Twenty years of Indian Test cricket

The Imperial Cricket Conference gave India Test Match Status for their first official tour of England in 1932. That was a red-letter day in the history of Indian cricket and the stepping-stone to the exchange of official visits between India and most of the other cricketing countries. Of the previous visits to England, that of the semi-official side of 1911 was the most notable. Although that team contained some of the finest Indian cricketers, it experienced difficulty in overcoming even the lower-placed counties.

Batting and bowling talent was present, but fielding let India down and the side did not possess the temperament to recover from a difficult situation. In addition, the Maharaja of Patiala, the captain, did not enjoy good health. After playing in the first few matches, he went on a tour of the Continent and took with him Col. K. M. Mistry, his A.D.C. Col. Mistry was the best batsman on the Indian side, and his absence from the remaining fixtures created a gap which was never filled. He had made a big impression on English critics by his 78 against the M. C. C. at Lord's and the public looked forward to more innings from him.

Wonderful Hitting

The next meeting of Indian and English cricketers came in 1926, when a team under Arthur Gilligan visited India. Including as it did such outstanding personalities as Maurice Tate, Andy Sandham, Jack Mercer, George Geary and Bob Wyatt, the M. C. C. side was most successful and provided considerable education to Indian cricketers both old and young. One match on that tour is still talked about by those who saw it. Playing for the M. C. C. against the Hindus at Bombay, Guy Earle, of Somerset, scored 130 in which he hit eight 6's and eleven 4's. People in Bombay had never seen such hitting and never expected to see the like of it again. In the Hindus' innings, however, C. K. Nayudu outshone this performance. He made 153 in 100 minutes by even fiercer hitting. Nayudu's innings contained eleven 6's and thirteen 4's and, in point of merit, was the best I have seen by an Indian cricketer in any land. Although Nayudu never again touched that form, his display will ever be green in the memory of those fortunate enough to be present.

Six years later India fared as well as expected on the 1932 tour of England. Of the twenty-six matches played, they won nine, lost eight and drew nine. Although none of the victories was gained against a leading English county, India did surprisingly well in the only Test match. At Lord's they dismissed Hobbs, Sutcliffe and Woolley cheaply and England were out for 259. India's batsmen did not support the bowlers, but the first innings deficit was not very big. India again got rid of the leading English batsmen cheaply, but Douglas Jardine, the captain, came to the rescue and, with a second sterling innings, paved the way to victory. Had Jardine not played two splendid innings in that match, I wonder if England would have won their first Test against India?

Two Grand Bowlers

Apart from Jardine's batting, features of the game were the fast bowling of Mohamed Nissar and equally fine medium-pace bowling by the late Amar Singh. No better tribute could have been paid to Amar Singh's bowling in England's second innings than the one given to him by Wisden itself. Better bowling than his in the second innings of the Test match has not been seen for a long time and more than one famous old cricketer said afterwards that Amar Singh was the best bowler seen in England since the war.

The M. C. C. returned this visit by sending a strong side to India in 1933-34. They paid Indian cricket a high compliment by appointing Douglas Jardine as captain and sending cricketers like Walters, Bakewell, Nichols, Clark and Hedley Verity. Jardine's was a strong combination in every sense, and apart from defeat by a narrow margin on a matting pitch at Benares, enjoyed uninterrupted success. India was privileged to see some first-rate fast bowling by Nichols and Clark and an exhibition of the art of left-arm slow bowling by Verity. Above all, Jardine's captaincy impressed India more than any single feature or individual performance. His shrewd tactics and ability to get the best out of his men was an object lesson not only to Indian cricketers but to Indian captains as well. He never gave away anything or asked for any concession, and India came to understand how relentlessly he must have pursued his method of attack in Australia in 1932-33. England has possessed few captains with the tenacity and singleness of purpose reflected in Douglas Jardine.

Amarnath's Debut

In Jardine's tour, India found one player of particular merit, L. Amarnath. In addition, many of the weaknesses which have been the curse of Indian cricket for some years were exposed. The tour showed clearly that India lacked solidity in batting and could not consolidate a good position after a fine start. It also showed that India did not possess the tenacity to turn the tables when odds were against them. Above all its exposed our fielding weakness. Time and again Indian cricket has suffered because of fielding lapses, and even now after nearly twenty years those lapses persist. As for batting, many of our men seem satisfied and content when they reach scores of 50 or thereabouts, and lack the necessary concentration for making big scores in the interest of the side. Of course, there are exceptions like Vijay Hazare, India's present captain, but such performances on the part of others are few and far between. There is plenty of batting talent among our batsmen, but few utilise that talent to its fullest extent by making big scores when well set--scores that will help the team out of difficulties or contribute towards making the side's position impregnable.

Against Jardine's team, India lost two Test matches and the other was drawn. In the first Test at Bombay, Amarnath scored a glorious century on his first appearance. Indians had rarely seen such attractive and attacking batsmanship by an Indian cricketer in representative matches. Amarnath looked for runs from the moment he went in and completed a memorable century in two and a quarter hours. Never again did he play such an inspired innings. Another notable achievement was India's score of 249 in the second innings of the Third Test at Madras on a wearing pitch. The previous evening Jack Hobbs (who had come to India to report on the M. C. C. tour) said to me that India would do well to score over 150. The chief credit for this went to the Yuvraj of Patiala who continued to attack the bowling until he made 60.

An Unhappy Appointment

In 1936 India sent her second official team to England. The tour began with a severe handicap in the captaincy of the Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagram. Originally the Nawab of Pataudi was appointed captain but, because of bad health, he withdrew. Subsequently, Vizianagram was appointed captain. Vizzy had done a great deal for Indian cricket and when in 1931 he invited Hobbs and Sutcliffe to India to play for his team in a series of matches in India and Ceylon, he gave Indian cricketers and public an opportunity to see two of the world's greatest batsmen in action.

The captaincy of India was quite a different matter. On his form he would not have found a place in any good side, but the authorities in India did not seem to realise that captaincy of a country's team on an official tour meant more than individual status or the ability to make good speeches. So far as cricket was concerned, he was a dismal failure. He also made the sad mistake of insisting on playing in as many matches as possible. Neither in the field nor in batting was he an acquisition and, more often than not, the team virtually played with ten men.

The unfortunate Amarnath incident also marred that trip. Similar incidents have occurred in most touring sides, but the drastic action of sending Amarnath home not only was a blot on Indian cricket, but considerably weakened the team in all the Test matches. At the time of his departure Amarnath had made 613 runs, average 32, and had scored two centuries against Essex at Brentwood. He had also taken 32 wickets for 668 runs and proved to be India's most consistent all-rounder. The action against Amarnath seemed to be out of place at the time.

That was proved by the fact that nine years later Amarnath was appointed vice-captain of the Indian team which went to Ceylon; captain of India in Australia in 1947-48 and also captain against the West Indies in 1948-49. If the captain was justified in taking such drastic action in 1936, surely the highest honour that India can bestow on a cricketer should not have been given to Amarnath? And Vizzy has been a Member of the Board for some years now.

Too Many Players

Added unpleasantness on that tour was caused by too many of the team having to sit out from the various matches. India took 18 cricketers on tour and also called upon the services of Amar Singh, Jahangir Khan and Dilawar Hussain, who were in England at the time. C. S. Nayudu was flown to England in June and, in spite of Amarnath's departure, India had 21 cricketers on hand, which meant that from every match ten had to be left out. This naturally led to discontent and unhappiness. The feature of this tour was some grand bowling by Nissar and Amar Singh. My success during a wet summer was beyond my expectations. Wisden did me the honour of finding me a place among the Five Cricketers of the Year. How much that meant to me, few will ever realise.

Lord Tennyson brought a team in 1937-38 to India which, in unofficial Tests, won by three matches to two. On paper India were as strong as the visitors, but fielding weakness prevented us from gaining the rubber. It was a happy tour in many ways and the enterprising play of the visitors left a good impression in India. In 1944-45 the Australian Services visited us and India received the opportunity to see that superb cricketer Miller in action. Hassett also entertained us with fine batting. India won the only match of the three representative fixtures which was decided. Although the tour was of short duration, the cricket was enterprising and care-free.

India went to England again in 1946. For the first time we were captained on tour by a man who deserved a place in the team on his merits as a cricketer. The Nawab of Pataudi had achieved notable things in England, and India welcomed his abilities both as captain and batsman. We were fairly and squarely beaten in the First Test match at Lord's and just managed to save ourselves from defeat at Manchester. The Oval Test was a wash-out. India, however, did well against most of the counties and financially the visit proved successful.

Above all, it was a very happy tour and credit for this went to the Nawab of Pataudi. I had the good fortune to make over 2,300 runs and participated in 30 of the 33 matches. During the tour M. C. C. honoured me by inviting me to become a member. Appreciating my difficulty in playing the full number of qualifying matches, they made a special concession--a most generous gesture to a visiting cricketer.

Mankad's Consistency

The highlight of the 1946 tour was the remarkable all-round performance of Vinoo Mankad who scored 1,120 runs and captured 129 wickets. With bat and ball he was consistency personified and, on a pitch which helped him, proved a bowler second to none in the world. He missed only two matches--a tremendous feat for a visiting cricketer playing a season's cricket in England. To our delight Wisden honoured Mankad with a place amongst the Five Cricketers of the Year.

India undertook a new venture in 1947-48 when a team was sent to Australia, but with three of the best players staying at home, we could not hold the strong Australians who, under the captaincy of Don Bradman, proved as invincible as they were against W. R. Hammond's M. C. C. team the previous year. Amarnath led India; he batted extremely well in the first-class matches, only to fail in the Tests. The pick of our batsmen were Hazare, Phadkar and Mankad, whose great efforts were spoiled through lack of support.

Slow Batting

In 1948-49 the West Indies paid their first visit to India. The first three Tests were drawn and West Indies won at Madras. In the final Test, India narrowly failed to force a victory; only six runs were wanted with one wicket in hand when stumps were drawn on the fifth day. Slow batting that day just before and after lunch prevented India from registering their first success in international cricket. Along with our other weaknesses this has also been a drawback in Indian cricket for the last few years. Some years ago Indian batsmen threw away their wickets for no reason whatsoever. Now some have become too slow and simply cannot force the pace when quick scoring is essential. In 1950-51 against the Second Commonwealth Team, unenterprising batting prevented India from gaining a single victory. Last November also we could not, for the same reason, force a win in the First Test match against England at New Delhi.

While visiting teams average between 50 and 55 runs an hour in representative matches, India have not been able to average more than 35 to 40. Unless, therefore, their fielding--particularly catching--improves considerably and the rate of scoring is speeded up, it will be very difficult for India to go far in international cricket.

That West Indies tour was marked by the consistently brilliant batting of Weekes, who scored four consecutive centuries, and thus set up a record of five centuries in successive Test innings, having made one against England in West Indies in 1947-48. Hazare and Modi batted magnificently for India. The visits of the two Commonwealth teams to India provided very entertaining cricket. Frank Worrell showed what a great batsman he is and gave us hopes for still better things to come. On the Indian side Vijay Hazare was a consistent run-getter and proved how difficult it is to dislodge him. He has done more for Indian cricket in the last five years than any other player and, from the point of batting technique and the number of runs scored, should rank amongst the first six in the world at present. Temperamentally he is extremely sound and devoid of nerves. If he can quicken his rate of scoring, few men would be superior to him in contemporary cricket.

Effect of Partition

The partition of India has deprived Indian cricket of some outstanding cricketers. Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Fazal Mahommed, Khan Mahommed and Imtiaz Ahmed would have helped considerably to strengthen the Indian team. To-day Khan Mahommed is the fastest bowler in this sub-continent and India has no one among the medium-paced bowlers who can be put in the same category as Fazal Mahommed; Kardar is sufficiently well known in England; Nazar Mahommed is a most attractive and dashing opening batsman--India's biggest need to-day; and Imtiaz Ahmed is an outstanding opening batsman who demonstrated his abilities last year against the Second Commonwealth Team by scoring 300 runs in the last match. That is the highest score made by any Indian or Pakistani cricketer against a visiting team.

Above all, the partition has deprived India of future fast bowlers. In the past, India often relied for fast bowling on the Northern India people who, because of their height and sturdy physique, are better equipped for this kind of bowling than the cricketers of Central India or the South. Now this source of supply has ceased and the gap has not yet been filled. Some time may elapse before India possesses a fast bowler of the calibre of Mahomed Nissar who hailed from the Punjab.

This year India come to England. I sincerely trust we shall show that we have overcome many of the weaknesses which have persisted with Indian cricket in recent years. I am writing several months before the team will be chosen and I hope that Vijay Hazare, who should be an admirable captain, will be given a large proportion of young cricketers. In India too much premium has always been placed on experience and too little faith in youth. Over a period of years this policy has been disastrous. In the Indian team to-day are men who not only played in 1936 but as far back as 1933-34. Many promising cricketers have had their careers cut short through not receiving opportunities at the right time. Too many have retired soon after returning from a tour. Until and unless the authorities take courage in both hands and give more opportunities to young men, India's inherent weakness will continue and no improvement will be possible. A stage has been reached when it would be better to gamble with youth than to retain faith in older players. Indian cricket needs an injection of youth and I hope that injection will be administered for the 1952 visit to England.

My Retirement

Originally my intention had been to retire from the game after the 1951-52 tour by M. C. C. Two years ago I informed the Indian Board of Control of this decision and I requested that a younger man might be appointed captain immediately so that he could gain experience to lead India in England in 1952.

Mr. A. S. de Mello, president of the Board of Control until this year, however, instead that I should carry on until the Indian visits to England and to the West Indies, in 1952-53, had been carried out. I was told that I should place the interests of Indian cricket above my own, and that I should carry on until then at least as a player.

Since it was put to me that way, I felt I had no alternative but to continue temporarily, but I made one proviso. I said that I would go to England if I could more than pull my weight in the side. I did not wish to pay a third visit, at 41, if I was to be merely one of sixteen members of the side. Only if I thought I was likely to be among the first three as a batsman and sufficiently quick in the field to hold my own would I agree to make the trip. I knew also I needed to be exceptionally fit to undertake an English tour, which is always most strenuous, particularly in wet weather. Normally a much younger man would be more useful.

Although I have played for nearly twenty years in India, I spent some of the happiest days of my life on the cricket fields of England. Playing six days a week in different centres, on different pitches, and in different kinds of weather was a unique experience in my life, and something that Indians never do at home. It is truly said that no cricketer's education is complete until he participates in a season in England. If I do not visit England as a member of the 1952 Indian team, I shall be with you to watch the games and see once more the fields on which I have spent so many happy hours.

© John Wisden & Co