July 19, 2012

A style of his own

His English wasn't as stylish as that of other commentators but Suresh Saraiya could woo the listener with his meticulous preparation and infinite enthusiam
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And so, quietly, Suresh bhai moved on. He didn't call time, didn't read out his own card, didn't shut the old accounts-style register in which he wrote down everything he had prepared, didn't look wistfully out to the ground. No, he just moved on.

He had been lonely ever since his wife Meera, the strength of his life, passed away a few years ago. He was wedded to her and to cricket, and nothing meant more to him than the Cricket Club of India and the Brabourne Stadium, for that was where his journey as a Test match commentator began. He often walked there and lamented that it was no longer his.

If he had looked at his scorecard, he would have been proud of what he did. A simple Gujarati middle-class boy, always aware that those around him spoke English better, he fought his way through the system, sometimes worked it, often felt frustrated by it. But he could be proud that he belonged to the only really good era of radio broadcasting in India. There were other giants around him: Pearson Surita; my favourite, Anant Setalvad; the gentlemanly Dicky Rutnagur; Devraj Puri and his son Narottam; but Suresh bhai stood out because he was different. His accent, his choice of words, his storytelling.

His success lay in not letting his shortcomings limit him. He evolved a style of his own, and that is what radio is all about. When at school, in the days when radio was the only medium around, I would barrack for Setalvad, while my friends would say "long layyyyg" in Suresh bhai's manner. They loved him for his style. Years later I shared a commentary box with him many times and waited for the "long layyyyg". It always came and we could laugh over it. "Mota bhai," he would say, and launch into a Gujarati line, which he then explained.

No one I have worked with prepared more meticulously than he did. He would be at the ground the previous evening, looking at the grass, talking to the groundsman, studying the pitch and the outfield. He would write down all the stats in his large register, and by the time he came early to the game the next morning, in a shirt and tie, he was ready.

Ah, the tie. He berated me one day for turning up in a t-shirt. To me, radio was a fun, informal medium, and I dressed that way. Not so the compellingly old-world Suresh bhai. "Mota bhai, first day toh tie pehno. [At least wear a tie on the first day.] You are a commentator, you know." I agreed and also committed to a ritual. Every time I went on a tour he wasn't on, I would bring him a tie. And he would wear it with pride, with a smile, "Mota bhai... dekha! [See, big brother!]"

All India Radio meant everything to him. AIR and Central Bank of India, which gave him a job and a livelihood all his life, for which he was always grateful. Sometimes I feared AIR clogged his mind, but that was his world. AIR was his baggy green or his India blazer.

We were having breakfast at the Protea Hotel in Durban in 1992 on the morning of the first Test match to be played in South Africa since 1970. We had organised the trip ourselves. AIR had only booked the lines and agreed to pay us a daily fee. Suresh bhai was like a child - up early in the room we shared throughout the tour and pottering around as if he were to open the batting. In his own way, he was. Suddenly at breakfast he broke down, and I didn't quite know how to react. "I never thought a Gujarati boy from a middle-class family would be the first Indian voice to be heard from South Africa," he sobbed. He was proud and grateful at the same time. I saw that many times.

It was fun hearing the voice next to me that I had heard in the stillness of the night and at the crack of dawn from somewhere in the world. There is an eternal magic to radio and Suresh bhai was a big part of it. Sadly, while he might have passed on yesterday, radio broadcasting in India accepted its own demise many years ago.

When I got back from Australia this March, I forgot to give him the tie. Deep inside I knew I had missed out on something. I will give it to him before he starts his final journey.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on July 22, 2012, 1:30 GMT

    Wonderful article Hidden between those lines are the basics of managment which Suresh sir has followed Thanks for this article - made my day

  • Longmemory on July 21, 2012, 3:36 GMT

    While I know the dictum that one does not speak ill of the dead, I have to say that Suresh Saraiya was the one commentator who made me long for the Hindi commentator to come on the air - and I was a Chennai boy who barely spoke any Hindi at all! Saraiya was a classic case of what Mark Tully wonderfully described as "no full stops in India." Saraiya's sentences were bizarre - they went on for ever with no punctuation that the ear could discern. I often felt he ended his sentences only in order to take a breath. And his pronunciation of the Windies captain's last name - LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLoyd - still rings in my ears. I appreciate now the distance he had come, and the many sacrifices he must have had to make in working for a thankless and capricious employer like AIR - but back then I could not wait for the man to get off the mike. And thanks to Ravi Chaturvedi and others, to this day I can tell you the numbers from 1 to 99 in Hindi!

  • on July 20, 2012, 20:09 GMT

    Suresh Suraiya worked with my dad when Suresh headed the PR function at Central Bank. I have lost track of how many times he was able to procure top notch tickets for us. My most favorite moment was when he was able to get me Dilip Vengsarkar's comp tickets for a India NZ test match played at Fateh Maidan in Hyderabad in 1988. He was an ever smiling person with a can do attitude. The line I remember most was "With the tide it has been tucked away to backward square leg." A gentleman to the core. RIP Suresh uncle as we called him.

  • on July 20, 2012, 17:30 GMT

    AIR radio commentary - memories of our wonder years! Suresh Saraiya - you kept our cricket craze alive!

  • StatisticsRocks on July 20, 2012, 17:13 GMT

    It saddens me to read this as I remember during my high school days listening to this great voice over the radio. Even when cricket was being telecasted on TV, I preferred to listen to Suresh Bhai over the radio. Thank you and May you RIP.

  • on July 20, 2012, 16:36 GMT

    oh my eyes welled as i read through the article, Suresh bhai was one of a kind.... he will be missed...

  • on July 20, 2012, 14:45 GMT

    Thanks Sureshji for the Childhood memories. Thanks Harsha for this article

  • ImpartialObserver on July 20, 2012, 14:10 GMT

    Suresh bhai was not just a great commentator. For many like me, he was part of our child- and teen-'hood' and our cricket craze. I still remember me and other members of my family (parents and some friends) huddled around the radio and feeling the match in the words of such wonderful commentators. Seriously, it used to be great fun and we loved it! I really miss this wonderful voice (have been missing it since ages!). Suresh, Narottam, they are all relics of a bygone era and they truly bring back fond memories of helmet-less, TV-less, extra-hyperbole-less, ad-less, strategic-break-less PURE cricket commentary! Long Live Suresh bhai.

  • SakthivelS on July 20, 2012, 14:03 GMT

    Suresh Saraiya.. I remember your voice which I heard during all my teen age times. AIR has stopped delivering cricket commentary from abroad a few years ago.. But your voice.. How could I forget?.. I pray to god to rest your soul in peace.. Salute sir..

  • indicricket on July 20, 2012, 13:48 GMT

    Back again as.....Suresh Bhai, rest in peace. Thanks Harsha.

  • on July 22, 2012, 1:30 GMT

    Wonderful article Hidden between those lines are the basics of managment which Suresh sir has followed Thanks for this article - made my day

  • Longmemory on July 21, 2012, 3:36 GMT

    While I know the dictum that one does not speak ill of the dead, I have to say that Suresh Saraiya was the one commentator who made me long for the Hindi commentator to come on the air - and I was a Chennai boy who barely spoke any Hindi at all! Saraiya was a classic case of what Mark Tully wonderfully described as "no full stops in India." Saraiya's sentences were bizarre - they went on for ever with no punctuation that the ear could discern. I often felt he ended his sentences only in order to take a breath. And his pronunciation of the Windies captain's last name - LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLoyd - still rings in my ears. I appreciate now the distance he had come, and the many sacrifices he must have had to make in working for a thankless and capricious employer like AIR - but back then I could not wait for the man to get off the mike. And thanks to Ravi Chaturvedi and others, to this day I can tell you the numbers from 1 to 99 in Hindi!

  • on July 20, 2012, 20:09 GMT

    Suresh Suraiya worked with my dad when Suresh headed the PR function at Central Bank. I have lost track of how many times he was able to procure top notch tickets for us. My most favorite moment was when he was able to get me Dilip Vengsarkar's comp tickets for a India NZ test match played at Fateh Maidan in Hyderabad in 1988. He was an ever smiling person with a can do attitude. The line I remember most was "With the tide it has been tucked away to backward square leg." A gentleman to the core. RIP Suresh uncle as we called him.

  • on July 20, 2012, 17:30 GMT

    AIR radio commentary - memories of our wonder years! Suresh Saraiya - you kept our cricket craze alive!

  • StatisticsRocks on July 20, 2012, 17:13 GMT

    It saddens me to read this as I remember during my high school days listening to this great voice over the radio. Even when cricket was being telecasted on TV, I preferred to listen to Suresh Bhai over the radio. Thank you and May you RIP.

  • on July 20, 2012, 16:36 GMT

    oh my eyes welled as i read through the article, Suresh bhai was one of a kind.... he will be missed...

  • on July 20, 2012, 14:45 GMT

    Thanks Sureshji for the Childhood memories. Thanks Harsha for this article

  • ImpartialObserver on July 20, 2012, 14:10 GMT

    Suresh bhai was not just a great commentator. For many like me, he was part of our child- and teen-'hood' and our cricket craze. I still remember me and other members of my family (parents and some friends) huddled around the radio and feeling the match in the words of such wonderful commentators. Seriously, it used to be great fun and we loved it! I really miss this wonderful voice (have been missing it since ages!). Suresh, Narottam, they are all relics of a bygone era and they truly bring back fond memories of helmet-less, TV-less, extra-hyperbole-less, ad-less, strategic-break-less PURE cricket commentary! Long Live Suresh bhai.

  • SakthivelS on July 20, 2012, 14:03 GMT

    Suresh Saraiya.. I remember your voice which I heard during all my teen age times. AIR has stopped delivering cricket commentary from abroad a few years ago.. But your voice.. How could I forget?.. I pray to god to rest your soul in peace.. Salute sir..

  • indicricket on July 20, 2012, 13:48 GMT

    Back again as.....Suresh Bhai, rest in peace. Thanks Harsha.

  • kharidra on July 20, 2012, 13:15 GMT

    When passion got to the lungs then there was a breather that would spell out the names of players and the commentary would run BOYCE ... Keith Boyce and the University student ANSHUMAN.... Gaekwad. Drinks are on the field and instead of commercial there were anecdotes from the man. The commentary spell would start with a Thank you Dekey...Dicky. .Goal keeper style fielding by KARSAN...in the covers

  • cricket__fan on July 20, 2012, 12:06 GMT

    May Mr Saraiy's soul rest in eternal peace. I grew up listening to his commentary on radio and and he certaiinly was among the best. And when most youngsters are admiring commentators from other countries, it is creditable that Harsha has chosen to write about an Indian who was a doyen in his field. It is a pity that the current crop of Indian youngsters who are growing in the age of TV and bollywood-cricket tainment will never get to hear what we did.

  • caught_knott_bowled_old on July 20, 2012, 10:48 GMT

    Such a distinctive and memorable voice, accent and commentary. His style was quirky, but definitely endearing and something that has remained with us even after four decades. RIP Suresh Saraiya.

  • Bhoopendrat on July 20, 2012, 9:05 GMT

    I have grown up listening the commentary of Suresh Saraiya at AIR some time it felt that 3 overs would be too lesser, which changes after every 3 overs (As we loved his passion and love for cricket)

    RIP Suresh Saraiya .... we will miss you voice

  • rrpai on July 20, 2012, 7:42 GMT

    Another giant has fallen. For the youngsters, it is not easy to appreciate the real contribution of the Radio Commentators. For us, who were in teens before the TV came into our households, it was the only way to know and feel Cricket. Most of us were never privy to watch Test matches or first class matches. It was these commentators (Suresh Sarraih, being my all-time favourite) who brought Cricket into our lives. These people pushed us to guess where is the "Third Man" or a "Gully" position. These were the people who made us to think how close Eknath Solkars might be fielding to catech Alan Knotts. These people told us the lengths of Andy Roberts delivery strides. And, we imagined !!! Without them, there was no way our generation would have known Cricket. Out of them, Suresh Sarraih was undoubtedly, one of the very best. His phrases like "Back Again ...", "Pitched on the middle and off stump" etc etc were copied "as is" in our local galli cricket. Hats off to you, SIR. Thank you. RIP.

  • on July 20, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    Four more runs then to Viswanath will not be heard again. I was a schoolgoing boy in the 70s and still I can imitate his voice. Shows how much impact he has on the followers of the game

  • NCMOULLI on July 20, 2012, 6:17 GMT

    Suresh Saraiya - made cricket appealing to youngsters and all with his catchy phrases - Ball jumped from a short of a good lenght spot, Back Again, that is a good delivery, good one indeed, and so on.... His narration was catchy - laying great emphasis on ever word uttered and making the gruffy voice come alive every time...a very good commentator - now gone RIP

  • on July 20, 2012, 5:30 GMT

    Those were the days of awe inspiring radio commentary be it in England, India or Australia..wee hours of the day or night....the gravy voices of Alan Mcgilvray or Brian Johnston or the cryptic style of John Arlott...and then the informative Suresh Saraiya or the sauve Pearson Surita or Dicky Rutnagur...the sound of waves...the tock of bat on ball...the cheers of the crowd...the tingling excitement of anticipating the score...and realising your favourite batsman was still in or out!Wow,the mystique of the radio...

  • sewd on July 20, 2012, 4:27 GMT

    Thank you Sureshji for the wonderful memories. I grew up listening to him and Anand Setalvad. Those days when television was a luxury, he was our eye at the stadium. His melodious voice will be sorely missed. Thank you Harsha for writing this story straight from the heart.

  • on July 20, 2012, 4:21 GMT

    I am of Harsha Bhogle vintage and in the 70 s , the only medium was radio atleast to most of us. TV was in its infancy and really started from 1982 ( Delhi Asiad )

    I recall Anant Setalwad, Dicky Rutnagar, Pearson Surita and Suresh Saraiya

    What Harsha said is absolutely right. Setalwad used to be more polished and had a refined voice ( so was Pearson Surita ) but when it came to passion , Suresh Sariaya was a cut above the others. The excitement and passion used to come through the voice.

    May his soul rest in peace

  • IPLFan on July 20, 2012, 4:01 GMT

    His commentary from that epic Karnataka-Delhi Ranji final from early '80s is etched in my mind. "Back again... Maninder <pause> into bowl to <pause>...". RIP Mr Saraiya.

  • shyambhau on July 19, 2012, 15:36 GMT

    I never knew him, never heard of him. I can understand he loved cricket. I respect and like all who love the game i love. May his soul rest in peace.

  • on July 19, 2012, 15:14 GMT

    I have heard his commentary many times and he alongwith Skand Gupt (Hindi) were the best commentators during my time. Thoroughly enjoyed his commentary during the 1999 worldcup when matches in England would go upto 12.00 AM IST and the TV at my place would be put off as my parents insisted that I go to bed. I would just switch on the radio, plug on my headphone and relish every minute of Saraiya's stories about cricketers and their past achievements. Mr Saraiya RIP. you will be missed.

  • on July 19, 2012, 12:23 GMT

    We always remember his typical sentence ... came on the front foot and pushed it back to the bowler confidently, comfortably..and competently too...

  • on July 19, 2012, 8:43 GMT

    The King Of Commentry...# Suresh Sarraiya Ji ..Is Passed Away Yesterday.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • on July 19, 2012, 8:43 GMT

    The King Of Commentry...# Suresh Sarraiya Ji ..Is Passed Away Yesterday.

  • on July 19, 2012, 12:23 GMT

    We always remember his typical sentence ... came on the front foot and pushed it back to the bowler confidently, comfortably..and competently too...

  • on July 19, 2012, 15:14 GMT

    I have heard his commentary many times and he alongwith Skand Gupt (Hindi) were the best commentators during my time. Thoroughly enjoyed his commentary during the 1999 worldcup when matches in England would go upto 12.00 AM IST and the TV at my place would be put off as my parents insisted that I go to bed. I would just switch on the radio, plug on my headphone and relish every minute of Saraiya's stories about cricketers and their past achievements. Mr Saraiya RIP. you will be missed.

  • shyambhau on July 19, 2012, 15:36 GMT

    I never knew him, never heard of him. I can understand he loved cricket. I respect and like all who love the game i love. May his soul rest in peace.

  • IPLFan on July 20, 2012, 4:01 GMT

    His commentary from that epic Karnataka-Delhi Ranji final from early '80s is etched in my mind. "Back again... Maninder <pause> into bowl to <pause>...". RIP Mr Saraiya.

  • on July 20, 2012, 4:21 GMT

    I am of Harsha Bhogle vintage and in the 70 s , the only medium was radio atleast to most of us. TV was in its infancy and really started from 1982 ( Delhi Asiad )

    I recall Anant Setalwad, Dicky Rutnagar, Pearson Surita and Suresh Saraiya

    What Harsha said is absolutely right. Setalwad used to be more polished and had a refined voice ( so was Pearson Surita ) but when it came to passion , Suresh Sariaya was a cut above the others. The excitement and passion used to come through the voice.

    May his soul rest in peace

  • sewd on July 20, 2012, 4:27 GMT

    Thank you Sureshji for the wonderful memories. I grew up listening to him and Anand Setalvad. Those days when television was a luxury, he was our eye at the stadium. His melodious voice will be sorely missed. Thank you Harsha for writing this story straight from the heart.

  • on July 20, 2012, 5:30 GMT

    Those were the days of awe inspiring radio commentary be it in England, India or Australia..wee hours of the day or night....the gravy voices of Alan Mcgilvray or Brian Johnston or the cryptic style of John Arlott...and then the informative Suresh Saraiya or the sauve Pearson Surita or Dicky Rutnagur...the sound of waves...the tock of bat on ball...the cheers of the crowd...the tingling excitement of anticipating the score...and realising your favourite batsman was still in or out!Wow,the mystique of the radio...

  • NCMOULLI on July 20, 2012, 6:17 GMT

    Suresh Saraiya - made cricket appealing to youngsters and all with his catchy phrases - Ball jumped from a short of a good lenght spot, Back Again, that is a good delivery, good one indeed, and so on.... His narration was catchy - laying great emphasis on ever word uttered and making the gruffy voice come alive every time...a very good commentator - now gone RIP

  • on July 20, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    Four more runs then to Viswanath will not be heard again. I was a schoolgoing boy in the 70s and still I can imitate his voice. Shows how much impact he has on the followers of the game