“His commitment to the game was seen on innumerable occasions – for instance when he lost his teeth while batting after being hit by a bouncer off Dattu Phadkar from Mumbai. Not one to seek help, he got back up on his feet in seconds, instructing the bowler to bowl yet another bouncer to him”!
If Hanif Mohammad is regarded as Pakistan’s first cricketing superstar, across the border, it is Colonel CK Nayudu who has been bestowed with the honours. Born in Nagpur, he played for the Bishop Collegiate High School in his youth, with his athleticism and his skills the talk of the town ever since. Nayudu excelled in hockey and football a well, but it was his father who pushed him into batting – turning him from a defensive player into a more aggressive one.
He played his first match as a 20-year-old, coming in to bat with the score reading 79 for 7 and even though he managed just 37 runs in the two innings – 27 in the first and 10 in the second – his fearless approach and his ability to play sans inhibitions struck a chord. He even managed to pick up 4 wickets in the game against the Europeans and next year, when he scored 80, his name had well and truly caught on. By 1918, he had scored his first hundred against Lord Willingdon’s England in Bombay, and his 122 runs that helped India XI win by an innings, went a long way in proving to the Englishmen that the country could turn out to be a real cricketing powerhouse.
However, it is his knock in the winter of 1926 that he finally announced himself against the MCC side that was comprising of players like Bob Wyatt, George Geary, Andy Sandham and Maurice Tate. Playing for the Hindus at the Bombay Gymkhana on a green and a lively wicket, Nayudu walked out to bat with his side on 67 for the loss of two wickets, in pursuit of MCC’s 363. Just as he had been taught, he went into an attack mode straightaway, lifting left-arm spinner Stuart Boyes for two fours and a maximum early on in his innings. Even when the wickets at the other end kept collapsing, Nayudu kept pushing on and all it took him was less than 2 hours to score 153 runs, with 13 fours and 11 sixes – a First-Class record back then.
His batsmanship impressed the opponent camp and his strength to drive the good-length balls over the bowler’s head with perfect poise, back-lift and swing brought a certain sense of beauty to his strokes. Five years after this phenomenal knock, he was appointed captain for India’s first official Test match at Lord’s. By then, he had already garnered for himself the title of a legend and hence, when he was selected by the Maharajas themselves to lead the team, it hardly came as a surprise.
That tour thrust him farther towards superstardom, for anyone who witnessed him on that tour pledged that he was ounces better than his teammates. He had a powerful wrist and an even greater hand-eye coordination that enabled him to go for his strokes with a natural flair. In the course of this tour, he scored six hundreds – five of which came against domestic sides. In his very first appearance at the Lord’s, he scored an unbeaten 118 against the MCC and even though he was unable to get going in the Test match, he led the team brilliantly in the absence of The Maharaja of Porbandar and K.S. Ghanshyamsinhji of Limbdi.
He returned from England after scoring 1613 runs at an astonishing average of 42.44, with 5 hundreds and 59 wickets that were taken at 29.33. He struck 32 sixes on that tour and even though he was aged 36, he refused to shy away from diving on the field. The next year, Wisden appropriately awarded him with the Cricketer of the Year award.
Neville Cardus remained forthright in his praise of the Indian. “Nayudu has stupidly been called the Bradman of India. He shows no resemblance to Australia’s great and flawless and rather steely master. Nayudu is lithe and wristy and volatile. Bradman is sturdy and concentrated, he never suggests that elusive and poetic quality which is best called sensitivity. Nayudu is a very sensitive batsman: for each of his strokes you get the impression of a newborn energy, of a sudden improvisation of superb technique. Nayudu is not at all mechanical. Watching him from the ring you get a delicious suggestion in his play of his fallibility. Unlike Bradman, his skill is his servant, not his master. The glorious uncertainty of cricket is not endangered by Nayudu.”
However, what Nayudu really set the benchmark in was for his longevity and his passion for the game that even saw him play cricket till he was well over 60. His First-Class career spanned from 1916 to 1963, in which he amassed 11,825 runs at a staggering average of 35.94, with 26 hundreds and 58 fifties. He picked up 411 wickets as well, including 12 fifers, his best figures being 7/44.
His commitment to the game was seen on innumerable occasions – for instance when he lost his teeth while batting after being hit by a bouncer off Dattu Phadkar from Mumbai. Not one to seek help, he got back up on his feet in seconds, instructing the bowler to bowl yet another bouncer to him! Not only was he famed for his on-field activities, off it as well, he was generally known as a cricketer who could go on and on about the sport, sharing nuances with whoever wanted to listen.
He died in 1967 but not before leaving behind an in-erasable imprint on Indian cricket. Today BCCI’s Lifetime Achievement Award is known after C.K. Nayudu and India’s Under-23 tournament also holds his name – again emphasising on the deep impact that the ageless wonder created.