About an hour away from the Sydney Cricket Ground, in the picturesque suburbs of Pennant Hills, there live the Banerjees.
It’s been a couple of years since they shifted to this part of the world, leaving behind a cushy and comfortable life in Mumbai. While for the rest of the family, it has been about ‘settling in slowly’, for Subroto Banerjee, it has been a walk down the memory lane.
Exactly three decades ago, Banerjee, who was hardly 20 then, had travelled Down Under as a young fast bowler with the Indian cricket team. The tour of 1992, interestingly, saw two young Bengali boys making it to the squad. While Banerjee, hailing from Patna, was lucky enough to feature in a lone Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the other Bengali boy from Kolkata - Sourav Ganguly - had to return empty-handed, and wait for another four years before returning to the Indian team.
During that tour of Australia, Banerjee met Swati, and a few years later, when they decided to settle down, Sydney was the preferred city. They lived here from 2000 to 2008-2009, but Banerjee landed a coaching role at Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League and later on was roped in by the Vidarbha Cricket Association, and the family moved to Mumbai.
Things were going on perfectly for the family in Mumbai, with Banerjee, popularly known as ‘Subbu’ in the fraternity, reuniting with his old friends Sachin Tendulkar, Prashant Vaidya, Atul Ranade and focusing on his coaching career.
He was Vidarbha’s bowling coach when it won back-to-back Ranji Trophy titles and Irani Cup and was eventually drafted into the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru as one of the coaches.
But just before the pandemic struck in March 2020, his elder daughter wanted to pursue higher studies in Australia. Banerjee’s wife Swati, and their younger daughter decided to tag along. The initial plan was to return to Mumbai once the admission process was over.
“But that’s when the pandemic struck, and they could not return to India. So, after a while, we decided to permanently relocate to Sydney,” Banerjee tells Sportstar while munching on hot medu vada and idli at a south Indian restaurant in Parammata on Saturday afternoon.
“I was busy with my coaching stints in India back then, so it was not easy to again relocate. But with lockdown and the pandemic, staying alone and far away from the family was difficult,” he says. “So, finally, I decided to move to Sydney and be with them. That’s how it all happened…”
On weekdays, Banerjee keeps himself busy with coaching. He spends a lot of time at the Stars Cricket Academy in Hornsby, where Australian international Marnus Labuschagne also trains. “I work with the Hawkesbury side and do a lot of private coaching. Cricket is everything to me, so I cannot leave it. I enjoy it, and it’s a passion,” he says.
As we wait for our filter coffee, Banerjee checks his phone. It’s about 12.30 pm, and he has to a catch a flight to Melbourne in a couple of hours. His friends in the Indian cricket circuit called him up a couple of days ago and invited him over to Melbourne to watch the India vs Pakistan T20 World Cup game. “See, for me, it is not about India vs Pakistan, it is about India playing its first game and being so close, I couldn’t afford to miss it,” Banerjee says. “The Indian team has a good balance, it’s just that they need to adapt to the conditions and back their natural game…”
Having worked with most fast bowlers from the current team during his stint at the NCA, Banerjee believes that Mohammed Shami has enough experience to turn the tide. “People say that Shami hasn’t played a T20I for a year, so how will he manage? I don’t buy that logic. Look at how he excelled in the warm-up game. He is a senior cricketer and understands what it takes to perform at the big stage,” Banerjee says. “Having known the Australian wickets, I feel it’s important for a fast bowler to bowl cleverly. You have to use a lot of variation because if you feel that you’ll come and hit the deck, that won’t be the case. So, one has to be clever and be particular about the length…”
“There is no point thinking that what would have happened had Bumrah been around. The fact is he is not here, so you have to make do with what you have. Indian players will definitely make an impact,” Banerjee says.
As the conversation progresses, Banerjee talks about how Indian cricket has changed over the years and invariably goes back to the tour of 1992. “Maharaj (Ganguly) and I were youngsters in that side, and we both knew that we have to make the most of the opportunities. The batting line-up was strong, and so was the bowling unit with Paaji (Kapil Dev), Srinath and Manoj (Prabhakar) around. So being the fourth fast bowler, I knew that I could still get a few matches to play, but for Maharaj, there were too many seniors battling for spots. But we knew that Maharaj was a supremely talented batter,” Banerjee says.
So, when Ganguly made it to the Indian team in 1996 and didn’t look back, Banerjee was not surprised. But even now, he regrets not playing more Tests for India. “I feel I could have played a few more Tests. I had that in me, but then, it is what it is. I am still fortunate to have played ODIs for India, and in the future, I would love to be associated with Indian cricket again…”
Banerjee did have his moments in the six ODIs that he featured in. He bagged Brian Lara’s prized scalp in the dramatic tied match of the Benson & Hedges series in Perth, and Graeme Hick’s wicket and a blistering late onslaught with the bat against England in the 1992 World Cup humdinger. And these days, when he drives past the Sydney Cricket Ground, those memories keep coming back. “Playing for India was a big deal. I remember after making it to the India team in the Test, I called up my mom, and both of us could not speak for a few minutes. It was an emotional moment. Nothing can be bigger than playing for India,” he says.
As he finishes his filter coffee and gets ready to reach the airport, Banerjee admits that even though he is far away from India, he keenly follows domestic cricket and other events. “I would want to work with Indian cricket again in some capacity. I think I can’t live without cricket, and I want to continue helping youngsters as long as I can - be it in India or here in Australia. The game will always be special…”
Well, you can’t take cricket out of a cricketer!
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