December 3, 2009

From Byculla to The Oval, and back

John Jameson played four Tests for England; it could very nearly have been for India instead

John Jameson sat alone, intently watching the Indian and Sri Lankan teams practise at the Brabourne Stadium the day before the third Test. Dressed in a neat white shirt tucked into dark trousers, he watched attentively with intense, pale grey eyes.

I didn't know who Jameson was till Sanjay Jayawant, the soft-spoken, genial cricket manager at the CCI mentioned his name in passing. "He played a few Tests for England." A quick search of Cricinfo revealed Jameson indeed had played four Tests for England but other than the fact that he ran himself out (which he contests stubbornly) a record three times in a row, there seemed not much striking about his short career.

At second glance there was something striking, though not about his cricket. Jameson was born in Byculla, in Mumbai.

Now that was interesting, an Englishman cricketer from Mumbai. Much has been written about Nasser Hussain's Chennai connection and the late Bob Woolmer's Kanpur origins, but Jameson, who was he?

He studied at Cathedral and John Connon school, and lived in various pockets of South Mumbai - his father John "Jimmy" Jameson was employed with the city police. Jameson's Indian roots run deep: both his parents and great-grandparents were born in India - Jameson snr in Belgaum (Karnataka), Sylvia, his mother, in Deolali (Maharashtra).

"I'm proud of my Indian connection. Why shouldn't I be?" Jameson says when asked about his Indian ancestry.

Sport was an integral part of the Jamesons' lives. Jimmy was a hockey buff and played in 25 consecutive editions of the well-known Aga Khan tournament. He later on went on to umpire in the 1964 (Tokyo) and 1968 (Mexico) Olympics in hockey. Sylvia played tennis and swam. Both parents visited at the Bombay Hockey Association ground [BHA], Grant Medical College ground and other old venues in city with their son in tow. The boy was so keen, he would hop in his father's truck (jeep) and tag along to the various grounds.

"Cooperage, BHA, CCI, Parel, Naigaum," Jameson recites the names without any difficulty. He even remembers the names of the streets these institutions are on.

From Bombay he moved to the hill station of Nainital in north India, where he studied for a few years at Sherwood College. In 1955, at 14, he moved to England for good. He only returned to India in 1971, when his father passed away.

In England, Jameson first studied at the Taunton School, where his cricket technique was fine-tuned. Then he went to Warwickshire, where he progressed slowly, until the late 1960s. In 1971, his career took a big leap when he was picked, almost overnight, in the England squad for the home series against India.

"Geoff Boycott fell ill and I got a look in," Jameson recollects. It was a quiet debut, but in the next game, at The Oval, he cracked his highest score, a stroke-filled 82 that included two sixes against Bishan Bedi before lunch. Unfortunately, he was run out and missed a hundred. It was a Test India won, to record their maiden Test, and series, victory against England. "They played fantastic cricket and they deserved the victory," Jameson says.

Asked if there was any conflict in his affiliations, keeping in mind his Indian connection, Jameson says, though India was a part of him, his heart would always be with England.

"I want to see good cricket, as opposed to being a vigilante for England or a vigilante for India. Obviously the loyalties are split when England play India. I have almost a foot in two camps, considering my eldest daughter is the first direct descendant born in England after 1800s."

His career may have been short, but it wasn't without its highs. Jameson entered the record books after sharing a then world-record second-wicket partnership of 465 runs with Rohan Kanhai for Warwickshire.

"Back then there was a limitation of 100 overs in the first innings. It was one of those dream innings," Jameson says. There was no video back then, of course. "If I had seen it I would've known how I should play all the time," he says with a chuckle.

Jameson's favourite cricket moments came at CCI. As a kid, sitting at the east end of the clubhouse, at ground level, he once watched Vijay Hazare get yorked "third or fourth bounce"

At about the time he made his debut for England, the Indian selectors sent feelers to their England counterparts evincing interest in Jameson. Not that the man himself heard of it.

"No one ever approached me. I was informed by one of the England selectors that India have made enquires," Jameson says. The message given to Jameson was to get in touch with them sooner rather than later. It was 1970 and Jameson says he was in a dilemma, but in the end, since he was living in England, he decided it would be unfair to think about playing for India.

He went on to coach at Taunton School before umpiring for a while, and he then took up an administrative post in the MCC. He now lives in Solihull, Birmingham, and is on the Warwickshire cricket committee as well as the Laws' sub-committee of the MCC. While at the MCC, he used to bring small groups on tours to India.

When he came back in 1971, with his wife and two daughters, he saw changes in Bombay. But he could still walk from the Esplanade (near Azad Maidan), where once his home was, to just about anywhere he wished - to the Bombay Gymkhana, the Oval maidan in Churchgate, where schoolkids would run 400 metres straight in athletics, Parel, where a hockey tournament, the Jimmy Jameson Trophy, named after his father, was once contested, and further north to Worli, and even Juhu, which he says was "like another island" back in the 1950s.

Jameson's favourite cricket moments came at CCI. As a kid, sitting at the east end of the clubhouse, at ground level, he once watched Vijay Hazare get yorked "third or fourth bounce", and Tom Graveney march to a majestic 175 against the Indians in 1951. "It was a magnificent hundred. The whole ground gave him a standing ovation and they were still clapping when the next batsman had walked in," Jameson says.

On his various visits he has observed the city change and rapidly grow into what it is today. His cricketing memories will always belong to the 1950s. An era when the "Polly Umirgars, [Dattu] Phadkars, Vinoo Mankads were the heroes of our cricket. You would see these guys playing not only for India and Bombay but also at their respective gymkhanas."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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