Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
Full quote: “We felt as if a man so cricket-wise as Gilligan considered Indian cricket had reached a state in its development where it could challenge the world. Gilligan promised to state our case when he returned to Lord’s.”
By: Anthony de Mello, referring to a conversation at the Roshanara Club, Delhi, February 1927.
The early days of all-India cricket teams were significantly different from representative teams of other Commonwealth Nations in one aspect. While Australia, South Africa, West Indies, and New Zealand consisted mostly of British expatriates (or their descendants), the Indian team consisted entirely of local cricketers.
The British took cricket with them wherever they expanded to. The first reference of cricket in India was in 1721, by one Clement Downing. The Parsees of Bombay were the first Indians to take to cricket. They were also the first Indians to tour England, that too twice – in 1886 and 1888, albeit with disastrous results.
But the Parsees were not to be discouraged. They were the only side to beat the touring GF Vernon’s XI of 1889-90. They then took on the Europeans in a two-match contest in 1892-93 and won the series 1-0. These were the first Presidency Matches (the Parsees won the first edition).
In the same season, Lord Hawke brought a team stronger than Vernon’s (they won 13, drew 6, and lost 2 matches). Two matches from this tour, both against Parsees at Bombay Gymkhana, stand out. The tourists were bowled out for 73 and 93. ME Pavri took 6/36 in the second innings. In the second Dinshaw Writer took 4/16 and 8/40 but the Parsees lost by 7 runs.
With the Hindus joining in 1907-08 and the Muslims in 1912-13, the Bombay Quadrangular became the premier Indian tournament (a fifth team, The Rest, would be inducted in 1937-38).
But while cricket thrived in India (they were the only major country to host First-Class cricket during The Great War), matches against other nations were not common occurrences.
An all-India team did visit England in 1911, but they had a disappointing tour: they won 2, drew 2, and lost 10 First-Class matches. Even then, Palwankar Baloo impressed all, picking up 75 wickets at 20. As we know, Baloo’s struggles were not restricted to on-field hurdles: the journey from the receiving end of untouchability to a place in a representative national XI was no less than a fairy tale.
But ICC (Imperial Cricket Conference at that time) were not keen on a third Test-playing nation before The Great War. It was only in 1926 that the Indians, the West Indians and the New Zealanders were invited to an ICC meeting.
ICC announced that its membership would be extended to “governing bodies of cricket in countries within the Empire to which cricket teams are sent, or which send teams to England”. Thus, these three teams joined England, Australia, and South Africa as ICC members.
Interestingly, the meeting was presided over by Lord Harris, the man who had once prevented Ranji from playing for England. A former Test captain, Harris was also one of the most inefficient governors in the history of Bombay, but had one tiny redeeming point: he had no problem with Indians playing cricket.
His reasoning, however, was not on the expected lines: “We can do indefinitely more work in their climate than they can, and they get fat and lazy as they rise in rank, whilst our civilian are as active as young men.” Being Trinidad-born as well, Harris’s enthusiasm towards inducting both India and West Indies cannot be ruled out.
The Test status, however, was yet to come. India did not even have a proper board at that stage. Despite the elevation in status and the occasional victory against touring sides, despite the illustrious career of Ranji and the advent of Duleep, Indian cricket was yet to earn respect outside the nation.
All that changed on a December morning at Bombay Gymkhana later that year.
Arthur Gilligan’s MCC were a strong side. They were undefeated in all 12 First-Class matches on the tour till then. Even here, against the Hindus, they put up 363.
CK Nayudu walked out at 67 for 2 to join the supremely talented but largely forgotten LP Jai; and mayhem followed. We shall only run through the highlights.
Nayudu went after the left-arm spin of Stuart Boyes first, hitting him on the roof of the pavilion, and then twice into the tents. He had also hit three fours by then. Then Ewart Astill dropped Nayudu and ended up paying for it dearly. He conceded the next four Nayudu sixes, the last two off consecutive balls.
Nayudu spared Maurice Tate by hitting only fours, but he hit a six off Bob Wyatt. In Wyatt’s next over he hit two consecutive balls on the roof of the Gymkhana and added two fours for good measure. The 11th six came off John Mercer.
Nayudu kept on hitting as wickets kept falling all around him. He scored 153 in 100 minutes that day with 13 fours and 11 sixes, the latter being a world record. Let alone the crowd (who were pouring in as the news spread like wildfire) and the opposition, even the umpires were forced to applaud his strokes.
That single innings changed Indian cricket like no other innings before or after. There might have been superior exhibitions of strokeplay, but few as impactful.
Gilligan was in awe of Nayudu: “I cannot find enough words to express my opinion of him. His polished display of batsmanship was one of the best I have ever seen.” No other praise was as significant, as this one innings pushed India towards Test cricket like none before.
Likewise, Wyatt: “The Indian batsman’s perfect poise, high back-lift and long, pendulum swing brought beauty to his strokes.”
But there was another innings as well, when an all-India side took on Gilligan’s men, again at Bombay Gymkhana. This time MCC scored 362 and had the Indians at 180/5 before a 53-year-old Sanskrit professor played an innings as contrasting to Nayudu’s as possible. Prof. DB Deodhar preferred the off-side that day, driving and cutting with panache, and carved out 148 in four hours to put the Indians in the lead.
Whatever doubt was there regarding India’s class even after Nayudu’s onslaught was cleared by Deodhar’s masterpiece.
Two months later, a group of four men met at the lawns of Roshanara Club, Delhi. Gilligan was the main speaker. In the audience was the Maharaja of Patiala, who had led the 1911 side. A major patron of Indian cricket of the era, Patiala had invited Gilligan’s men for the tour. Also present were Grant Govan, a Delhi-based businessman and founder of the Roshanara Club; and Anthony de Mello, an employee of Govan.
Gilligan admitted how impressed he was by the performance of the Indians. He promised to talk to MCC about a tour. He also requested the Indians to form a cricket board of their own.
The Indians met on November 22 that year. BCCI was founded in December 1928 at Roshanara Club, with Govan as first President and de Mello as Secretary.
By then India had established themselves as a superpower in another sport. Great Britain was the only side to have won a gold medal at field hockey in 1908 and 1920, the only two occasions when the sport was a part of the Olympics. That was challenged by India – still, a British territory, remember – at Amsterdam in 1928.
India did not merely win the matches. They annihilated every opposition (all European countries), scoring 29 goals and conceding none from five matches. Dhyan Chand alone scored 14 goals (the next best of 5 was shared by three men, two of whom were also Indians). Shortly after this, on a tour of Europe, Dhyan Chand alone scored 25 more goals.
Five months after BCCI was founded, Govan and de Mello represented India at ICC. They invited South Africa to tour India in 1929 and planned an England tour in 1931. Unfortunately, the former was called off, while the latter got pushed back by a year.
India eventually played their first Test in 1932 and did not do too badly, especially during the first half hour.