It would be easy to dismiss Rusi Surti’s figures as mediocre or unimpressive. But the older generation who were witness to the Indian team hurtling from one disaster to another would view Surti’s stats with sympathy. The left-handed all-rounder played for India from 1960 to 1969 in a decade when a draw was a moral victory. Indeed, this was the time when the Indian team suffered seven straight defeats in England and Australia, besides losing all the five Tests in a series in the West Indies.
It can be said that Surti was was born 20 years too soon for he would have been invaluable in limited overs cricket with his ubiquitous qualities. A hard hitting middle-order batsman, a left-arm bowler, who could bowl either medium pace or spin, and a brilliant versatile fielder, it is conceivable to think that Surti would have run up an enviable record in the shorter version of the game.
Not that he would have been a slouch in Test cricket. In 26 Tests, Surti scored 1,263 runs at an average of 28.70 and took 42 wickets at 46.71 apiece. He scored nine fifties and was one of the few cricketers to end his international career with a highest score of 99. He also took 26 catches.
So under the circumstances, Surti’s figures can be termed as impressive. But they do not reflect the manner in which the runs were made. Surti was an exuberant character. As a flamboyant batsman, he was forceful, unafraid to hook the fastest of bowlers. Indeed, if anything, he had a better record against pace, even though he played spin adeptly.
And yet this gifted all-rounder was in and out of the team for a major part of his decade-long career. In only his second Test, he scored 64 against Pakistan, forging a century partnership with his captain Nari Contractor. A surprise choice for the tour of West Indies in 1962, he far exceeded expectations by scoring 246 runs for a side which lost the series 5-0. But through the mid 60s, the selectors invariably made him the 12th man.
By 1967, however, he had forced himself into the Indian team for good. And his crowning glory came on the tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1967-68. In the four Tests against Australia, he scored 367 runs and took 15 wickets. The scores illustrate his consistency — 70, 53, 30, 43, 52, 64, 29 and 26. He followed it up by scoring 321 runs in four Tests against New Zealand.
By the end of the tour, he was acknowledged as one of the leading cricketers in the country. And yet he played in only three more Tests — two against New Zealand and one against Australia during the 1969-70 season. He was certainly discarded prematurely. Fortunately that was not the end of his cricketing career. Queensland, impressed by his all-round skills, made him an attractive offer. He duly qualified to play for the Australian state and was a great source of strength to the side in the Sheffield Shield for several years.