Once Rahul Dravid, one of the greatest Indian batsmen of all time, recounted an incident from his early playing days to highlight the immense unity in diversity that makes India an example of cultural brotherhood. One of the two players who were involved in that interesting incident was M Suresh Kumar, who was found dead at his residence in Alappuzha on Friday.
Suresh Kumar, fondly called 'Umri' by everyone close to him, was a key member of the India U-19 squad led by Dravid which played a Youth Test and a one-day series against the New Zealand colts.
Narrating the incident that reaffirmed the value of India's pluralism and the unifying power of the game, Dravid said: "It happened during a match against New Zealand in the 1991-92 season. We had lost nine wickets and the 10th man was a bowler from Uttar Pradesh. He spoke only Hindi while his partner was Suresh Kumar from Kerala who knew only Malayalam. We sat in the dressing room worried, wondering how they were going to communicate with each other. How could they discuss strategies and build the innings if they don't understand the language the other spoke? However, proving all our apprehensions wrong, the two raised a 100-run partnership for the last wicket. They could do it because both of them were fluent in the language of cricket!"
A naturally-gifted left-arm spinner, Suresh Kumar had left a lasting impression on Dravid in that series with his incredible bowling and batting prowess. Notably, that Kiwis side had the likes of Stephen Fleming, Dion Nash and Matthew Hart.
A team man to the core, Suresh Kumar burst on to the domestic scene by picking up nine wickets against Hyderabad in a Ranji Trophy match held at Thalassery. He was also the chief architect of Kerala's maiden Ranji Trophy win over the formidable Tamil Nadu in the 1994-95 season as he grabbed 12 wickets at the Victoria College Ground in Palakkad.
Kerala was in a spot of bother after skipper K N Ananthapadmanabhan got injured in the first innings. He had bowled only five overs in the first innings and didn’t bowl in the second innings.
Tamil Nadu had many proven performers like W V Raman, V B Chandrashekar, Robin Singh, S Sharath, M Venkatramana, Balaji Rao and D Vasu in their ranks. However, Suresh Kumar rose to the occasion and took 12 for 164 (six-for-96 and six-for-68) in the match to steer Kerala into the knockout round of the tournament for the first time.
He later joined the Indian Railways and went on to represent them in 17 matches across four seasons, picking up over 60 wickets. He also played the Duleep Trophy representing South Zone and Central Zone. He returned to play for Kerala in 1999 and scored a spectacular century against Andhra in the 2000-01 season. The 125-ball ton remained the quickest for Kerala for over one-and-a-half decades.
For the record, Suresh Kumar played 72 first-class matches between 1991 and 2005, scoring 1,657 runs and taking 196 wickets. He also registered 12 five-wicket hauls.
Born on April 19, 1973 in Alappuzha, he was initiated into cricket at a young age by his uncles Mani Ram and Hari Ram.
Suresh Kumar, who died at the age of 47, will be remembered as a crucial performer in a transitional phase for Kerala cricket.