Teething problems

Partab Ramchand on the 1936 India tour of England

Partab Ramchand

The Maharajah of Vizianagaram: possibly the worst Test captain of all time © Getty Images
There have been troubled tours in the history of Indian cricket, but it is safe to assume that when it comes to seamy incidents, internal rivalry, petty jealousy, gross mismanagement and a poor record, the 1936 tour of England is the yardstick by which unhappy tours are judged. Everything that could go wrong with a team on tour took place, and the largely self-created problems engulfed the team and affected the morale of the players. Which was a pity for, man to man, there is little doubt that the 1936 Indian team is one of the strongest to have gone on tour.
It would seem unbelievable to today's generation that a side including the likes of CK Nayudu, Amar Singh, Mohammad Nissar, Wazir Ali, Lala Amarnath, Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Merchant should end up with a dismal record of having just four victories in 28 first-class matches on the tour, losing 12 and drawing 12. Or that the three-match series should have been lost 0-2 with the visitors going down by nine wickets in both the first and third Tests, England having the better of the drawn second Test.
For starters, the side was badly led by the Maharajah of Vizianagaram and managed by Maj Brittain-Jones. Four years ago, the prince appointed captain had graciously stepped down in favour of CK Nayudu. But 'Vizzy,' as he was popularly known, refused to do the same. Not only was he a passenger as a batsman and fielder ­ his average for the three Tests was 8.25 - he also had very strong likes and dislikes, and allowed personal enmity to often get the better of him.
Mushtaq Ali being offered a gold watch to run out Merchant, Baqa Jilani getting his Test cap because he insulted CK Nayudu at the breakfast table - these were the kind of incidents that marred the tour. A bit of a dictator, Vizzy had in Brittain-Jones a martinet sidekick. The two ruled with an iron hand, and the manager was at his worst in the Lala Amarnath incident, when the star all-rounder was sent packing home midway through the tour as a disciplinary measure.
The inquiry that went into the seamy happenings of the tour termed the action as 'stern' and exonerated Amarnath, but the damage had been done. Under such circumstances, the players could not be expected to perform at their best. Also, some of the jealousy and distrust among the players that were evident four years ago continued ­ only this time more vehemently.
With the atmosphere marred by suspicion, the dice was heavily loaded against the visitors almost every time they stepped on to the field ­ and particularly so in the Tests. The batting and bowling came under severe pressure under which both crumbled. England helped themselves to scores of 571 for eight declared in the second Test at Manchester and 471 for eight declared in the third Test at the Oval. They also dismissed India for scores of 147, 93, 203 and 222. India, thanks to a deadly spell by Amar Singh, who took six for 35, took the first-innings lead in the first Test at Lord's ­ the only time India did so till 1971 ­ but the second-innings collapse meant that England could coast to victory.
But there were the proverbial silver linings. Predominant among these was the record 203-run opening stand between Mushtaq Ali and Merchant at Manchester. India were 368 runs behind on the first innings, but in dazzling fashion, they scored the runs in just two-and-a-half hours. It was ethereal batting that had the critics groping for adjectives. Both openers got hundreds, with Mushtaq's being the first Test hundred by an Indian abroad.
Then of course there was Nayudu's courageous knock of 81 in the third Test; incidentally it proved to be his last Test innings. Hit on the heart by an ultra-fast ball from the England captain 'Gubby' Allen, Nayudu not only stayed his ground after receiving medical treatment for a brief while but counter-attacked in a manner that brought back memories of the Golden Age for oldtimers. Amar Singh's spell of six for 35 that saw England dismissed for 134 was another highlight of the tour. Both Nissar and Amar Singh in fact lived up to their reputation, but they had little support. The two shared 22 wickets in the three Tests, while all the other bowlers accounted for just six.
Amar Singh had impressed Walter Hammond four years ago, and on this tour he left a lasting impression on Len Hutton, then an established Yorkshire star and on the verge of getting his England cap. Thirty-four years later, in an interview in Madras, Hutton recalled, "There is no better bowler in the world today than Amar Singh."
In first-class matches, Merchant was head and shoulders above his teammates. He scored 1,745 runs at an average of 51.32. This included 282 runs in the Tests. So classy and correct was his batting that Neville Cardus hailed him as the "Indians' good European" and suggested that to solve their opening batting problems in Australia during the winter, the England team take a photograph of Merchant for inspiration. Nayudu (1,102) and Mushtaq Ali (1,078) were the others to cross the 1,000-run mark. Among the bowlers, Nissar headed the averages, taking 66 wickets at 25.13 apiece. Amar Singh by now was a popular and well-paid Lancashire league professional and was released only for a handful of matches, besides the three Tests.
But England generally had things their own way. Hammond had successive knocks of 167 and 217, while Allen picked up 20 wickets in the series. On the second day of the second Test, 588 runs were scored ­ still the most runs scored in a day of Test cricket. Of these, England scored 398 runs for the loss of six wickets while India replied with 190 for none.