May 31, 2002

Spin great Subhash Gupte passes away

Former Indian leg-spin legend Subhash Gupte passed away at his residence in Trinidad last night. The man considered by many to be the greatest leg-spinner ever to grace the cricket field married a Trinidadian and settled down there many years ago.

Born in December 1929, Gupte was a 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.

Gupte commanded only the highest respect from current and former cricketers around the world. Sir Gary Sobers, arguably the greatest cricketer the game has produced, once said that Subhash Gupte was the finest exponent of his craft. Bishan Bedi, another giant among spinners, told CricInfo in a recent interview, "I was listening to radio commentary when 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."

It is reported that 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. Speaking to CricInfo, Baloo Gupte said, "Subhash was a great leg-spinner with a very accurate line and length, and he had a tremendous leg-break and googly. He has influenced me in the sense that he told me how to bowl leg-breaks and googlies."

In a career spanning 36 Tests over a period of 10 years, Subhash Gupte claimed 149 victims at an average of just under 30. The figures belie the stature of the man. Reknowned for his immaculate control over line and length, Gupte was a leg-spinner in the traditional mould. Legend has it that he possessed two googlies, different deliveries that he used to devastating effect.

The last leg-spinner in the classical mould who played for India, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, was saddened by the news that Subhash Gupte had died. "It is a sad moment for Indian cricket, especially with the Indian team being in West Indies," he said. "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 West Indies in the early 80s with a schoolboy team. Every Indian cricketer speaks highly of the man -­ he must have been a fine exponent of his craft," said the leggie.

Chandu Borde, current chairman of selectors and former Indian great, was shocked when CricInfo informed him of Gupte's death. Speaking from his Pune residence, Borde said, "I'm extremely shocked to hear this news. It's very sad news. 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, then you would understand what I mean. His guile and flight were second to none. Very few batsmen in the world picked his googly," said Borde. "On a placid wicket in Kanpur, against a very strong West Indian side, he made the batsmen dance. Nine for 102 he picked up; I'll never forget that day."

Reactions from former Indian cricketers are slowly trickling as the news of Subhash Gupte's death sinks in. The last rites will be performed at San Fernando, Trinidad.