It was against the backdrop of rebellion and hope, during the forging of a new nation, that India finally played their first official Test, a three-day game that began on June 25, 1932
The man behind the name
Cricket and social historian Ramchandra Guha, in his delightful book, A Corner of a Foreign Field, wrote: “CK Nayudu was the first truly mass hero of subcontinental sport, each of his sixes was interpreted as a nationalist answer to the British Raj.” To his adoring public, he was a true son of the soil, someone who gave them the courage to know they could take on the British and fight them at their own game, often successfully.
At a personal level, discipline was my father’s watchword. His watchful eyes would miss no breach of discipline on the field by any of his team members, nor his family members. At home, no one dared dream of going against his disciplined upbringing. The Holkars, his home team, was reared on his disciplined tutoring, resulting in them being in the front ranks of national cricket.
Yet, it was a paradox indeed that the strict disciplinarian who induced fear and obedience, also drew immense love and affection for himself, from his team and from his family. And time and again, he returned that love and concern, with rare tenderness.
On off days between matches, it would be holiday time for everyone around, the team would flock to our house, relax over innumerable cups of tea and since father had the gift of the gab, he would regale visitors with amazing stories from his cricketing career. To a cricketer, he would be friend, philosopher and guide.
Fear had no place in his dictionary, he feared only God, because he was a deeply religions man. He was also steeped in nationalism, because his cricket was born and matured during the fight for Independence.
In sixes country
This and his natural aggression, took form on the field in his penchant for sixes. It is said that his first cricketing shot was a six and maybe that is true. On that 1932 tour, he hit 36 sixes and describing one at the Lord’s, an English critic wrote: “The ball was last seen sailing in an easterly direction”. Another story is of the six that broke the Rajabhai tower in Bombay. The stories are many.
I thought an interesting anecdote here would be about how Dilip Vengsarkar got the nickname Colonel. A young Dilip was merrily hitting sixes in games at Nagpur, and a local scribe happily wrote that Dilip’s sixers were fittingly hit in the birthplace of the ‘Col’. The name just stuck.
No book, no record on CK Nayudu can be complete without the mention of his incredible performance against Arthur Gilligan’s XI, the first ever tour of an official MCC team to India, in 1926. Cricket lovers converging on the Bombay Gymkhana ground on the morning of December 1, had absolutely no idea that they were to witness a feat that many would repeat ad nauseum to their children and grandchildren.
The MCC had scored 363 on the previous day of the two-day game. Guy Earle had slammed 130, with eight sixes, the kind of hitting never seen by the Bombay crowd. The foregone conclusion, therefore, was that the Hindus would cut a very pitiable figure that day and so it seemed at the start, with the score reading 84 for 3.
Then came CK at No 5 and moments later, he was mercilessly, merrily, hitting sixes. He blasted to smithereens a bowling attack comprising Tate, Astill, Boyes, Wyatt and Mercer, completely overshadowing Earle’s knock of the other day. The ball flew over the boundary rope no fewer than 11 times and in 115 minutes, out of the total of 187, he had scored 153, including 13 boundaries plus those 11 sixes.
The Hindus did not cut a sorry figure, but the English bowlers had to face the embarrassment of seeing their deliveries battered by a native!
That day, he was a man possessed, the atmosphere was electric, the crowd delirious. He derived as great a pleasure from playing as the crowds got from watching him. The news of his hurricane hitting spread like a bushfire, by word of mouth, for there was no television then. After lunch, when he resumed his innings, the tops of trees and roofs, every available vantage point, was dotted with human figures.
The Australian writer Edward W Docker, describing it, wrote: “Crack, another six, this time to the right of the pavilion and not only the ground burst into a tremendous sustained roar, but even the umpires were seen to clap vigorously.” If you have to think of a parallel to identify that day, think of the film Lagaan, where some terrific hitting by the proud, rustic hero left the Whites completely embarrassed. That was what that day in 1926 was.
My father’s cricketing career began in 1916, when, at the age of 21, he was invited to play for the Hindus against the Europeans in the Bombay Quadrangulars.
He was 37, an age when cricketers of today retire, when he made his Test debut. He played his last first-class game at the age of 62, in 1956-57, when he was called upon to lead the Uttar Pradesh team. In that last game too, he hit two sixes, successive, off the bowling of Vinoo Mankad, another Indian cricketing immortal. My father made 84, it was his last bow.
People often ask me if I think there is any other cricketer who comes close to meaning what my father was to the people of the country at that time. I have to say that for myself, despite the legends who have come and gone all these years of my life, if I have to assess who comes closest to the image of the man CK Nayudu was, as a cricketer and as a national icon, I would have to say Sachin Tendulkar.
And of regrets? There will always be ‘if onlys’. If the Second World War had not interrupted his career; if one-day cricket had been around then; if India had made its Test debut much earlier; if television had been around then…
I could have had more substantial records, but as I don’t, I have settled for a rich store of memories. Of an exceptional man who was an idol and also, the public figure who was my father. My memories of him are inextricably linked to his cricket, he breathed it, lived it, it was his first love and it enveloped all of us too. But that, I always felt, was destined to be. It was a happy destiny.