Monday, April 15, 2024

SS Lee, the reclusive Chinese-Indian cricketer, will be missed

He had snapped ties with his friends and colleagues for the last 10 years or so. During his heyday, he was extremely colourful which only enhanced his charm as a cricketer. That was S.S. Lee, an all rounder of Delhi cricket. He was perhaps the first China-origin cricketer to represent any state side in Ranji Trophy. Apart from some sizzling stuff, even on pitches that were nothing short of bowlers’ graveyard, Lee was a very effective batsman  and agile fielder too.

 Notwithstanding Lee’s decision to remain aloof and away from the hustle-bustle of Ferozshah Kotla, the lifeline of Delhi cricket, his fans and friends would deeply miss his absence. Still, they longed to see him come-out of this self-imposed hibernation one of these days. Alas, it won’t happen as  Lee passed away last Tuesday in the Capital. He was 72.

Sure, Lee has not played many first class matches for the Delhi side. Yet, he was part of the Delhi squad that used to have the likes of Bishan Singh Bedi, Mohinder Amarnath, Madan Lal, Surinder Amarnath and Rakesh Shukla for so many seasons. He could have played for some other state considering his phenomenal talent. He, however, remained in Delhi.

Lee’s family came to India in 1920 for greener pastures. They first came to the then Calcutta and then shifted to Delhi in 1925. Remember early 1900s China being in a pitiable condition under  corrupt and incompetent decaying Qing dynastic emperor, coupled with humiliating and oppressive semi-colonial rule under multiple European, American and Japanese nations, that made economic conditions for common men extremely unliveable. Economic immigrants reached all parts of the globe including India. And you have them in all port towns like Bombay, Cochin Madras, Vishakapatnam and Calcutta. And slowly they shifted to other towns wherever earning wages opportunities exist including New Delhi.

Lee, however, was born and raised in Delhi. He  was an extremely popular figure in capital’s cricketing circle.  And the icing on the cake was his muscular physique and his strikingly good looks. That made him a real star material. It was a real treat to watch him as a spectator. Seriously, avid cricket buffs of Delhi University used to throng the University cricket ground to watch him play. A Delhi-based cricketer Shekhar Parashar has a very fond memories of Lee.  Recalls Parashar: “ Lee was a gem of a player with great control over his speed and swing.  From the very first bowl, he used to be on spot. And Lee was a very sporting player.  He appreciated the good efforts of opponents as well. This virtue is really missing now.”

An alumnus of Frank Anthony School, St. Stephen’s college and Delhi University, he had captained both his college and University sides in Inter college  and Rohinton Baria Trophy championships, India’s premier inter-university cricket tournament. And he excelled everywhere. Lee was something of a monarch of league cricket of Delhi. He had represented Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) side for more than two decades.

Recalls Ashok Bambi, a former Ranji Trophy player from UP and a cricket administrator, “I came in close touch with Lee in 1971 and played number of matches against him. He was very powerfully built, quick and used to have a long run up. Later on he shortened his run up but his huge out swinger was very much there. I still remember an incident from a match between Lucknow and Delhi University teams in Meerut. He bowled a bouncer to our opener Ajay Tandon. The ball hit his head and he fell flat on his stumps.”

Lee was there in the Delhi Ranji squad in 1976-77 and played his only first class match under the captainship of great Bishan Singh Bedi. Of course, Bedi was his hero. Bedi too loved him perhaps also due to the fact that Lee was a chaste Punjabi speaker. Both of them spoke in Punjabi. Lee’s Punjabi had even some Punjabi invectives too.  

Lee was a jovial personality and a  happy go lucky character. Those who have played with or against him cannot forget him as a person and as a wonderful cricketer. Though born  in a Chinese Christian family, Lee was a devotee of Lord Shiva.

 That apart, it is really baffling that such a livewire cricketer virtually stopped meeting his friends and relatives for the last over one decade or so. He even refused to give his picture to Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) for their website. DDCA has a website which gives full profiles and pictures of all the players of Delhi who had played In Ranji Trophy to International matches. Around ten months back, this writer managed to get his landline number after lots of effort. Despite my  persuasion, he was not ready to meet me for an interview. Lee only said, “ Beta, I have played my innings. Now, respect my privacy. Leave me alone.” Travel well, SS Lee.

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