Subhash Gupte – India’s Greatest Spin Bowler of 1950’s
Subhash Gupte was born in December 1929, was few months past 72 when he died. Fergie, as he was known in his playing days, is survived by his wife Carol and two children. Subhash Gupte commanded only the highest respect from current and former cricketers around the world. Sir Gary Sobers said, without any argument the greatest cricketer the game has produced.
He once said that Subhash Gupte was the finest exponent of his craft. Bishen Singh Bedi another giant among spinners. I still was remembering when listening to radio commentary when Subhash Gupte took nine for 102 against West Indies at Kanpur in 1958. I was so inspired by that performance that I took up spin bowling. Gupte’s feats really spurred me on.
Regarded as one of India’s best spin bowlers, the slender Gupte bowled flighted leg-breaks and googlies to take 149 wickets in 36 Test matches at an average of 29.55 in a 10 year Test career starting from 1951-52. His finest performance came on the 1959-60 West Indies tour to India. Where he captured 9 for 102 in the first innings and 10 wickets in the losing cause. He had 15 five-wicket innings hauls and 530 first-class victims.
Subhash Gupte down in Trinidad with his wife towards the end of his international career. Gupte had fewer games and victims than India’s spin quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, Erapalli Prasanna and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar in the 1970s. But he is still regarded as the country’s finest slow bowler. Former off-spinner Prasanna said, he was the greatest leg spinner India ever produced.
He said Subhash Gupte did not realize his full potential because fewer games were played in his time. He was the most orthodox but the number of leg spinners and top spinners he had, it’s all about playing and realization. Some of the Mumbai player’s best display came in the Caribbean. Wherein 1953 he took 27 wickets in a five-Test series bowling on quick pitches against the like of Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, and Clyde Walcott.
World Class Leg-Break Googly Bowler
In his time, the best of his type in the game. Subhash Gupte was a world-class leg break googly bowler. Of slight build, Gupte was a big spinner of the ball, but his line and length remained immaculate. He gave the ball plenty of air and his googly was most deceptive. After a slow start, his Test career really took off in the West Indies in 1953. Where he took 50 wickets on the tour at an average of 23.64.
More impressive was the fact that he took 27 wickets in the Test on perfect batting wickets and while bowling to the three Ws’ and Rae, Stollmeyer and Pairaudeau. Subhash Gupte was again the most successful bowler in Pakistan in 1954-55 with 21 wickets and after the following season against New Zealand. In this series, he was quite unplayable finishing with 34 wickets at an average of 19.67. That record lasted till BS Chandrasekhar surpassed it 27 years later.
The fleet-footed Australian Neil Harvey dented his confidence a bit in 1956-57. But Gupte was back to his old magic in capturing nine wickets for 102 in an innings against West Indies at Kanpur two seasons later. Subhash Gupte finished the series with 22 wickets and go onboard on the tour of England in 1959 with confidence. Which he had narrowly missed making the England trip in 1952. He captured 95 wickets at 26.58 on the tour, but only 17 of them were taken in the five Tests.
By than Gupte had married a West Indian girl and had settled in Trinidad. But he returned to make five more appearances in the sixties. Hence, he played three against Pakistan in 1960-61 and two against England in the following seasons. In his penultimate Test, he showed that he had lost none of his old subtlety. When with a spell of four for six of 18 balls at Kanpur he had England following on for the first time against India.
During a first-class career that stretched from 1947 to 1964, Subhash Gupte took 530 wickets including the taking of all ten wickets for Bombay against Pakistan Services and Bahawalpur CC in 1954. In 1982 he was on the CBFS beneficiaries in Sharjah.
Subhash Gupte Taking Leg-Spin to its Pinnacle
Even in a land that has produced the most fascinating variety of spin bowlers in the history of game Subhash Gupte stands out.
He came in for wholesome praise during his heyday in the 1950s’ when he was the best bowler of this type in the world. The encomiums continued well after he had announced his retirement and now, on his passing away. The tributes are pouring in thick and fast from all over the cricketing world.
But perhaps the greatest tribute to the master leg-spinner in the fact that even young followers of the game, who were born after he had retired, repeatedly include Gupte as there the first-choice spinner in there all-time Indian XI. Even with competition from such classy exponents of spin bowling as Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Harbhajan Singh, and Anil Kumble. It is Gupte who wins hands down with each succeeding generation.
Of course, to the older generation that has seen him in action, Fergie was the ultimate bowler. He as a leg spinner cast in the classical mold. The best of his deliveries made batsmen look like clowns in a circus. As long as they stayed there, it would be an ordeal for them. To spot his googly was akin to finding one’s way in a fog. One just groped blindly forward and hoped for the best. To differentiate between Gupte’s leg spinner and the top spinner was the most difficult exam for the clueless batsman.
For a leg spinner who usually has to purchase his wickets, Gupte was remarkably accurate in his direction and almost impeccable in length. To add to that he was a prodigious spinner of the ball. Times were not infrequent when he used to bowl the perfect specimen of the leg spinner’s art pitch a ball on leg stump, drawing the batsman out and hit the top of off-stump.
But Subhash Gupte was not a mechanical leg-spinner. He was always constantly thinking of ways to get the batsman out. His googly was the most difficult to spot in international cricket, and his top-spinner used to leap up at the batsman with the ferocity of a tiger leaping on his hapless victim. Gupte’s overall figures 149 wickets in just 36 tests more than respectable enough. But they gain the status of greatness when it is remembered that the Indian ground fielding and catching in the 1950s was atrocious.
Unless runs were gifted away through shoddy fielding and innumerable dropped catches. Gupte as a strike bowler during the decade suffered most through this miserable fielding. Time and again he would draw the batsmen out with a sinuously flighted delivery only to see the wicketkeeper muff the stumping. Or a rearing leg spinner would be met with a snick that first slip would put down. Perhaps a top spinner or googly would be met with a hesitant prod and a short leg would put the chance down.
In desperation, when the batsman would essay an ungainly swipe, Gupte would have the mortification of seeing mid-on or square leg drop the skier. This is enough to break any bowler’s heart. But Gupte continued to bowl with great courage, fully aware of his responsibilities as the team’s number one bowler. Even in a period when Indian cricket was at its nadir, Gupte at his peak would have been a certainty in a World XI.
For most of the 1950s, he would have been sure of a spinner slot, and this in the face of such stiff competition from bowlers like Jim Laker, Tony Lock, Hugh Tayfield, Richie Benaud, Sony Ramadhin and Alf Valentine. Indeed, Gupte was India’s champion bowler for almost a decade. One could not visualize an Indian team without him. From the first Test at Port of Spain in January 1953 to the final Test at the Oval in 1959, he did not miss a single match a run of 28 Tests.
Even this sequence was broken not through illness; injury loss of form or the fact that India had found a substitute for they’re could never have been a suitable replacement for a bowler of his stature. But he had to the West Indies on a coaching assignment.
He came back to represent India in five Tests against Pakistan and England in the 1960s. But the Gupte success story is woven around his masterly, mesmerizing, and magnificent deeds in the 1950s’.
Spinner takes time to mature, but Subhash Gupte was so gifted that he peaked in his first full series against the West Indies in 1953. When the Indian team left for the Caribbean, a rout was predicted for the visitors, and yet, at the end of the tour, the Indians lost only one of five Tests and had earned a name for themselves as an attractive touring side.
The main reason behind this superb showing can be summed up in one word – Gupte. The chief strength of the West Indies was batting, with the three Ws at there peak. Supporting them were Jeff Stollmeyers, Gerry Gomez, Allan Rae, and Bruce Pairaudeau. And yet these run machines never mastered Gupte.
Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, and Clyde Walcott soon discovered they could not take any liberties with a bowler of Gupte’s skill and variety. Thriving on hard work he was both the side’s stock and shock bowler. Gupte finished with 27 wickets, a record for a bowler in a series outside India till Bedie and Chandrasekhar surpassed it in Australia 25 years later. Gupte struck fear into the hearts of the batsmen as much as the fastest of bowlers.
On the tour of Pakistan during 1954-55, Gupte’s skill was put to the test on matting wickets. And thereby hangs a tale. In the original itinerary, there were to be four Tests on turf and one on matting. Sometime before the tour was to commence, a Pakistan Services team played a match at Bombay. Kardar, the then Pakistan captain was a member of that team.
Playing for a Bombay CA President’s XI, Gupte caused panic in their ranks and finished with all 10 wickets for 78 runs. That was enough for Kardar. He feared that Gupte would run through his side in the Test series. So the first thing he did on reaching home was to prevail on the Pakistan Cricket Board to change the itinerary. Ultimately there were three Tests on matting and two on turf.
Still, Gupte, who was in a class of his own, took 21 wickets. It was in the next season against New Zealand that he equaled Vinoo Mankad’s achievement by taking 34 wickets in the series a record that stood till Chandrasekhar took 35 wickets against England 17 years later. By this time Gupte was firmly established as the great hero of millions of Indian cricket fans.
At Bombay in particular, as he ran in to bowl, volatile, noisy crowds at the Brabourne Stadium took up the rhythmical chanting of b-o-w-l-e-d from the moment he started his run up the ball was delivered. There was frenzied support for Gupte and all over the country’s playgrounds; one could see young children trying to bowl like him, even imitating his action from the first step to last.
Few, of course, got it right, for his variations were so many and so subtle. He was now the country’s one great bowler the first outstanding spinner and the one hope of bowling out the opposition. Everyone was confident that even if every other bowler failed Gupte would see India through.
In 1958-59 came his finest hour. He befuddled a new generation of West Indian batsmen like Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon, Collie Smith, Conard Hunte to take nine wickets for 102 runs at Kanpur first India to take that many wickets in an innings.
Great things were predicted for him as a confident Gupte went with the Indian team to England in 1959. And while he was certainly not a failure with 95 wickets on the tour. His 17 wickets at 34 apiece in the Tests came as a bit of a disappointment. But again he was repeatedly let down by the fielders. Gupte last hurrah came about at Kanpur against England in 1961-62. He had a spell of four fix six off 18 deliveries on his way to taking the first five wickets to fall.
Geoff Pullar, Peter Richardson, Ken Barrington, Ted Dexter, and Mike Smith, but the next Test at New Delhi turned out to be his last. A victim of a strange disciplinary action. He was dropped and then not considered for the tour of West Indies in 1962. Blameless Gupte, by nature a sensitive man, could take it to long.
On the 1953 tour, his superhuman feats and pleasant manners had won the heart of a West Indian girl Carol. He subsequently married her and in 1963 migrated to Trinidad for good. He became a popular figure in cricketing circles in the San Fernando region. For Indian teams visiting the West Indies a welcome smile from Gupte became a regular feature. And their visit to his house became almost a pilgrimage for the tourists.
Subhash Gupte had been selected to receive the CK Nayudu Trophy award in 2001 presented to outstanding Indian cricketers every year. It would have been an honor to have Gupte back in this country, wheelchair and all. He would have received the kind of tumultuous welcome he used to get as India’s champion bowler in the 1950’s. But to many of Subhash Gupte is Indian Champion bowler of all time.
Though time has lengthened the gallery of spin bowlers, he will always be cited as the setter of a standard in the art of giving the ball a tweak. He certainly takes his place among the greatest leg spinners in the history of the game.
Subhash Gupte was suffering from diabetes and his health was failing. Baloo Gupte, Subhash’s younger brother was a leg spinner himself, although not nearly as skilled as his older brother. He was a great leg spinner with a very accurate line and length. Gupte had a tremendous leg-break and googly. He has influenced me in that sense that he told me how to bowl leg-breaks and googlies.
Gupte career spanning 36 Tests over a period of 10 years claimed 149 wickets. His figure believes the stature of the man. Renowned for his immaculate control over line and length, he was a leg spinner in the traditional mold. Legend has it that he possessed two googlies different deliveries that he used to devastating effect.
Chandu Borde, former Indian greats, was shocked by Gupte’s death. I’m extremely shocked to hear this news. It’s very sad news indeed. He was easily the finest leg-spinner I have ever come across. In fact, I would go as far as saying that he was one of the greatest bowlers India has ever produced. An emotional Borde added; I knew him well as a person too. He was very jovial in his outlook. He enjoyed life to the fullest on and off the field.
Never afraid to speak the truth, Gupte was an outspoken man. The former all-rounder, who himself bowled leg-breaks spoke wistfully of a day he remembered clearly. You should have been there in Kanpur in 1958, and then you would understand what I mean. His guile and flight were second to none. Very few batsmen in the world picked his googly. One a placid wicket in Kanpur, against a very strong West Indies side. He made the batsman dance. Nine for 102 he picked up I will never forget that day.
The last leg spinner in the classical mold who played for India, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, was saddened by the news that Subhash Gupte had died. It is a sad moment for Indian cricket. Unfortunately, I never really had a chance to watch him play. Although I have seen a little footage. It was a privilege for me to meet the man when I toured the West Indies in the early 1980s with a schoolboy team. Every Indian cricketer speaks highly of the man he must have been a fine exponent of his craft.
Former Indian leg spinner Subhash Gupte has died in Trinidad following prolonged ill-health. Gupte had been admitted to hospital in Port of Spain where he died early on May 30, 2002. He had not been keeping well for the past months, he was suffering from diabetes. The man considered by many to be the greatest leg spinner ever to grace the cricket field married a Trinidadian and settled down they’re many years ago.