I met this man yesterday on the terrace of the hotel in Adelaide, where we are currently staying in. We had both gone to soak in some warm sunshine in the afternoon, as the morning had been cold and blustery.
“Hi, I am Russel Sutton,” he says, sticking his right hand out. Thinking that I might not get his surname correctly, he begins to spell it out when I stop him mid-syllable as it were.
“Sutton to rhyme with Hutton, right?” I ask, which causes him to break into a high five. “You are a cricket fanatic too,” he says followed by another high five. So two cricket lovers meet accidentally and begin talking: after some of this and some of that, what else, but cricket?
We are here for the first-ever day-night Test match: He from Melbourne, where he lives in retirement after working with Pricewaterhouse Coopers (including a stint in the US), and me, a hack from Mumbai - both drawn to a cathartic moment that could salvage Test cricket from a possible extinction.
Sutton, I soon discover, not only is a “Test match tragic”, but also a great fan of Indian cricket, particularly when it pertains to Mumbai. “I track what happens there fairly regularly because of [Sachin] Tendulkar in the past, and currently because [Ricky] Ponting is with Mumbai Indians in the IPL,” he says.
He rattles off stats and facts about “this amazing guy Sachin” as if he had swallowed the scorecards of every match that the Little Master played in. “He’s right up there with the Don,” he adds, revealing the great regard Aussies have for Tendulkar.
“And what’s the best Test team India’s had?” he then asks in the inquisitorial tone of a quizmaster. As I spend time deliberating, Sutton says with a sense of finality that it was the team that toured Australia in 2004.
“[Rahul] Dravid, [Sourav] Ganguly, [VVS] Laxman, [Virender] Sehwag, [Anil] Kumble… can’t think of a better team from India ever,” he says. I can also think of Kapil Dev’s team, which toured England in 1986 winning 2-0, and [Ajit] Wadekar’s side that won in the West Indies and England in 1971.
But I desist from argument. For sheer talent and balance, the 2004 side was perhaps the best to play overseas. Though it didn’t win in Australia, but to hold the world champions to a draw was a major achievement.
Sutton then asks me pointedly why Mumbai could not have been the venue for the first-ever day-night Test, which kind of stumps me.
“You have produced some of the greatest cricketers in the world, I understand it has been the nursery of Indian cricket, and the BCCI is headquartered there,” he says, as if firing salvoes.
“These things are not decided by the BCCI:” I try to reason. Then I hear telling myself, “if BCCI is the wealthiest and the most powerful, why can’t it take the lead in driving the progress of the game?”
The BCCI has the money and the clout, but has yet to show the vision needed to advance the sport ‘philosophically’ or in terms of innovations. Apart from ‘cashing in’, it has almost always played ‘catch up’ with other boards. Why couldn’t the first day-night Test, for instance, have been between India and South Africa in the series underway back home?
I deflect further agony on by asking Sutton whether he has ever visited Mumbai. “I’ve never been there, but one of my colleagues from PWC, Sameer Sheth, lives there. Know him?”
I know a few by that name in Mumbai and pantomime the height and structure of the Sameer’s I knew. But after Sutton goes higher than the tallest I indicate, I give up. “Never mind, if he reads this piece, he’ll know,” he says. “I really am keen to come and visit his house where 35-40 people live together - kids, parent, grandparents all of them which is fascinating,” he says.
I wondered if Sutton had watched a Rajshri Productions film before meeting me, but the relevant Sameer Sheth is forewarned: Russel Sutton is coming for him.