Courage and team-spirit are important factors in cricket and Subba Rao, as we will see, has these in abundance. And if anyone believes that batting is dull when he is at the crease it is suggested that a closer inspection be made.
Note particularly the times when he keeps pace with harder hitting and more stylish players and his willingness to upset the field by going for sharply run singles. Suddenly it may dawn on them that there are few more effective players in England today. When a field is set deep to check runs and most batsmen are pounding away with mighty hits, often straight to a man, Subba Row has the almost uncanny knack of finding all sorts of gaps with his superb timing and placing of the ball. His is an art not always appreciated.
Subba Rao was born at Streatham in Surrey on January 29, 1932. His father Panguluri Subba Rao, Native of Bapatla village Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh, India, went to Ireland just before the First World War and, studying at Dublin University, became a barrister and Privy Councillor. His mother is English and he has a brother, Stanley, nine years his senior. The family were always interested in cricket and the two youngsters often played together in the garden at their home.
At his preparatory school in Croydon, where he stayed until the age of 12, Subba Row developed into a useful left-handed batsman and right-arm slow bowler and he captained the side in his last year.
On going to Whitgift School, Subba Row made the first eleven in 1947 and remained in it for four years, again showing his prowess as a leader by being appointed captain in 1950. For three successive years he headed the batting averages and his slow bowling became increasingly effective.
In 1949 he was second in the school averages and in 1950, when changing from off-breaks to leg-breaks and googlies, he finished first with 52 wickets at 10 runs apiece. Two exceptional bowling performances in his last year were nine for nine against Hurstpierpoint and nine for 27 against Incogniti. During this period Subba Row received a good deal of help from E.A. Watts, formerly Surrey, then coaching at Whitgift.
During the school holidays Subba Row continued his cricket with Old Whitgiftians before going to Cambridge. There, with coaching from J.C. Laker (Surrey) and A.E.G. Rhodes (Derbyshire), he made an immediate mark and gained a Blue as a Freshman in 1951 in a side which included P.B.H. May, D.S. Sheppard, J.J. Warr and R.G. Marlar. As a middle-order batsman and slow bowler he held his own comfortably and in the second innings against Oxford he took five for 21.
As his bowling began to deteriorate so his batting improved and the following year he finished third in the Cambridge averages with an innings of 94 against Oxford his best score. Subba Row really came to the fore in his last year at the University, heading their averages with 52.05 and also turning out for Surrey in 14 Championship games, finishing second with them. In first-class matches he scored 1,823 runs and his average of 50.63 made him fifth in the country.
That winter he toured India with the Commonwealth side and on his return things began to go wrong for him. He had only moderate success for Surrey and during the season tore a thigh muscle. He had thoughts of giving up the game and going into business, but Northamptonshire invited him to join them on special registration in 1955. He also found work with a firm of accountants in the county. His form began to improve and against Lancashire at Northampton he made 260 not out, the highest score in Northamptonshire's history.
Little was seen of Subba Row in the next two years for he was called into the R.A.F. in March 1956. He stayed there for two years, reaching the rank of Pilot Officer with recruit training and education his special subjects. He played for the R.A.F. and Combined Services and occasionally for Northamptonshire before returning full-time for the county in 1958.
Appointed captain, he came right into form and headed their averages. He also finished third in the country, his 1,810 runs including 300, the only treble century against Surrey at The Oval. It also broke his own record for Northamptonshire and his stand of 376 for the sixth wicket with Lightfoot became the best for any wicket for the county.
At the end of that successful season he was chosen to tour Australia and New Zealand but luck went against him and just before the first Test he broke a bone at the base of his right thumb and played little on the tour.
He recovered so well from that setback that 1959 became his most prolific season. He scored 1,917 runs and hit six centuries. That form earned him a place in the team to West Indies where he again did splendidly, averaging 54, although he once more hurt himself, cracking a bone in a finger towards the end of the tour.
Another injury came last season when he repeated the Australian trouble, a broken bone in the thumb. Even so he made 1,503 runs and finished top of the first-class averages with 55.66.
Subba Row obtained his first Test chance against New Zealand at Manchester in 1958. He scored only nine and did not get another call until the fifth Test against India at The Oval the following year. Then, pressed into service as an opening batsman, he made 94. In West Indies in 1959-60 he again had to wait for his chance but, brought in for the fourth Test at Georgetown, he hit 100 in the second innings. This was made with a cracked finger and came at a badly needed time for England.
Although he played two seasons for Surrey, he blossomed after moving to Northamptonshire and won the first of his 13 Test caps in 1958, making a hundred in his first Test overseas and then scoring centuries in the first and last Ashes Tests in 1961. His retirement at the end of that summer (after which he was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year)
Last season, against South Africa, he was a recognised member of the side, but again he had to change his batting order in the interests of the team. After scoring 56 and 32 at number four in the first Test he was asked to open the innings because of injury to Pullar. He replied with a 90 at Lord's. Because of injury he missed the final game.
So far, in eight Tests, he has averaged almost 47 which has been a most effective reply to anyone doubting his Test class. Also his courage in the face of injury and the way he has fought his way into the Test side despite a certain amount of opposition has been proved. So, too, has his team spirit, for at no time has he batted regularly in his normal position.
Subba Row believes in suiting his style to the demands of the game and to playing it to the best of his ability. At first he scored a large proportion of his runs with deflections and he favoured the leg-side. That is still the case, but recently he has developed more off-side strokes and he is particularly clever at pushing singles just clear of the in-field. His judgment of a run is first-class.
At Surrey, with Laker and Lock supreme, Subba Row had few chances to develop his slow bowling and nowadays he goes on only rarely with high-flighted leg-breaks and googlies which can still break a stubborn stand. As a fieldsman he prefers being close to the bat, usually in the slips or gulley, but he is equally good in the deep.
Subba Row feels that his tour of India with the Commonwealth side helped his career considerably for he learned to play on other types of pitches and under different conditions. His most miserable period was in Australia watching everything go wrong but because of injury being unable to do anything to help.
Subba Row enjoys captaincy because he likes to be in the game at all times and among his most pleasant memories are leading Northamptonshire to victories over the South Africans and Yorkshire, the Champions, last season.
A charming, quiet personality, liked by everyone with whom he comes into contact, Subba Row behaves perfectly on and off the field and he always looks to be trying to do his best. In fact he is a real credit to the game of cricket.