July 2002

Captains galore

Gerald Howat looks back at India's first official Test match, at Lord's in 1932, and the drama that preceded it off the field

Gerald Howat looks back at India's first official Test match, at Lord's in 1932, and the drama that preceded it off the field

Maharajah of Porbandar: woken in the middle of the night © The Cricketer
Seventy years ago, in June 1932, India played their first Test match. Suitably enough it happened at Lord's and on a fine Saturday morning some 24,000 spectators, including many Indians, were there to witness this historic event. What few can have visualised was the course of events in the first 20 minutes of the game. England's batting was opened by the Yorkshire pair, Herbert Sutcliffe and Percy Holmes, who had established a world record of 555 runs for the first wicket the week before against Essex at Leyton. In his second over, Mahomed Nissar, by sheer pace and swing, dismissed them both while Frank Woolley was run out in too leisurely a pursuit of a second run. England had been reduced to 19 for 3 with Wally Hammond and the captain, Douglas Jardine, at the wicket.

Yet drama of a different kind had preceded the start of play. In the middle of the night, some of the Indian players had woken up their tour captain, the Maharajah of Porbandar, and told him they were not willing to play under C.K. Nayudu, the man whom he had nominated to lead India in the Test. A hurried exchange of cables took place (it was daytime in India) and the Maharajah of Patiala ordered the player to accept Navudu's captaincy.

We need to know something of these three men. Porbandar had no claims to be a cricketer at first-class level and was wise enough to recognise it. The two runs he made against Glamorgan proved to be his highest score of the tour. But cricket apart he was an excellent leader, possessing, wrote the editor of Wisden, in full measure the attributes necessary to his position. Those attributes included his princely status as ruler of the small state of Kathiawar.

Navudu was the best batsman in India and had experience of batting in English conditions. He belonged to a professional family (his father was a barrister) and, as an army officer, he was aide-de-camp to a maharajah. He moved with princes but was not princely himself. The tall, bearded, bejewelled Patiala had been the most influential figure in the tour taking place at all. At a critical point he had organised the final trials, paid a certain amount of the expenses and selected the touring party. Initially, he had appointed himself captain before securing Porbandar. The crisis early that Saturday morning would have been avoided had the vice-captain been fit. He was Prince Ghanshyamsinghji of Limbdi, brother-in-law of Porbandar. He was a reasonable performer who had made, on the same day Sutcliffe and Holmes were performing at Leyton, an undefeated century against the Eastern Counties at Lincoln but he had strained his back. It is the moment to say that the long and exhausting tour made savage demands on all the players who had no experience of day-to-day first-class cricket.

We need to go behind the events of those fateful few hours to understand the philosophy which governed Indian cricket. Only a prince could be captain and stand apart from the competing interests of sectionalism, race, caste, creed and customs. In nominating Nayudu, Patiala was making a pragmatic and realistic decision. Although Nayudu would captain India at home in 1933-34, he would stand down from the captaincy, in favour of a prince, when India came to England in 1936. Not until after the Raj fell in 1947 would a touring India side be led by a commoner.

The era of princely patronage lasted for broadly 50 years. It had been encouraged by that stalwart of English cricket, Lord Harris, during his time as Governor of Bombay in the 1890s. The motives for such patronage were varied - a mixture of self-interest and altruism. Some were doing the `princely' thing as 18th century aristocrats in England, such as the Duke of Dorset and Sir Horace Mann, had done. Others pursued vain glory and a chance to play at a level above their talents. A genuine love of cricket and the opportunity to promote it joined forces with political opportunism. It is a debate where motives mattered less than deeds. Cricket for Indians in India prospered because the princes filled the hiatus between the hey day of 19th century cricket-loving English administrators and the entrepreneurial patrons of the post-Raj era.

Douglas Jardine cuts Nayudu on his way to 79 in England's first innings © The Cricketer
In the immediate months before the 1932 national side went to England, another dimension entered into the issue of leadership. The Viceroy of India, Lord Willingdon, a liberal in many ways (though not in his approach to the current Civil Disobedience Movement) and a cricket devotee, believed that the captaincy ought to be in English hands. There was a parallel with West Indies (though it did not stand close examination). Even the name of Douglas Jardine was mentioned: his family had long associations with India and he had been born there. Ironically, Jardine would captain England in India in the 1933-34 series.

At this point, two princes had competed for power - the Rajkumars of Vizianagram and Patiala. The latter, as we have seen, would be the king-maker for the 1932 tour while Vizianagram would captain the 1936 team and play in all three Test matches (scoring exactly 600 runs on the tour). He would give valuable service to Indian cricket when Independence came, renouncing his title, serving on the Board of Control and broadcasting on the game.

Meanwhile, at Lord's there was a match to be played. Hammond (35) and Jardine (79) put on 82 in 100 minutes for the England fourth wicket. With Les Ames making 65, England were dismissed just after tea for 259. The Indian openers, Nissar and Amar Singh, each achieving considerable pace and swing, `bowled splendidly', reported Wisden, with Nissar taking 5 for 93. When the King-Emperor, George V, met both teams on the second day the game was well poised with India on 100 for 2. Nayudu, despite badly injuring his hand when trying to take a catch, made 40. But from 139 for 3 India slumped to 189 all out.

Their bowlers again kept them in the match, taking the first four England wickets for 67 runs. But Jardine (85 not out) and Eddie Paynter (54), in a fifth-wicket stand of 89 followed by a declaration at 275 for 8, put the game beyond India's reach.

Set 346 at 12.30 on the third and last day, India's batting failed. Only a hardhitting half-century from Amar Singh prolonged the end before England claimed a victory by 158 runs, with Hammond taking 3 for 9 in five overs.

The general view was that India had acquitted themselves well in the country's first Test. Nayudu would win a place in Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year. Yet there were two other Indians playing cricket that summer in England, both of whom were worth a place in the Test team on merit and had the `princely' qualification to lead India. Kumar Duleepsinhji had already played 12 Test matches for England and was scoring heavily for Sussex, for whom he had appeared against the Indians six weeks earlier. He, too, might have been a potential captain for India, but both his own inclinations and the influence of his uncle, Kumar Ranjitsinhji, Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, had prevailed and Duleep would no more play cricket in India in any serious sense than Ranji himself had done. Both would give much to their country in other directions but not as cricketers.

The other man was the Nawab of Pataudi who, in the match immediately preceding the Test, had made 83 for Worcestershire against his fellow countrymen. He had played some cricket in India but, in the view of the historian of Indian cricket, Mihir Bose, was `mooted as a captain before the tour only to make his excuses'. He would later captain India when they came to England in 1946. Both these outstanding cricketers, as had Ranji, identified themselves with the English first-class cricket tradition.

Three months after the Test the MCC embarked for Australia to play in the fateful Bodyline series. Jardine took with him seven of his colleagues who had played at Lord's. Dramatically, there would also be Harold Larwood and ironically the Nawab of Pataudi. The latter would make a century for England in the First Test at Brisbane. It is a measure of what the Indian bowlers had achieved at Lord's that Sutcliffe and Hammond made over 300 runs between them in the first innings. The MCC tourists, counting Pataudi, included six men who had or would captain their country.

Yet this last word may be said on India's first Test match: at a critical time in Anglo-Indian relations, a time of fervent nationalism and round-table conferences, and in the era of Gandhi, it was a wonder that the tour and the match happened at all.