It was in the era of princes that India made their first official tour of England in 1932. The royal families were lavish in promoting the game and employing cricketers, so they wielded tremendous influence off the field. Naturally enough, the royals also captained the teams, whether they were qualified to play or not.
Not surprisingly, then, the captain and vice-captain of the Indian team were both princes. The Maharajah of Porbandar was named captain, while his brother in law, Prince Gyanashyamsinhji of Limbdi, was the vice-captain. Thankfully however, both were aware of their limitations as cricketers, so the captaincy for most of the matches on the tour - including the only Test - passed to CK Nayudu, then the leading personality in Indian cricket.
On the lovely summer morning of June 25, 1932, at Lord's, India stepped out onto the Test field for the first time. As Nayudu led the Indian team out and Douglas Jardine sent in Herbert Sutcliffe and Percy Holmes to open for England, about 24,000 spectators were present to watch the babes of international cricket. A run-glut was predicted; why, only a week before, Sutcliffe and Holmes had put on a world record 555 runs for the first wicket for Yorkshire against Essex.
And yet their partnership this time was restricted to just eight runs. With the first ball of his second over, Mohammed Nissar yorked Sutcliffe for three, and with the last ball of the same over, Nissar sent Holmes' off-stump cartwheeling. England were 11 for two, and Neville Cardus wrote that the Indians gathered around the broken wicket "like sightseers at a celebrated ruin." A little later, Lall Singh, an eyecatching figure in his colourful turban, lived up to his reputation as the side's best fielder by running out Frank Woolley, and England, after 20 minutes, were 19 for three.
It was a strange sight, the newest entrants to international cricket harassing arguably the best team in the world. After all, only a few months later, England were to defeat Australia by four matches to one and regain the Ashes albeit by resorting to the controversial Bodyline tactics. But on their first day in Test cricket, India did have England in a corner. Cardus, in his immortal prose, caught the scene thus: "In my mind's eye, I saw the news flashing over the air to far flung places in India, to Punjab and Karachi, to dusky men in the hills, to the bazaars of the East, to Gandhi himself, and to Gunga Din."
England recovered to make 259, thanks in main to Walter Hammond (35), Jardine (79) and Leslie Ames (65). But the opening day's honours belonged to India and in particular to Nissar, who finished with five for 93 off 26 overs. Nissar, a tall, strapping six-footer from Punjab was at the time reputed to be as fast as Harold Larwood in his opening spell. But no less praise was accorded to his partner, Ladha Amar Singh, who took two for 75 off 31.1 overs. Hammond said that "he came off the pitch like the crack of doom," while many critics rated the sturdily built quick from Nawanagar as one of the finest bowlers seen in England since World War I.
The top-order Indian batting followed the good work of the bowlers, and thanks to valuable efforts from opener Naoomal Jeeomal (33), Wazir Ali (31) and Nayudu (40), India were 110 for two. But then opening bowlers Bill Bowes and Bill Voce brought about a collapse, and India were bowled out for 189. In the second innings, Amar Singh, wrote Wisden, "bowled even better than before" as England slumped to 67 for four.
Again, though, Jardine led a recovery with a typically obdurate 85. His partner in the rescue act was Eddie Paynter (54). A declaration at 275 for eight left India with a forbidding target of 359. They were never really in the hunt, particularly after losing seven wickets for 108, and a breezy 51 by Amar Singh only succeeded in delaying the inevitable.
But India, though beaten by 158 runs, were not disgraced. It was pointed out that the West Indians, on their first tour of England in 1928, had lost all three matches by an innings. In keeping with the gallant performance in the only Test match, the Indians put up a generally impressive showing in the first-class games. Out of 26 matches, the visitors won nine, lost eight and drew nine.
Nayudu was India's star. He scored 1,618 runs at an average of 40.45 with five centuries and was deservedly named one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year. A naturally attacking batsman, Nayudu hit 36 sixes, next only to Learie Constantine's 37 on the 1928 tour. One particular hit was described thus by an English critic: "The ball was last seen sailing in an easterly direction." He lived up to the reputation of being India's leading all-rounder by picking up 65 wickets at an average of 25.53. The other batsmen to cross 1,000 runs during the tour were Naoomal Jeoomal (1,297), S Wazir Ali (1,229) and his younger brother Nazir Ali (1,020).
With the ball, Nissar and Amar Singh impressed as among the best pair of opening bowlers to come to England since the war. Nissar headed the tour averages, bagging 71 wickets at 18.09 apiece, while the indefatigable Amar Singh took 111 wickets at 20.78. Their showing was indeed commendable since in support they could count on only Nayudu and the mediumpace of Jahangir Khan, who ended the tour with 53 wickets at an average of 29.05.
The background to the team selection may have been one of intrigue and suspense, and there were quite a few unseemly incidents, stemming from personal jealousy and rivalry, off the field. But overall it was a tour that the team could look back on with pride and satisfaction, and the critics were almost unanimous in predicting a bright future for Indian cricket.