Subhashchandra “Fergie” Gupte
Long before the achievements of Australian “sheikh of tweak” Shane Warne were written into the anals of cricket history, a legend of Indian cricket named Subhashchandra Gupte, so dominated the arena of spin bowlers during the 1950’s, these years were later to be remembered by Indian cricket historians and fans alike, as the “age of Gupte.”
Nicknamed “Fergie” by his friends, Gupte who was born in Bombay on December 11, 1929, learnt how to bowl leg-spin deliveries playing cricket in the local city parks, where players both young and old would often gather each day to play the sport they enjoyed. With much patience and practice over the years he was growing up and playing in the local parks, Fergie was able to perfect the art of bowling leg-spin like no other person at the time and as a result, quickly came to the attention of Indian cricket authorities and was invited to play for the University of Bombay during the 1947-48 season.
He soon earned the reputation of being able to place the ball on any area of the pitch he aimed at and was able to maintain his line and length, no matter what pressure was being exerted by the opposition teams. Possessing such rare skills with the ball, he was selected to make his test cricket debut against the visiting English side at Calcutta during the third test of the 1951-52 series. His debut was a very uneventful match and he never took a wicket during both innings, with the result of him being dropped from the side for the remaining matches in the series.
It was not until India’s tour of the West Indies in 1953, was Fergie once again given the opportunity to impress with the ball in the test arena and this time, it was with great success. Collecting over 50 wickets during the Windies tour, Fergie quickly developed the reputation of having the most “unreadable” bowling action seen for many years. He was able to vary his bowling action and deliveries so much, very few batsmen were ever able to pick his “wrong un” and his googly was bowled with so much overspin on the ball, that it would quickly dip during its flight before vicuously bouncing off the pitch and causing all sorts of problems for the batsman, resulting in many scalps for Fergie.
In a match between Bombay and Pakistan Services, held at Bahawalphur during the 1954 season, Fergie is credited with taking all ten wickets during the opposition innings at the crease. Such is the rarity of a 10 wicket innings, that only a handful of bowlers throughout history have entered the record books for such an achievement.
In the years that followed, he enjoyed much success with the ball and became a regular member of the Indian test team. Selected to tour England in 1959, Fergie looked forward to the challenge of the English wickets, but bowled so poorly during the tour, those who witnessed his performance were left wondering at claims of him being the best leg-spinner in the world, especially considering India was defeated 5-0, without even a glimmer of magic from Fergie.
Many attribute his poor performance and that of the Indian team during the series, to the lack of tactics and inspiration displayed at the time by Indian captain Duttaji Gaekwad, who used Fergie as one of his stock bowlers, rather than exploit his abilities in short attacking bursts. However, even under the circumstances of a 5-0 defeat, Fergie was still the leading wicket taker for the Indian team. Taking 95 wickets during the tour, Fergie was only able to take 17 scalps during the five test series, a figure much below the expectations of all concerned.
Fergie, who was always at his best during matches played on India pitches, was able to make amends for his disaster in England during the 1959 series, when in a match at Kanpur during the 1961-62 series, he took 4 wickets for 6 runs, off just 18 balls. He had the English batsmen tied in knots at Kanpur and was instrumental in causing the English team to follow on, for the first time ever against an Indian team.
Although Fergie may have been the hero during the match at Kanpur, he was later dropped from the team after the 3rd test of the series, for what is said to be disciplinary reasons. His displacement from the team was the catalyst that brought to a close a career that seen Fergie establish himself as one of the great spinners of all time and certainly one of the greatest to ever come out of India...if not the greatest.
Fergie later took up residence in Trinidad, a part of the West Indies. It was during several tours of the Windies that Fergie enjoyed some of his greatest bowling performances and developed an affinity for the Windies and its people, where he later met and married his wife Carol.
In 2001, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, recognised Fergie with the C K Nayudu award, as the first superstar of Indian cricket, an award given in recognition of both his career achievements and lifetime dedication to the sport of cricket.
Enjoying his life in the Windies, Fergie, the father of two children, lived life to the full with his family until his death on the 30th May 2002, from a diabetes related illness.
After his death, Bishen Bedi, another legendary Indian spin bowler, is quoted as saying in an interview with Cricinfo; “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." This achievement with the ball, saw Fergie become the first ever Indian bowler to take nine wickets in an innings.
One thing is for certain, although Fergie may have met with limited success during his tours of England, like so many other spin bowlers who have come after him, his performances with the ball in almost every other place that he played, can only be described as some of the most inspiring and greatest ever.
For those of us who love the men who turn a ball with the magic of their wrists and fingers, Fergie will always live long in the memories of the die hard followers of spin and the cricketers Hall of Fame.
Career Profile and Statistics