match was as heroic as any in history.

When Bombay and Delhi Universities, previous season’s finalists, clashed for the Rohinton Baria Trophy final of 1956-57, little did they know that they would be involved in an eight-day marathon of a contest at Baroda that ended on January 19, 1957. It did not help that there was no rest day to provide the poor students with respite of any sort. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the longest cricket matches without a break of any sort — and a heroic effort by Balakrishna Pandharinath ‘Baloo’ Gupte.

Ardeshir Dadabhoy Baria was the President of a cricket club in Bombay. When his son Rohinton passed away at a young age, Ardeshir initiated a proposal for an inter-university trophy to be named after Rohinton.

A year after the inaugural Ranji Trophy, the first edition of Rohinton Baria Trophy took place, in 1935-36. Pre-partition Punjab University (PU) beat Bombay University (BU) to lift the Trophy. PU won the first three editions, and of the first 15 editions, BU won 11 and PU 4.

By now other universities had emerged on the scene. Though BU ruled the tournament, Delhi University (DU) provided them with tough competition. Rohinton Baria Trophy, the perfect intermediate step between school cricket and Ranji Trophy, gained in stature. By the late 1940s, even Ceylon University had joined the fray.

Several future champions emerged from the tournament. For example, the 1945-46 PU team consisted of seven future Test cricketers in Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Fazal Mahmood, Nazar Mohammad, Khan Mohammad, Shujauddin Butt, Imtiaz Ahmed, and Maqsood Ahmed. BU, too, had a formidable base, and several players went on to play Test cricket for India.

That season, BU boasted of Nari Contractor, Manohar Hardikar, Sharad Diwadkar, Vasu Paranjpe, and Baloo Gupte (brother of Subhash). They beat the universities from Madras, Poona, and Mysore on their way to the final.

DU, too, boasted of future Test cricketers Rajinder Pal and Man Sood, in addition to Prakash Bhandari, who had already played 3 Tests. They beat Roorkee, Punjab, and Allahabad Universities en route the final. The teams met at University Union Ground, Baroda.

Those Delhi seamers

Rajinder Pal was still in his teens, but had already shown glimpses of his talent in Rohinton Baria. Partnering him was Jitendra Yeshpal, another promising seamer who would make his Ranji Trophy debut later that season.

Though Yeshpal removed Mohamed Hussain early, Contractor and SS Saifuddin eased into the situation; with Hardikar and Paranjpe both scoring fifties, BU reached a comfortable 199 for 3 before the seamers struck again with the second new ball. Only JD Jukar stood amidst the ruins as BU were reduced to 234 for 9.

But Jukar held up one end. He was joined by Sharad Gupte, of no known relationship with Subhash Gupte (though his initials, SP, were same as Subhash’s). Sharad would never reach 30 in his First-Class career, but would remain unbeaten in 6 of his 14 innings. He was one of those gutsy, irritating tail-enders.

Jukar and Sharad added 34 by stumps, and continued with the grind the morning after, batting till half-an-hour before lunch. By the time Pratap Chauhan had Sharad caught-behind he had scored 41; the last pair was worth 109; and Jukar, unvanquished, returned on 82.

Rajinder Pal (4 for 116), Yeshpal (4 for 60), and Chauhan (2 for 87) shared the 10 wickets; 343 was certainly not a match-winning score; but those 109 runs were crucial — as it would emerge as the match would move on.

Dear little brother

Baloo Gupte was nowhere as talented as Subhash. To make things worse, he practised the same art as Subhash did. Life is seldom good to you if you are a specialist leg-spinner, but not the best in your family.

At domestic cricket, however, there was little to choose between the brothers: while Subhash took his 530 wickets at 23.71, Baloo’s 417 came at 24.88. If anything, Baloo’s strike rate of 53.9 was slightly better than Subhash’s 55.9. It was unfortunate that Baloo never made it big at the highest level.

Gupte Jr was known in domestic circuit for his bowl-till-you-drop-dead attitude. Through his career he relied on his immense stamina, wheeling down over after over, luring batsmen into submission. Here, too, he came on first-change, and sent down 43.1 overs to take 8 for 100.

As many as eight DU batsmen reached double-figures, but Sukhdev Singh (53) was the only one to go past fifty. There were eight double-digit partnerships, but only one stand in excess of fifty. And DU, 160 for 5 at stumps on Day Two, were bowled out for 241 next day. Readers may recall that BU were 234 for 9 at one stage.

It was a timeless match, but that seemed redundant at this stage. With a 102-run lead and a strong batting line-up to follow, BU were easily the favourites.

The Hardikar essay

Once again Hussain fell cheaply, hitting one back to Yeshpal. Saifuddin, too, was dismissed cheaply, and the score read 33 for 2. Then Hardikar joined Contractor, and the pair added 178 before Contractor fell to Rajendra Bhargawa for 107.

There was no respite for the DU bowlers, as Paranjpe hammered them for a 115-minute 124, adding another 201 for the fourth wicket. Jukar, too, helped Hardikar put on 89, and BU finished Day Four on 501 for 5, 603 ahead.

Thankfully, BU had mercy, and declared on 625 for 9 (they scored at more than 3 an over) at lunch the next day, but not before Hardikar, just short of his 21st birthday, had scored a mammoth 241. He would later go on to become a regular feature for the all-conquering Bombay side of the 1960s and on either side of it.

A target of 728 was simply not achievable at any level. A “terrifying task,” The Indian Express called it.

Baloo Gupte versus Delhi University

The DU boys were aware of the fact that it was an uphill ask, but that did not deter them. KS Chhatrapalsinhji, hailing from royal family of Nawanagar, nephew of KS Ranjitsinhji, uncle of Ajay Jadeja, hung around, scoring 39 and helping Balaji Rao add 81. He was stumped off Gupte after tea. At close DU were 125 for 1, the target a near-impossible 603 away.

But Balaji Rao (79) and Sukhdev (74) batted grittily, adding 104. Runs did not come quickly, for Baloo Gupte and Diwadkar sent down maiden after maiden, but runs did come. Jyotish Chander (95) and Bhandari (71) added another 107.

DU resumed Day Seven on 343 for 4, and this time it was Bhargawa’s turn to deliver goods. He outdid his teammates by scoring 108 from No. 6, and with both Sood (34) and Yeshpal (59) batting solidly, DU probably sniffed a chance.

Meanwhile, Baloo Gupte continued tirelessly. There was no rest day during the match, which meant that he had no respite throughout DU’s long second innings. Not that he minded. Diwadkar shared the burden by (he would bowl 76.1 overs for his 2 for 120), but wickets fell at the other end.

At stumps on Day Seven, DU’s score read 567 for 6. They needed another 161. “Delhi today fought with grim determination to win despite the colossal task before them and they appeared to be nearer their objective at the end of the day’s play,” wrote The Indian Express.

DU brought the target down to 139 on Day Eight (without a rest day, I remind) with 4 wickets still standing. Then they gave in.

The last four DU wickets fell for 22. It was barely 80 minutes into Day Eight. Yeshpal went first, edging one to the big gloves of Prahlad Rao off Gupte. Then Gupte produced a beauty: The Indian Express wrote that Bhargawa was “completely beaten and bowled”. Anil Khanna followed for a duck, bowled Gupte; Chauhan and Rajinder Pal added 13 before Diwadkar ran through the latter’s defence, polishing things off.

DU batted 304.1 overs, but lost by 116 runs. The 109 added by Jukar and Sharad Gupte for the last wicket had indeed proved decisive.

The inexhaustible Baloo Gupte finished with near-unbelievable figures of 116-36-202-7 (yes, he did bowl 116 overs in an innings; that is more than a full One-Day International). His match figures read a surreal 159.3-47-302-15. Seldom has a performance represented the fruit of hard toil so effectively.

What followed?

- DU had their revenge in 1959-60. They conceded a 57-run lead, but Prem Bhatia’s 129 helped them build the foundation, and their last four wickets helped put on 229. Chasing 357, BU were bowled out for 249 by Rajinder Pal and Bharat Awasthy. Once again Baloo Gupte was at his best with 77-15-209-8 in the match, but he was outdone by Diwadkar’s 78.2-19-198-9.

- Rohinton Baria Trophy became an irregular affair after 1991-92. Varsity cricket resumed in 2012-13 under the name Toyota University Cricket Championship with Shahrukh Khan as brand ambassador, but not much happened after Jain University won the first edition.

Brief scores:

Bombay University 343 (Manohar Hardikar 65, Vasu Paranjpe 57, JD Jukar 82*; Rajinder Pal 4 for 116, Jitendra Yeshpal 4 for 60) and 625 for 9 decl. (Nari Contractor 107, Manohar Hardikar 241, Vasu Paranjpe 124) beat Delhi University 241 (Sukhdev Singh 53; Baloo Gupte 8 for 100) and 611 (Balaji Rao 79, Sukhdev Singh 74, Jyotish Chander 95, Prakash Bhandari 71, Rajendra Bhargawa 108, Jitendra Yeshpal 59; Baloo Gupte 7 for 202) by 116 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)