After three unofficial tours to England in 1886, 1888 and 1911, and within three years of the formation of the Board of Control for Cricket in India in 1928, the Indians toured England to play their first ever Test match. The year rhymes with the present year: it was 1932. And as has always been the case with Indian cricket since, selection immediately courted controversy. The Maharaja of Patiala, one of the richest patrons of Indian cricket, was first named captain. He later stepped down on health grounds and was replaced by the Maharaja of Porbander, who, with an average of 0.66, was undoubtedly the worst player of the touring party. He too eventually stepped down in favour of C.K. Nayudu, who captained the team at the only Test at Lord’s on June 25, 1932.
This is how the selection was described by the Times of India, “A popular item of discussion in cricket circles across the country is the official announcement of the selection, which takes place in the evening of February 4 (1932). The selection committee will meet at Montgomery Hall at 3.30 pm tomorrow and submit their recommendation to the Board of Control, who will then select a captain, a vice-captain and a deputy vice-captain. Rumours are that the Maharaja of Patiala will skipper the All India side and the two other places are being filled by the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram and K.S. Ghanshyamsinhji, though their respective roles are not known.”
Patiala’s election evoked mixed responses in the media. This is borne out by the publication of two contrasting reports in the Times of India of February 6, 1932. The first described the selection as a “tribute to His Highness’s long and devoted service to the cause of Indian cricket”. The second, by contrast, declared, “The selection of the Maharaja of Patiala as captain of the team is, however, a strange nomination, as it can hardly be claimed that he merits a place in the team on form alone. Neither can his tactical knowledge be considered very high.” It went on to suggest that, “It is very likely that he will be a non-playing captain and that Prince Ghanshyamsinhji will be skipper on the field itself”. The report concluded, saying, “His Highness the Maharaja of Patiala will undoubtedly be in his element in the social side of the tour and this is probably the reason for his official nomination as captain”.
Within a week of being appointed captain, the Maharaja of Patiala announced his decision not to tour. As the Times of India reported on March 3, “The Board of Control for Cricket in India have now received confirmation from His Highness the Maharaja of Patiala that he much regrets his inability to accept the captaincy of the cricket team to tour England this summer as he finds that it will not be possible for him to get away”.
Finally, the Maharaja of Porbander was appointed captain of the touring team on March 15, 1932.
The selection of Patiala as captain was a result of considerable intrigue and politicking. Indian cricket in the ’30s was a battleground for supremacy between the two leading patrons, the Maharaja of Patiala and the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, better known as Vizzy. The fact that Patiala was nominated captain was largely the result of the munificence he showered on the team, and the result of his hosting the trials at the Bardari Palace Ground in Patiala.
That both princes were vying for the captaincy became apparent when cricketers from around the country started taking sides on the issue. In a letter addressed to the editor of the Times of India, a former Indian cricketer asserted, “In my opinion, the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram is obviously the best choice, and I put the Nawab of Pataudi with his extensive knowledge of the conditions in England as the second-in-charge.”
Within a couple of days of this letter’s publication, M.E. Pavri, the Parsi stalwart, wrote another letter to the Times editor: “Sir, The great sporting enthusiast, the Maharaja of Patiala, however, would be the most appropriate skipper, if His Highness can make up his mind to play all the matches in England.”
Despite all the intrigue over captaincy and team selection, 1932 was the year in which a young Indian side made giant strides towards performing creditably in their first official foreign tour as the nation’s cricketers finally got a chance to face the world. When the Indians travelled to England, nothing much was known about them. By the time they returned, C.K. Nayudu and his teammates, despite losing the inaugural official Test match by 158 runs, had established themselves as a force to reckon with.
A scoresheet of the first Test at Lord’s, England v All India, June 25-28, 1932
A rare build-up
On March 1, 1932—one-and-a-half months before the Indians embarked on their tour of England—The Times, London, published the following report: “We still play cricket in India. Political rough houses, communal riots, Congress hartals, Bengal terrorists, and the 10 per cent cut in pay have all done their best to queer the pitch for us, but the game goes on. The Delhi police may be having three sharp rounds with a rioting crowd in the Chandni Chowk, the crowded bazaar of the old city, but a mile or two away on the club ground set in the gardens that 400 years ago Shah Jehan built for his princess, a Roshanara side will be playing the Punjab Wanderers, or an Army team from New Cantonments will be fielding in the white sunlight.”
And then, triumphantly, “It will be seen that the team is composed entirely of Indians; the question of selecting Englishmen playing in India did not arise.”
This wasn’t the only piece published on the tour. Soon after the Indians arrived in England on April 13, 1932, the Evening Standard did not fail to comment on the socio-political significance of the tour: “No politics, no caste, just cricket. This is the unofficial slogan of the cricket team that has come from India after a lapse of 21 years.... There has never been such a team of contrasts meeting on the common footing of cricket. The 18 players speak eight to ten languages among them (and belong to) four or five different castes.”
A week after the publication of this report, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News followed up with yet another interesting news item: “All except one of the 18 members arrived in England last week. Team is captained by the Maharaja of Porbander, and vice-captained by his brother-in-law, Kumar Shri Ghanshyamsinhji of Limbdi. The Kumar Shri leaves Bombay this week, after his recent wedding (to join the team in England).”
The Indians played their first tour match against T.G. Trott’s XI at Pelsham Farm, Pearmarsh near Rye on April 29, 1932. Interestingly, playing against the Indian team in this match was Duleepsinhji. While the Indians acquitted themselves fairly well with Lall Singh, the Sikh from Malaya, leading the way, it was on May 22, 1932, in the unofficial tour match against the MCC, that the world had a glimpse of what India’s first home-grown legend, C.K. Nayudu, was capable of. Nayudu, who would go on to be Wisden Cricketer Of The Year in 1933, smashed the first Indian century of the tour in style. The Star’s headline on May 22, 1932 summed it all up: “The Hindu Bradman in Form at Lord’s”. The Observer was equally eloquent: “A brilliant not out innings of 116 by C.K. Nayudu was the feature of the first day’s play between All-India and the MCC”. The Indian team was designated “All India” to emphasise the point that it was a representative team with players from all parts of the country.
It can safely be conjectured that it was Nayudu’s performance that forced Porbander to step down from the captaincy in his favour. Profoundly impressed, Wisden described India’s first captain thus: “Tall and well-proportioned, Nayudu is eminently fitted by nature to be a good cricketer and his doings for the Indian team fully bore out the accounts of him that had come to us by reason of his excellent performances in his own land. Possessed of supple and powerful wrists and a very good eye, he hit that ball tremendously hard.”
And what, arguably, received greater praise were his leadership skills: “He...showed himself admirably suited for the duties of leadership in what were, after all, rather difficult circumstances.”
However, it was as play unfolded in the first and only Test match at Lord’s that the Indians shocked the English in the first half-hour itself. The MCC was reduced to a dismal 19-3 by some excellent Indian bowling and fielding. Wrote The Birmingham Post: “The All India cricket team has administered a few shocks to the dignity and confidence of England today. If there were among the 24,000 spectators at Lord’s some who imagined that the granting of a Test match by the MCC to the tourists from the Indian empire was merely an amiable concession, then they had a very rude awakening before the close of play....
“It was an extraordinary start to the match. Sutcliffe and Holmes, Yorkshire’s record-smashing opening pair, united in a similar manner under the banner of England, went out full of cool confidence. But the first ball of Nissar’s second over was an in-swinger and Sutcliffe, playing with the edge instead of the middle of the bat, diverted it into the wicket, and one of England’s greatest batsmen was out....
“The disappointment was redoubled and revived when the last ball of the same over, a delivery perfect in flight, length and pace, sent Holmes’s off stump spinning through the air, while the batsman was only half way through the stroke. Woolley and Hammond were now together....
“When he (Woolley) had got 9 in 20, he played a ball from Nissar to a point between short leg and mid-on. The stroke was worth a comfortable single and no more, but for some extraordinary reason an attempt was made to secure two runs. The fielder, the blue-turbaned Lall Singh, threw in wildly, but even so the wicketkeeper had time to gather it and remove the bails.... The wicket was thrown away by wild calling, and three men were out for 19....”
Though India eventually lost the match by 158 runs, the courage and grit shown at Lord’s, evident in the first half-hour itself, clearly conveyed to the world that the Indians, in little time, would carve out a niche in the world of cricket.
That the Indians had raked up enough credibility on the tour despite the defeat was evident when the MCC, taken by India’s impressive Test debut at Lord’s, sent a competent team to India in the winter of 1933. Significantly, Douglas Jardine, born in India and master of Bodyline, was chosen leader of the party.
However, despite a reasonable debut at Lord’s, not all was well with Indian cricket after the tour. Nayudu, it was apparent, had lost favour with his teammates. This is how the Bombay Chronicle described the unfortunate scenario: “It is an open secret that during the England tour of 1932 some Indian players threw all barriers of discipline to the winds. Keeping late hours and getting drunk were with them ordinary features of the day. Even when they did not restrain themselves before a Test, C.K. Nayudu as their captain called them to order and threatened to keep them out...if they did not behave themselves. He also appealed to them in the name of India’s honour. This, instead of acting as a restraining influence on them, infuriated them still more. It is said there were squabbles and fights thereafter over this and the recalcitrant members pledged themselves to be after Nayudu’s blood ever since.”
Whatever the case, June 25, 1932, will forever go down in India’s cricket history as a red letter day. Interestingly, 51 years later on the same day, Kapil’s Devils made history at Lord’s by winning the Prudential Cup, as if commemorating history on a fit occasion, thus deepening its significance in Indian cricket.
The author is a sports historian
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