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Rewind to

When Test cricket came to India

Jenny Thompson looks back to India's first Test against England at the Bombay Gmykhana in 1933

Jenny Roesler
Jenny Thompson

Bombay Gymkhana during the Test: Leslie Townsend hooks Nazir Ali for a boundary © The Cricketer
Way before Sachin Tendulkar lent his glitz and glamour to the city, Mumbai was at the epicentre of Indian cricket. India's inaugural first-class game was held there in 1877 while, by the 1920s, the Bombay Quadrangular tournament was attracting players from all over India, making it the biggest and most influential cricket tournament in the country.
It was no surprise, therefore, when Bombay was chosen to host the first Test between England and India, in 1933. The venue, the Bombay Gymkhana, was fitting too, with its cool, white colonial architecture, whose pavilion would not look out of place in any of the leafier villages of England. Formed in 1875 exclusively for Europeans, the Gymkhana remained that way well into the 20th Century - even Ranji was refused admission. The only Indians allowed into the club were servants, although this rule had to be suspended for the 1932-33 Test to allow the players to use the facilities.
And just a week before that first Test, the ground hosted the MCC tour match against Bombay Presidency XI when 20,000 attended. It had also hosted that initial first-class game in 1877, the so-called Presidency match between the Parsees (the first community from India to take to the game) and the Europeans, which ended in a draw.
And so it was that, on December 15, 50,000 crammed into specially erected temporary tents and shamianas to witness the match, the 16th game of a tour which had started when Douglas Jardine's side left England on September 22.
There was tremendous enthusiasm among Bombayites, not least the writer Vasant Raji who, as a wide-eyed 13 year-old was distraught to be without a ticket. His only hope was to buy a sofa which would entitle him to watch the match but at Rs100 (season tickets cost no more than Rs50) it wasn't cheap. Still his father kindly stumped up readily as did thousands of others, even though tickets were up to five times their usual price.
The Times of India writer E H D Sewell was also delighted: "If compelled to bet, my rupee would on India," he said, "but what a cheerful loser I should be!" Officials joined in the spirit, excitedly executing arrangements with a diligence and good timing which, said the paper, would have done Lord's proud - apart from one small glitch. The scorecards read MCC instead of England .
Now, the MCC had been playing against India for more than 20 years but, after an All-India side had shown themselves capable of competing against England in India's first Test at Lord's in 1932, it was decided that a stronger side was needed. And so Jardine, the architect of Bodyline the previous winter, was asked to lead a side to tour. Many familar names were absent, but it was still stronger than any side sent to India before.
Jardine's captaincy was impeccable, backed up by strong fielding, and they outplayed India in the first innings to leave the home side with a deficit of 219. The fast bowler Morris Nichols and Bryan Valentine stood out for England; Nichols took match figures of 8 for 108 while Valentine's first-innings 138 was, recalled Sewell, "just what England wanted, he having jumped into an attack that was losing heart and smashed it to bits".
The England side were proving far too strong, because "there are not many players of real ability in India," as the Times of India declared. But Lala Amarnath fought back in the second innings with 118, the first Test century by any Indian, and one which he later said was his best. He received gold and silver cups and money for his efforts.
When he brought up the landmark, pandemonium broke loose: the applause was long and loud and hats were thrown in the air. Two spectators even ran on to the pitch to garland him, much to the captain CK Nayudu's annoyance; he tried to shoo them off, while forgetting the ball was in play. The wicketkeeper Harry Elliott saw the chance to run him out but Jardine signaled him not to.
Amarnath was joined by Nayudu in a third-wicket partnership of 186, which threatened to turn the match, and at the end of the day Amarnath was mobbed. When news reached Pune, 150 km away, that Amarnath and Nayudu were doing so well, many enthusiasts traveled to Bombay overnight. Alas, India collapsed for 258, leaving an easy target of just 39.
Still, in organisational and pyschological terms, it was a triumph - and up to a quarter of a million in all may have seen the game; thousands more were turned away. "The Bombay crowd enjoyed every minute of the match and their behaviour throughout was impeccable," said Sewell recently. "Though there was cheering and appreciation of good play, there was none of the rowdyism one sees these days."
It was a definite success on the pitch, too. "Topees off to England," said the Times of India, "and hearty congratulations to India on the excellent fight she made of it up to a point." Even though England went on to take the series 2-0, India's display was enough for Jardine to predict their imminent rise and Jack Hobbs, who came with the press corps, was also impressed. However, as Ranji recalled, Hobbs felt "the Indians needed to take their cricket more seriously and should not play with a happy-go-lucky kind of picnic air". Still, as the Times of London said, it was "a delightful start from every point of view."
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Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo