Growing audiences at Test matches do not alone indicate the extent of cricket's popularity in the country. More significant is the appreciable rise each year in the number of clubs and tournaments at all levels -- a sure sign that the game is constantly recruiting more players.
The only pity is that cricket in India, for social and economic reasons, will always be an urban game and its growth, therefore, is in peril of being retarded by the shortage of grounds in the overcrowded towns and cities. This handicap must be overcome if the enthusiasm for the game is to be reflected truly in playing standards at the highest level.
Finance, fortunately, has been no problem in recent years. A succession of tours has made for the accumulation of large reserves and the enthusiasm whipped up by Test cricket has spread to Ranji Trophy matches which, in many places, are more largely attended than at any time since the war.
Of course, the money taken at these games is not sufficient to support the whole structure of the game, but at least there is plenty left over from Test matches receipts to develop cricket at school and university level.
The continuance of this happy state of affairs depends largely on the 1967 Indian team. They tour both England and Australia within the year and if they take back sizeable returns, the Government of India will in future be more free in sanctioning foreign exchange for inward tours and minor tours abroad, like the proposed Colts' visit to England two years ago, which never came off because sterling was not made available.
Their approach, even more than results, will bring the Indians the goodwill they need. Their undoing on the last two visits was their outlook, and I have always felt that better cricket could have been extracted from both the 1952 and 1959 sides by captains more imaginative than Hazare and Gaekwad.
|Some of the more successful members of the 1959 party have now bowed out, and few really exciting players have since emerged|
Some of the more successful members of the 1959 party have now bowed out, and few really exciting players have since emerged. Durani, a genius if ever there was one, faded away too quickly after two triumphant series, in 1961-62. An unfortunate accident deprived India of the full value of Pataudi's flair.
Chandrasekhar has had greater days, but being a sort of mystery bowler, his effectiveness tends to wane with the progress of a series. His worth would have been greater if he were part of a strong bowling combination and could have been bowled in shorter spells. Venkataraghavan, whose experience is yet limited, is a gifted off-spinner, and the fortunes of the team in England will largely hinge on his success.
This stock-taking, however, does not leave me utterly pessimistic. Far from it. It is strange, but often a side without great names excels on tour, and I know there is material available which a shrewd and understanding captain could mould into a fine team.
India's Test fortunes have been mixed during the eight years since they were last in England. In this span, they have played six series at home and one abroad, and of the 32 Tests involved, five were won and eight lost, while 19 were drawn. India won two of the seven series, and lost two.
In the one series played abroad, West Indies beat India 5-0, a fate similar to that we suffered in England, in 1959. But to be fair to the vanquished, the similarity between the two calamities ended with this statistic.
In the West Indies, there were times when the Indians played very enjoyable cricket, and, far from implying that they ever had a chance of beating one of the three greatest Test teams of all time, I thought they were a singularly unlucky side.
Among the five Tests won, two victories in successive matches gave India their first rubber against England, in the winter of 1961-62; Australia were beaten once in each of two series, while the fifth win was over New Zealand.
Considering that the English and Australian sides beaten on these occasions were a lot more formidable than England in India (1951-52), the Pakistanis of 1962 and the New Zealanders of 1955, who gave India their five earlier wins, one would be inclined to believe that the cream of Indian creating talent between 1959 and 1964 was richer than ever before.
Frankly, I would not give expression to such a thought for fear of being laughed at, but there is no denying that latterly we have marshalled our resources more capably than at other times.
Not many months ago, some of us sat round to pick an Indian team of all-time greats. Anybody who has indulged in this popular pastime knows how much argument it can produce, but on this occasion, the matter was settled quickly, tempers were not roused and few claims were greatly disputed. The team decided was: V.M. Merchant, S. Wazir Ali, L.A. Marnath, V.S. Hazare, V.L. Manjrekar, C.K. Nayudu, Vinoo Mankad, L. Amarsingh, N.S. Tamhane, M. Nissar, S.P. Gupte.
|Not many months ago, some of us sat round to pick an Indian team of all-time greats. Anybody who has indulged in this popular pastime knows how much argument it can produce, but on this occasion, the matter was settled quickly, tempers were not roused and few claims were greatly disputed|
To touch briefly on the discussions that prefaced this nomination, all except Wazir Ali, Manjrekar and Tamhane were selected unanimously. Mushtaq Ali for Wazir Ali and B.E. Kapadia or D.D. Hindlekar for Tamhane were the alternatives proposed, while there was a claim for Umrigar to be preferred to Manjrekar on his merit as a close fielder.
Indeed Umrigar's omission was embarrassing to all concerned and a postscript to the selection was that on certain wickets, Ghulum Ahmed would be more valuable than Gupte.
Thus, be it noted, of the 16 players who came into reckoning, nine first played for India before the war, and from amongst the others, Mankad and Hazare would have been capped in the 30's, had there been occasion; in fact, they both first appeared in unofficial Tests in 1937, against Lord Tennyson's team. Ghulam Ahmed made his mark only just afterwards, and to be very precise, recent or contemporary talent is represented only by Manjrekar, Gupte and Tamhane.
It is logical to ask why, if the pre-war maestros were such giants, India's star did not shine more brightly in their time. The answers, without going too deeply into the background, are that firstly, there was not enough first-class cricket in India in their day to prepare them fully for Test cricket. It must be remembered that the Ranji Trophy tournament was not instituted till 1934-35. Secondly, the cast supporting the stars was hardly ever the best available, for patronage in those days dictated selection.
India's first Test tour to England was in 1932, when they were allotted just one Test. The tour as a whole was more successful than any other India have made here, except perhaps the one in 1946. The Test match was lost by 158 runs, but it began with England losing three wickets for 29, and that was not the last crisis they had to survive before victory was sighted.
It needs to be noted that India were without Merchant, then only 21, but already a heavy scorer at home, and L.P. Jai, who came in 1936 as almost a veteran. Both were selected, but could not make themselves available.
However, Lord's the public and the press did not judge the 1932 side in terms of wins and losses. They rather looked on Indian cricket as a rough diamond, and welcomed the team's dashing approach. This image of the Indians being happy, natural cricketers was created mainly by C.K. Nayudu, a man of tremendous bearing, whose batting was stylish and immensely virile.
There was gushing admiration for the bowling of Amarsingh and Nissar, one of the fastest bowlers of his time. Amarsingh, at medium-fast, was not only compared to Tate, but was described by many leading batsmen of the time as the finest bowler to visit England since World War I.
These great cricketers gave India a magnificent start in the international sphere and before passing to later events, one should mention that the 1932 side were superb in the field, an attribute applied to few Indian sides afterwards.
Two winters later, India played England at home and lost the series, but not without honour. However, when they came back to England in 1936, they not only failed to advance their reputation, but completely destroyed the image the 1932 team had left behind.
Never has any side done itself less justice than that unfortunate 1936 team. This is hardly the occasion to go into the sordid details of the incidents that wrecked the tour, but lest the poor cricketers of the time be saddled with all the blame, it should be recorded that the whole venture was doomed at the moment the captain was selected.
An unofficial series against Lord Tennyson's team, in the winter of 1937-38, and then Indian cricket was pushed into isolation by the war. The next contact with cricketers from abroad was eight years later, when we were visited by the Australian Services. In the meanwhile the game in India was given a new concept by the batting rivalry between the two Vijays, Merchant and Hazare, and we entered an era of high scoring.
This period also saw an en masse invasion of the scene by spinners, and the ranks of the fast bowlers grew thinner and thinner.
Bradman, Hammond and Hutton never played in India, but their batting records in the years immediately preceding the war had an undeniable influence on Vijay Merchant. He was a batsman with strokes, who in full flight was a delight to match. But he seemed to believe that the only way to fame was through making enormous scores.
The rising batsman of the day, Vijay Hazare, also cast himself in the same mould and every time either Merchant or Hazare went to the wicket, he looked upon his innings as an opportunity to outdo the other. Of course, this trend was encouraged by the perfect wickets at India's new cricket headquarters, the Brabourne Stadium, where both played so many matches.
It was inevitable that other batsmen, too, aimed for high scores and, as a result, cricket as a team game suffered, for the interest of the side was transcended by personal ambition. And when batsmen of lesser talent than Merchant and Hazare set out to make colossal scores, cricket became slower and less spectacular.
If Indian batsmen score slowly on occasions to-day, it is not that they are still under the spell of the exploits of Merchant and Hazare. More often than not, they are inhibited by the knowledge that our bowling resources are frighteningly thin and that any score less than 300 would lead to disaster.
Many theories have been advanced to explain the rarity of top class bowlers in India to-day. There is substance in each of them, but none is wholly true. It is claimed that with a large chunk of north India going to Pakistan, we have lost the biggest breeding ground of fast bowlers. If so, where are the Nissars in the Pakistan team to-day?
Then they say that slow, unresponsible wickets have taken away the incentive from the bowler. But then, our wickets were not all that dead till about six years ago and moreover, there are wickets elsewhere which are not much quicker. In fact, I remember Garfield Sobers telling me during a radio interview in Bombay, immediately after the West Indies; historic tour of Australia, that except Perth, he did not think most Australian wickets were faster than the ones he knew in India.
These theories are not without foundation, but the real cause, I feel, lies deeper. Generally speaking, there is not the strength of will to work assiduously at a task that in exacting and usually less rewarding than that of the batsman in the conditions that obtain.
To take one more glimpse into the past, three Indian teams came to England before 1932. The first two were really private tours by the Parsees, the first Indians to be lured to the game. They found themselves utterly out of their depth, and in analysing their failures, a great cricketer of the time said that the Parsee batsmen were overwhelmed because they tried to hit every ball they received out of sight.
Poor, unsophisticated souls. They lacked guile and science, but there could not have been a keener band of cricketers, and all they sought from the game was the enjoyment of playing it.
This spirit did not desert India's cricketers immediately they learnt its grammar and discovered it intricacies. Till even a few years ago, we were blessed with players like Nayudu, Amarsingh, Mushtaq Ali and Nissar.
Nayudu's brilliance has been immortalised in some delightfully romantic passages by Mr. Cardus, tributes of one genius to another. I wish the 1967 tourists would read them, not just as literature, but as a reminder of their heritage.