PARTAB RAMCHAND | 23 AUGUST, 2019
The Partnership That Remains Unique in Cricket History
Down Memory Lane
It is a feat that is straight out of the fiction books. The very fact that it was notched up as many as 73 years ago and no pair has achieved it before or since stands testimony to this. In its uniqueness it is part of cricketing folklore.
It was on May 11, 1946 that Chandu Sarwate and Shute Banerjee playing for the Indian touring team came together for the last wicket against Surrey at the Oval. And over the years their partnership has acquired an eminent – almost romantic - place in cricket history as it is the only time in first class cricket that both No 10 and No 11 have scored hundreds.
The Indians after winning the toss elected to bat but except for Vijay Merchant’s elegant 53 and Gul Mohammed’s swashbuckling 89 there was precious little substance. Sarwate entered at No 10 with the Indians 201 for eight. The ninth wicket fell four runs later and Banerjee walked out as the last man. Along with him came the groundsman Bert Lock as was the custom to ask the Surrey skipper NH Bennett what roller he would like expecting that he would have to roll the wicket for the Surrey innings in a few minutes time.
It was to be another three hours and ten minutes before he had the chance to roll the wicket!
With the last wicket pair at the crease the tea interval was deferred by the statutory 30 minutes. But both Sarwate and Banerjee who had settled down without much difficulty played the Surrey attack which was spearheaded by Alec Bedser with more than a degree of comfort. Bedser was to make his Test debut against India the following month and ended his career a decade later with the then record aggregate of 236 wickets from 51 Tests.
Despite having taken five of the nine wickets Bedser made no impression against Sarwate and Banerjee. Bennett tried eight bowlers in all in a desperate bid to break the frustrating partnership but the two stout-hearted Indian tailenders just refused to budge.
Tailenders they might have been occupying the last two positions in the batting order but actually Sarwate and Banerjee were no mean batsmen. Sarwate was a regular in the Holkar middle order in the Ranji Trophy and was even pressed into the opening slot for India in all five Tests against Australia in 1947-48 in the absence of a regular opener. His figures in first class cricket – almost 7500 runs at an average of nearly 33 with 14 hundreds and a highest of 246 mark him out as a more than decent batsman though his Test figures were much more modest – 208 runs at an average of 13 from nine matches with a highest of 37.
Banerjee played only one Test but in his long first class career he scored just over 3700 runs at an average of little over 20 with five hundreds and a highest of 138. His main role however was that of a medium pace bowler while Sarwate an able all rounder at the first class level was a leg spinner.
At the time though neither had played in a Test and indeed the two made a rather interesting contrast at the crease. Banerjee fairly tall and rotund was in his 35thyear. He was on his second tour of England having spent the 1936 tour in the shadow of Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh. Sarwate small and slim was a month short of his 26th birthday and was on his first tour of England. But there was nothing contrasting in their batting styles as they adopted an attacking approach in overcoming the challenge posed by the Surrey bowlers. When stumps were drawn on the opening day Sarwate and Banerjee were still at the crease with the Indians 398 for nine. Sarwate had already reached his hundred and was batting on 102 while Banerjee was on 87.
The following day was a Sunday and when the match resumed on Monday May 13 the 200 of the stand was hoisted and then Banerjee duly completed his hundred. In time they passed the highest partnership for the last wicket in England – 235 runs set up by FE Woolley and A Fielder for Kent against Worcestershire in 1909. There remained only one mark to surpass – the highest ever partnership for the tenth wicket standing in the name of AF Kippax and JEH Hooker who added 307 runs for New South Wales against Victoria in 1928-29.
Sarwate and Banerjee batted on for an hour on the second morning raising the total to 454 and their partnership to 249 when the unthinkable happened – Banerjee was bowled by JF Parker for 121 leaving Sarwate not out on 124. Their association besides being unique has no doubt served as an inspiration to tailenders the world over and will continue to do so.
For the record the Indians won the match by nine wickets with Sarwate bagging five wickets in Surrey’s second innings.