With six wickets and a hat-trick, Shute Banerjee pulled off one of the greatest performances of his career © Getty Images
With 6 wickets and a hat-trick, Shute Banerjee pulled off one of the greatest performances of his career © Getty Images

There was no way Delhi was going to lose the match against Bihar at Jamshedpur. Bihar had, after all, not won a single match despite 12 years of effort in Ranji Trophy. When play started on Day Three at Keenan Stadium, Delhi needed a mere 46 to win with 8 wickets standing. Then Shute Banerjee and Bimal ‘Potla’ Bose took over, and history was created. On the wake of Kerala’s successful defence of 115 in Ranji Trophy 2015-16, Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at January 23, 1949, when Bihar pulled off a miracle: the record still stands.

“It is said that the Delhi manager expected the match to end before the lunch-break — and in his favour — so [he] invited everybody he met that morning to the anticipated victory lunch. Everybody came, but it was Bihar who celebrated.” — Sujit Mukherjee, Autobiography of an Unknown Cricketer.

The match was not Bihar’s to be won. Who would have expected them to defend 78? This was India, and this was the 1940s: less than a decade back Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, & co. were involved in what seemed like a relentless race of outrageously high scores.

Only once had a team defended a two-digit First-Class score till then on Indian soil, back in 1892-93: set to chase 98, ME Pavri’s Parsees had been bowled out for 90 against the touring Lord Hawke’s XI, their left-arm spinner John Hornsby taking a career-best 8 for 40 (he had taken 7 for 46 in the first innings).

But this was Bihar. Hawke’s team consisted of 6 Test players in Charles Wright, Stanley Jackson, Ledger Hill, George Vernon, Chris Heseltine, and Hawke himself, against men who seldom got to play international attacks. The Bihar attack had no such name to boast of — barring Shute Banerjee, who had made it to the England tours of 1936 and 1946, but had returned without a Test cap.

Sarodindu Nath ‘Shute’ Banerjee (all databases, for some reason, register his first name as Sarobindu) was not express, but he had qualities — a vicious bouncer and seemingly interminable stamina — that would have made him formidable. He was also a dependable batsman (remember his world record stand with Chandu Sarwate?), but at 37, the Bihar captain’s golden days were clearly behind him.

However, a week before the Test, Banerjee had a special outing, at Allahabad, for East Zone against the touring West Indians. With 7 for 67 he blew the tourists away for 184; his wickets included George Carew, Jeff Stollmeyer, Clyde Walcott, John Goddard, and Gerry Gomez. It was the only defeat the West Indians faced on that tour to Pakistan, India, and Ceylon.

Partnering him was the left-arm swing bowler Bimal Bose (who, to quote Mukherjee, “always bowled with a shoal of slips behind the batsman”). Like most Bengalis (Banerjee included), Bimal had a nickname (‘Potla’, in his case), and was usually referred to by it.

Also in the side were Sunil Bose, N Chakrabarty, and debutant L Sterling; but there was no doubt that Shute Banerjee, 37, and Potla Bose, 30, formed the spine of the attack.

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Note: A line or two about Potla Bose here. Bikash and Biraj, Potla’s brothers, also played for Bihar, but were nowhere close to their elder brother’s stature. The biggest name in the family was, however, Potla’s elder brother, Benoy (also spelled as Binoy) Bose. Along with Badal Gupta and Dinesh Gupta, Benoy formed a trinity of freedom fighters, earning a reputation for unexpected attacks and subtle escapes. Their most famous attack was also their last: on December 8, 1930, launched an assault on Secretariat Building, Calcutta, killing the infamous Col NS Simpson, the notorious (for brutality against prisoners) Inspector-General of Prisons. They were overpowered by British police; realising they could not escape, Badal took potassium cyanide while Benoy and Dinesh shot themselves with their revolvers. Almost always referred to together, Benoy, Badal, and Dinesh are hailed among India’s greatest revolutionaries.

The fact that Benoy and Bimal were brothers is not commonly known. It was first mentioned on Indian Cricket, 1997, and was confirmed by former West Bengal Finance Minister Ashok Mitra in his award-winning book Apila Chapila.

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Delhi dominate

Banerjee decided to bat and the openers added 42, getting Bihar off to a solid start. ‘Slim and fiery’ Sudhir Das batted solidly, scoring 49, but the rest succumbed to Hargopal Singh (5 for 36) and Kiran Bahadur (3 for 34). Barring Das, no Bihar top-order batsman reached 20.

Bihar were reduced to 109 for 8 before Sterling batting at No. 10, racing to a quickfire 25. Bihar eventually scored 153. H Kishenchand — of no known relation to Gogumal — scored 51 (out of a 78-run second-wicket stand), and by stumps Delhi were on a dominating 119 for 2.

Tuljaram carried on, eventually falling for a gritty 66, while Ishwar Dayal contributed with 28. Despite a burst from Potla Bose (7 for 42), Delhi acquired a 53-run lead. Bihar were 5 wickets down before they reached that score.

The lower middle-order resisted a bit, but things looked hopeless at 101 for 8. Once again, Sterling, at No. 10, provided resistance; his 21 took the score to 136.

Delhi were set to chase a mere 78. They lost Balbir Khanna and Tuljaram with a mere 8 on the board, but Bishan Bihari and Dr Ravi Vaid looked in complete control. Delhi finished on 32 for 2. They needed another 46.

Bihar create history 

The day, January 23, 1948, was the 51st birth anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who was presumed alive by many (he still is, albeit by very few) following his mysterious disappearance in August 18, 1945. “Before the start a solemn function of garlanding and saluting the portrait of Netaji by members of the contesting sides was observed.”

Dr Vaid probably wanted to finish things off quickly: he reached 22 before attempting a hoick off Bose, missed the line completely, and was trapped LBW. The score read 38 for 3.

Bihari followed soon, holing out to the substitute fielder Shyamlal Sinha at mid-on. Bose trapped Laxmi Chand Saxena leg-before at the other end. Kishenchand, with a fifty under his belt, went for the big hit, and was claimed by Bose for a duck; the score read 41 for 6, and suddenly Bihar were the favourites.

Some hope lay with Dayal, who had scored 28 in the first innings, and certainly held the key to the match from there. He reduced the deficit by two. Delhi needed another 35.

Banerjee, despite looking more dangerous of the two, had taken a mere two wickets by then. Now he converted what The Indian Express called “havoc bowling” into wickets: Dayal, Hargopal Singh, and Gian Kapoor were bowled off consecutive balls, making Banerjee the sixth bowler to take a Ranji Trophy hat-trick. “Some devil entered Shute Banerjee’s right hand,” wrote an awestruck Mukherjee.

Delhi had suddenly lost 7 wickets for 5 runs, leaving everything to Kiran Bahadur, captain, and Hargopal Berry, wicketkeeper. They still needed 35, but last-wicket partnerships of higher magnitudes had been forged.

Five runs were added. Another thirty.

Then Banerjee got his sixth, pitching one up, and found Bahadur’s edge. B Roy’s big gloves accepted the catch gleefully, and history was created.

Chasing 78 Delhi had been bowled out for 48 after being 38 for 2. No side has defended a lower target on Indian soil.

But more importantly, most importantly, a Ranji Trophy side far away from glamour pulled off their first ever win.

What followed?

– Banerjee made his Test debut in less than a fortnight, against West Indies at Brabourne Stadium. He took 1 for 73 and 4 for 54, but never played again.

– Bihar won their opening Ranji Trophy match the following season. Orissa, bowled out for 89 and 44, lost by 356 runs. They did not beat Delhi again till the 1975-76 quarter-final, the only time they reached the final.

– V Venkatram is the only other Bihar (or Jharkhand) bowler to take a hat-trick, against Tripura at Jamshedpur in 1990-91.

Brief scores:

Bihar 153 (Sudhir Das 49; Kiran Bahadur 3 for 34, Hargopal Singh 5 for 36) and 136 (Hargopal Singh 3 for 42, Laxmi Chand Saxena 3 for 18) beat Delhi 212 (Tuljaram 66, H Kishenchand 51; Bimal Bose 7 for 42) and 48 (Shute Banerjee 6 for 22, Bimal Bose 4 for 25) by 29 runs.

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