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The wonder years

Seventy-five years ago, in 1932, 11 men walked out on to cricket’s most hallowed turf, at the Lord’s, to face Douglas Jardine’s formidable Englishmen, writes Chandra CK Nayudu.

cricket Updated: Jun 25, 2007 05:41 IST

Today is June 25. Seventy-five years ago, in 1932, 11 men walked out on to cricket’s most hallowed turf, at the Lord’s, to face Douglas Jardine’s formidable Englishmen. They were to play India’s first official Test and carried with them the hopes of an undivided nation. Chandra CK Nayudu, the daughter of India’s first Test captain, tells us their story and the story of her father, the legendary Colonel.


When I sat down to write this, I realised how very difficult it is to capture the dramatic facts of such a historical event and also gather the reminiscences of the man who was the first captain.

<b1>I naturally delved into books on library shelves and browsed through innumerable articles, but only got more confused, not knowing what to choose, what not to. To my dismay, my own impressions, views, memories were too overpowering to be sidetracked. This is an attempt at a collection of my wavering, wandering thoughts.

Seventy-five years ago, the Indian team represented undivided India, with no Pakistan or Bangladesh anywhere on the horizon. Under British rule, the India of then was seething with rebellion, revolutionary stirrings — the freedom struggle was at its peak.

The Quadrangulars & the Pentagulars were the national tournaments then. Domestic cricket consisted of matches between teams with communal bases! Sad indeed that the teams were made up of different communities — Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and later, the Europeans too, who formed ‘The Rest’. Incidentally, even the Mahatma expressed his displeasure at having teams with communal bases.

India, then known as the land of the Maharajas, snake charmers and the Kohinoor, had the magnificent Maharajas to nurse and nurture cricket. For them, it was a royal game in addition to polo and shikaar, and irrespective of the condescending, snobbish attitude of the British rulers, the patronage of the Maharajas gave Indian cricket a big boost.

The growth and development of cricket in India is a long story and to turn the pages of history will be a Herculean attempt that is certainly not the need of the hour. On a long road of milestones, I have to halt at one and dwell on the inscription — the one that depicts India's debut in Test cricket.

At the outset I would like to say my account is based on not just what I have heard or the impressions of my childhood but also on what has been written and said, facts that have given me an insight not just into the tumultuous events of 1932, but also of about the man who was my father, CK Nayudu, India’s first Test captain.

Captaincy conundrum

He was not selected as the official captain but was pushed into this position by the official captain and official vice-captain, the Maharaja of Porbander and the Yuvraj of Limbdi (Ghanshyamsinhji) respectively. It was not only their sporting spirit but also their courage to recognise their limitations as leaders that saw my father get the job.

Realising the magnitude of the task of leading the first Indian team in the very first Test, perhaps, they felt India’s reputation could not be risked. So they put the enormous responsibility of leading the team on the shoulders of the man who they thought had the stuff of what captains are made, someone with proven ability as a player and leader in domestic cricket. But on him later...

The team of 1932 that set sail for England was the team of undivided India. Interestingly, the country was undivided but the team was not! It was fraught with tension, fanned by communal prejudices, jealousies, clashing egos. Amidst all this rancour and lack of camaraderie, when my father was asked to lead the team out on the eve of the first Test at the Lord's, many of the others refused to play.

They could accept a Maharaja as their captain, a Prince as the vice-captain, but not one of them, a commoner!

Despite all that, there was something that bound most of those men. The time coincided with a ferocious struggle for freedom in India. A rebellious, revolutionary undercurrent was charging through the country, the cry for Swaraj was resonating in the air. Many of the touring Indians naturally felt they had a point to prove to those who ruled them — that a ‘black’ team could be a force to reckon with.

Before the Indians donned their Test caps, they showed their mettle and fighting spirit in the tour's first game, a two-day fixture against a select team that included Douglas Jardine, Prince Duleepsinhji, Chapman and Brown. The Indians dismissed them for a mere 157 and took a first innings lead. The match finally ended in a draw. The next game, they beat Oxford University!

A new beginning

But the high point of those early games happened almost on the eve of the Test, when the Indians played the MCC at the Lord’s. CK Nayudu made an unbeaten 118 and thus became the first Indian to score a century on his maiden appearance at the Lord's.

When Saturday, June 25, 1932 dawned at the Lord’s, it was an emotional, unbelievable dawn.

A commentator then remarked: “The entry in the Test arena was not only the fulfillment of a dream, but also the attainment of ‘equality’ with the mother of cricketing countries.” And it was.

In keeping with tradition, the teams were to be introduced to King George V. The rival teams lined up opposite the pavilion to be presented and the King went down the line shaking hands with the players. The ceremony was colourful. The (non-playing) captain, the Maharaja of Porbander, dressed in his princely robes and a pink turban, presented the team. This was perhaps the first (and I wonder if it were the last!) time that a Test captain or cricketer was not in his playing clothes or blazer and flannels while presenting his team to a dignitary. From the available photos, the Maharaja looked more regal than His Majesty of England.

It is in the fitness of things to say something more about the Maharaja of Porbander. He had a charming personality that endeared him to everybody and he did everything possible so far as social contentment can make for success in the field, but he was fully conscious of his own limitations as an actual player and on-field skipper. His handing over the reins to my father was ‘Gandhigiri’ indeed.

A brave new world

India's Test debut did not bring victory, but they still put up a brave front, despite the scoreline that has England recording a 158-run win. With all their experience and talent, the Englishmen were badly mauled at moments and had to sweat to win. They were obviously complacent and the Indian cricketers’ maiden Test appearance had shaken the establishment.

CK Nayudu, Wazir Ali, Nazir Ali & Naoomal Jaoomal were singled out as batsmen of real class. Nissar received high praise for his bowling and critics described him as one of the fastest in the game, Wisden described Amar Singh as the most dangerous all-rounder on the tour.

While the tour created a very good impression, the honest truth then (as, some say now too), was that “The Lord's Test demonstrated the fatal flaw of the Indian team… individual brilliance and collective mediocrity”. “As a team, the Indians had invariably failed and the successes of the few had only underlined the inadequacy of the many,” a critic wrote then.

Wisden singled out a few players for high praise. My father, who headed the batting averages with a total of 1,842 runs (average 37.59), also became the first India cricketer to be named in 1933 as one of Wisden's five “cricketers of the year”. Incidentally, another Indian, Nawab Iftikhar Ali Pataudi, who played for England against Australia, also figured in that elite list. That, though, is a different story.

CK — larger than life

Wisden wrote after that tour of 1932: “Fortunately for the side, they (Indians) possessed in CK Nayudu — easily their best batsman — a man of high character and directness of purpose, who, in the absence of the two above him, was able to take over the captaincy, with skill and no small measure of success.”

Few sportsmen are destined to become legends in their lifetimes and even fewer are remembered long after their playing days are over. My father was blessed to be one such, for whom, his contemporary, the legendary Jack Hobbs himself said: “You have only to see him pick up a ball to know he is a born cricketer.”

One of the most stylish front-of-the-wicket players, CK Nayudu's technique was a rare combination of the orthodox and the unorthodox. With his extraordinary height and steely wrists, his amazing eye and quick reflexes, his batting was a delight to watch. He played only in seven tests, all against England.

Time and again he has been referred to as one of the greatest cricketers and he was also, to the manor born. In the sense that he had the personality to go with the adulation he received, he was at once majestic, mesmerising, magnetic and commanding, compelling respect, admiration and awe. He invariably drew attention — I remember Raj Singh Dungarpur once saying, “One could hardly take one's eyes off him”.