Few sides have been as popular as the Indian team which toured England in 1946. In the aftermath of the Second World War a war-weary public, in a country still dominated by rationing and national debt needed entertaining, and they flocked to grounds in droves to watch cricket.
India, who had not played a Test since losing to England at The Oval ten years earlier, started their tour with a 16-run loss at Worcester and then a rain-affected draw at Oxford. From there they headed to London to meet Surrey on May 11.
The Oval was still recovering from its use in the war as a searchlight site and then a prisoner-of-war detention centre (although it had never actually housed any prisoners). The pavilion and stands had been damaged by bombing, and the square, although fenced off, had hardly been touched for six years.
While it was not expected that The Oval would be fit to host matches until 1947 or 1948, the groundstaff performed near miracles and on April 27 a trial match was staged. As a result of that, the tour match against the Indians was inked in for the old ground's first major game since August 1939.
Like many counties, Surrey relied mainly on their pre-war players as little new talent had had a chance to come through during the conflict. The average age of the squad was 36.
The Indians were without two leading players, Lala Amarnath and the Nawab of Pataudi, their captain, who had a cold, and on what The Times described as "a beautiful Oval wicket" they lost two early wickets to Alec Bedser, whose one previous first-class appearance had come seven years earlier and who had only been demobbed eight weeks before the game. A third-wicket stand of 111 between Vijay Merchant and Gul Mohammad followed, but Squires broke through and the innings fell away against Bedser.
The Surrey captain then thought that we would last hardly a few minutes. He called the groundsman and was trying to tell him the roller that he would require
At 4.03pm, with the score on 205 for 9, the No. 11 Shute Banerjee joined Chandu Sarwate. In fairness, they were hardly conventional tailenders. Both men had two first-class hundreds to their names in India and in the previous season's Ranji Trophy Banerjee had scored a fifty opening the innings for Bihar. Sarwate had also opened for Holkar, scoring a hundred in the Ranji Trophy semi-final, and the pair had actually opened together for East Zone in 1945-46.
"Banerjee came to join me," Sarwate recalled. "The Surrey captain then thought that we would last hardly a few minutes. He called the groundsman and was trying to tell him the roller that he would require. But that evening we couldn't do anything wrong."
The two of them attacked from the off and Surrey had no answer, handicapped after their 39-year-old fast bowler Alf Gover limped off with a strained tendon in his heel.
The stand had hardly got underway when Sarwate danced down the pitch to Jack Parker and was deceived in the flight, only for Gerald Mobey to fumble the ball and allow the batsman to scamper back. That was the only chance, and by the close Sarwate had reached 107, Banerjee was 87, and the pair had added 193 in two hours.
"Sarwate sent one streaky shot through slips but no catch went to hand," John Arlott wrote. "The two men batted capably and correctly, defending well against Bedser who bowled industriously, and scoring, chiefly in front of the wicket, by strokes made out of confidence and with no trace of last-wicket anxiety."
They resumed at 11.30am on the Monday after a rest day, exercising more caution after considerable press comment as to whether they could break the world record for the last wicket of 307. Shortly after midday Banerjee, who had shortly before completed his hundred, pushed a quick single into the leg side to beat the record tenth-wicket partnership in England of 235, set in 1909 by Kent's Frank Woolley and Albert Fielder.
At 12.27pm Parker finally ended the stand when he spun one past the defensive push of Banerjee. The pair had added 249 in three hours and ten minutes, Sarwate making 124 not out and Banerjee 127. Neither before nor since have both No. 10 and No. 11 both scored a century in a first-class match.
When Surrey batted, Banerjee, who would usually have opened the bowling, was given a rest. As it happened, his team-mates found little resistance: Surrey were bowled out for 135 and CS Nayudu became the first Indian player to take a hat-trick in England.
Surrey followed on, reaching 172 for 0 at the close of the second day, but on the third Sarwate was again centre stage with 5 for 54. Surrey avoided an innings defeat, but the Indians completed a comfortable nine-wicket win. However, Sarwate, promoted to open with only 20 runs needed, was the one man out for 1.
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Into The Second Century - Surrey CCC by Jerry Lodge (Tempus, 2004)
The Bedsers by Alan Hill (Mainstream Publishing, 2002)
Indian Summer. An Account of the Cricket Tour in England 1946 by John Arlott (Longmans Green, 1947)
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo.