Raman Subba Row obituary

    The cricketer Raman Subba Row, who has died aged 92, played more than a dozen Test matches as an amateur for England between 1958 and 1961. Then he surprised the selectors by retiring at the height of his powers to pursue a business career. Few in the modern game would voluntarily end their playing days at their peak, but Subba Row lived in an era when “gentlemen” players often nurtured a studied indifference towards sporting achievement, and in any case often needed to find a stable income beyond the boundary.

    Subba Row left cricket to work in public relations, but later he made a further mark on the game as an influential administrator, and as chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) was a leading figure in the handing over of global power from MCC to the International Cricket Council.

    Subba Row’s championing of that move in the late 1980s eventually helped to bring about a lasting shift in cricket’s power balance, away from its traditional centres of England and Australia and towards India. Although this was perhaps not his entire intention – and he later had reservations about the way the ICC exercised its power – it seemed an appropriate outcome for someone of Anglo-Indian descent whose bonds with the subcontinent remained strong.

    Subba Row was born in Streatham, south London, to Panguluri Subba Rao, an Indian barrister from Bapatla in Andhra Pradesh, and his wife Doris (nee Pinner), whom Panguluri had met on a stopover in London after studying law at Queen’s College, Cork. Once he settled and married in Britain, Panguluri anglicised his surname and the young Raman went to Whitgift school in Croydon, and from there to Cambridge University to read law in 1950.

    He played first-class cricket for Cambridge as a left-handed opening bat from 1951 to 1953 in a strong side that boasted two other future England players, Peter May and David Sheppard. After university he progressed to his home county, Surrey, where he made a sizable impact in his first season, averaging more than 50 with the bat as they won the county championship in 1953. But he was less influential in 1954, and by 1955 he had joined Northamptonshire.

    National service in the RAF intervened, but by 1958 he had returned to Northants, where he displaced the seasoned professional Dennis Brookes as captain – even though Brookes had just steered the team to runners-up spot in the county championship. While the parachuting in of a young amateur skipper was not universally popular, Subba Row was able to quell any rumblings of discontent with the quality of his batting.

    He racked up exactly 300 in one innings against Surrey that season, which stood as the county’s highest individual score for three decades, and in the same match shared a partnership of 376 with Albert Lightfoot, still a Northants record for the sixth wicket. In 1959 he had his most prolific season, with 1,917 runs and six centuries, and in 1960 he topped the first-class averages with 1,503 runs at 55.66.

    He won the first of his 13 Test caps in 1958, and generally performed well for England. Strong on the leg-side, and an astute stealer of quick singles, he was never an especially exciting player to watch. His Northants colleague Frank Tyson described him as a batsman of “monolithic concentration and unshakeable determination”, while Wisden worried about his “cramped-looking style” and “a certain awkwardness of movement”.

    Subba Row batting against Australia at the Oval, south London, with opposition wicketkeeper Wally Grout and captain Richie Benaud, August 1961. Photograph: Dennis Oulds/Getty Images

    Yet he was as effective at international level as he was in the domestic game, and over the next three years averaged 46.85 for England, scoring three centuries, one against West Indies in 1960 (in his first overseas Test), and two against Australia in 1961, when he was chosen as a Wisden cricketer of the year.

    But just as he appeared to have grabbed an England place for as long as he wanted to occupy it, Subba Row announced his surprise retirement at the age of 29. In 260 first class matches he had scored 30 centuries, averaged 41.46 with the bat, and had taken 87 wickets with his occasional leg breaks.

    As an amateur Subba Row had combined his cricket with work at an accountancy firm and then as a publicist for a London-based music publishing company. On leaving the game he became an associate director of the advertising agency WS Crawford, spending six years there before setting up a small PR company with two former work colleagues, which he ran for more than 20 years.

    But the links with cricket remained strong, and in the mid-60s he was elected on to Surrey’s committee, where he was to become a modernising figure who helped to transform the county’s attitude to marketing, sponsorship and advertising. During a five-year stint as Surrey’s chairman from 1974 he also appointed Micky Stewart as the county’s first cricket manager, a pioneering move.

    In 1981-82 he was England’s tour manager to India, where he had to send home Geoffrey Boycott ostensibly due to “ill health”, and from 1985 until 1990 he was chairman of the TCCB, where he made full use of his quiet charm and diplomatic skills. More forward-thinking than many in the cricketing establishment, Subba Row used his time there to help wrest control of the game’s administration from MCC, whose president automatically became chairman of the ICC until 1989. Having been elected to the MCC committee in 1967 he was also a progressive voice inside that body, arguing tirelessly for a more modern, commercial approach.

    As TCCB chairman, in 1987 Subba Row played a key role in trying to dampen the fires that were kindled in Pakistan when the England captain Mike Gatting and the Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana squared up to each other in a Test match at Faisalabad, a row that threatened to turn into a full-scale diplomatic incident. As the Foreign Office stood by to help, Subba Row painstakingly brokered a deal under which Gatting grudgingly produced a handwritten apology to Rana, allowing the match to restart. He also unilaterally awarded the England players a controversial £1,000 hardship bonus in recognition of the stresses they had endured on the tour.

    To Subba Row’s satisfaction, the Gatting/Rana furore led to the appointment of neutral umpires in Tests and, having been awarded a CBE in 1991 for services to cricket, he himself oversaw many games as an ICC referee. After his retirement from the PR industry, he officiated in 41 Test matches and 119 one-day internationals between 1992 and 2001.

    He intervened in a number of controversies, sanctioning Australia’s Glenn McGrath for spitting at an opponent, banning Australia’s Ian Healy for two matches for dissent, and overseeing South Africa’s 2000 series in India, where concerns about match-fixing first began to surface. Subba Row confronted both captains on that tour about his suspicions, and was disappointed that the ICC did not back him up and take further action.

    Later he expressed regret that since gaining more power through the ICC, India had “played politics” with the game he loved. But he continued to enjoy travelling regularly to the country, both for cricket and to visit family and friends.

    He is survived by his wife, Anne (nee Harrison), whom he married in 1960, by their children, Alistair and Michelle, and by four grandchildren. Another son, Christopher, predeceased him.

    Raman Subba Row, cricketer and administrator, born 29 January 1932; died 17 April 2024

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