Such large crowds normally gathered only for civil disobedience. On 1st December, 1926, 25,000 people trooped into the Bombay Gymkhana grounds to watch a game of cricket. The visiting team was the strongest that had ever played there; the MCC, led by Arthur Gilligan, consisting of players like legendary medium-pacer Maurice Tate, Test cricket's first triple-centurion Andy Sandham and Leicestershire allrounder William Astill.
Facing them was the strongest local team of that era: The Hindus. On their way to Bombay, the MCC team had bludgeoned its way through north India, thrashing every team they played. On the first day of this match, they had rattled up 363; Hindus were 16 for 1 at close of play, and quickly slid to 84 for 3 on the second morning. Defeat seemed inevitable. Then, CK Nayudu walked in.
He walked in at a time when cricket wasn't -as it is today - considered an Indian
sport. Cricket in India had begun essentially as an elitist pastime propagated by the
British - colonial masters recasting the natives in their image - and thrived in its early
years to a large extent on princely patronage. India's first cricketing icon,
Ranjitsinhji, was more British than Indian, in the sense that we know it today. He
believed India incapable of ever being a cricketing force, refused to help Indian
cricketers in any way, and dissuaded his nephew, Duleepsinhji, from playing for India. He
liked to boast: 'Duleep and I are English cricketers.' He certainly didn't believe in
anything called 'Indian cricket'.
Nayudu epitomised Indian cricket. A fierce strokeplayer - his first scoring shot in first class cricket was a six - he combined discipline and rigour with a strong belief in his natural abilities. A man of immense pride he did not play the game with an inferiority complex. If cricket was beginning to develop an indigenous following in India, it was largely due to players like Nayudu, and his contemporaries like D.B Deodhar and L.P Jai.
On this occasion. he began with a two against left-armer Stuart Boyes, then effortlessly lifted him up to the pavilion roof. The ball was retrieved; and dispatched again. Two more sixes off Boyes, and into the attack came medium-pacer Astill.
Astill was soon wondering why he had bothered to come to these tropical climes as the going got too hot for him. Nayudu hit him for four sixes, the last two off successive deliveries. Astill was taken off the attack as the crowds swelled; treetops, rooftops, fencetops, all available space was occupied. Medium-pacer Bob Wyatt, a future England captain who would also be Douglas Jardine's vice captain during the Body line series, came on to bowl, and was punished for his audacity. The ball found its way twice onto the Gymkhana roof as he went for 22 in one over.
After 116 minutes at the crease not enough to complete a modern-day session Nayudu was finally out for 153, with 14 fours and a mind-boggling 11 sixes, then the world record. The match was drawn. The Englishmen were stunned. The crowds were incredulous, and proud.
Nayudu's innings marked a paradigm shift in the way Indian cricket was perceived. The English had come expecting to win most matches easily, and to find the occasional pocket of resistance which they would patronisingly applaud later, after having brushed it aside. But on that day in December, Nayudu did not resist - he destroyed. He did not stand firm - he annihilated. He showed no respect to the opposition and in doing so, earned respect for Indian cricket. This was underscored a few days later, when in the first unofficial Test between the sides, India actually took the first-innings lead, largely due to an accomplished 148 by Deodhar.
The immediate manifestation of the newfound respect for India came when Gilligan a former England captain and an influential figure in the game - announced to the world his opinion that India was ready for Test cricket. His activism led to the formation of the Indian cricket board in 1928, and India's first Test match in 1932, captained by who else - Nayudu, who showed an native aggression in his four Tests as captain, even setting leg-theory fields to Jardine's Englishmen. He was named one of Wisden's five Cricketers of the Year in 1933. His brief Test career was not otherwise impressive in terms of statistics; after all, he had made his debut at the age of 37, and played his seventh and last Test at 41. But he had done enough.