May 17, 2000

Rusi Modi: He adorned the Golden Age of batting

Rusi Sheriyar Modi, whose fourth death anniversary falls today, was in John Arlott's words "a tall, thin, thoughtful, even shy cricketer with the ability to handle every type of bowling thrown against him." Having made a name for himself in college cricket for St.Xaviers, nineteen year old Modi was out for a solitary run in a rather forgettable Ranji debut for Bombay in 1943-44. It was to be his last failure in quite a while.

His next seven games in the competition harvested seven hundreds, an astonishing feat in an age where Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare had a lock on every batting record there was. The streak encompassed 1008 runs in the single season of 1944-45: 160 v Sind, 210 v Western India, 245 not out and 31 not out v Baroda, 113 v Northern India, 98 and 151 against Holkar in a remarkable Ranji Trophy final that Bombay won by the small matter of 377 runs.

Modi bulldozed his way into the side for the three unofficial 'Tests' against the visiting Australian Services side in 1945-46 after a polished hundred against the tourists for West Zone. And it was his double century in the final 'Test' at Madras that swept India to a six wicket victory and the rubber 1-0. Touring England in 1946, Modi was among nine players on either side to make their debuts in the first Test at Lords. Walking in to bat at 44-3 on the first morning, Modi almost immediately flashed furiously at leg spinner Doug Wright only to be dropped by Hammond at slip.

As Vijay Hazare recounts in 'A Long Innings', Modi nonchantly gave a thumbs-up salute to the Indian dressing room and then proceeded to play some delightful strokes. Wickets tumbled all around him as Alec Bedser ran amok but Modi fashioned a last wicket stand of 43 with Sadashiv Shinde and remained unconquered on 57. He had only a modest series otherwise but was one of only four Indians to cross 1000 runs on the tour. Modi reserved his best for the touring West Indians of 1948-49 whom he pillaged for 560 runs but it was a mystery why he went into cold storage soon after.

Although he made a half century in each innings of the Bombay 'Test' against the Commonwealth side of 1949-50, Modi never recovered the silken touch that was his hallmark in days gone by. Hazare provided an appropriate epitaph to this cultured Parsi strokemaker: "He faded away as quickly as he came into the limelight only a few seasons ago. His short but bright career left everybody feeling sorry that it never blossomed to the full."

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