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Of Sunny, Sachin, Kambli and gifts

Friday, 23 November 2012 - 9:30am IST | Agency: dna

India-England Test cricket in Mumbai goes beyond the boundary lines. Prakash Dahatonde looks at the quirky side of it.

The first-ever Test on Indian soil against England was played at the Bombay Gymkhana in December 1933 and watched by a capacity crowd of 30,000 for four days, including a Sunday. The Gymkhana was formed in 1875, exclusively for the Europeans. Even the great Ranjitsinhji was denied admission.

In fact, the club only allowed servants, although the rule had to be suspended for the 1933-34 Test so that cricketers could use the facilities.

Now to the match — Day One was declared a government holiday. Special trains were run from Ahmedabad to bring the cricket crazy fans. Temporary tents and shamianas were erected and a wooden double-decker grand stand opposite the pavilion provided the best seats. Scores were announced from a theatre in the Esplanade for those unfortunate fans standing outside the Bori Bunder End.
Over the Gymkhana pavilion flew the Union Jack with the red and yellow touring flag of the Marylebone Cricket Club and the light blue banner of All-India on either side of it.

When Lala Amarnath reached his hundred — the first Indian to do so — spectators rushed to garland him. Nayudu, forgetting that the ball was still in play, tried to shoo them off the field. Harry Elliott, the wicketkeeper, was about to run Nayudu out, when Jardine signalled him against it. Lala was congratulated by the maharajas of Baroda and Kolhapur and presented with a gold and silver cup and a certain amount on behalf of the Bombay Club.

Many of the ruling maharajas and princes watched the historic Test. It can be said that black marketers of tickets were active even then. Tickets were sold up to five times their usual price.
The MCC team lost just one of the 18 first-class matches on the 1933-34 tour. It was the Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagram’s XI which beat them at Benares (Varanasi) after the third Test. Set a target of 154, MCC had to answer to the brilliance of CK Nayudu (4/24) and were bowled out for 139.

Later on the same tour, MCC took on Central Provinces and Berar in Nagpur. No less than five members of the Nayudu/Naidu family featured in that game: skipper T Sheshrao Naidu, CL Naidu, CK Nayudu (captain), Ganpat R Naidoo and CS Nayudu. All of them were dismissed by leg-spinner Charles ‘Father’ Marriott! MCC won by six wickets.

Their 1951-52 tour will be remembered for a unique batting feat, not in terms of number of runs scored but time spent at the wicket. It was the second Test at the Brabourne Stadium. Edric Leadbeater, flown in as replacement for an indisposed AEG Rhodes, played for England before gaining his Yorkshire cap. He represented Yorkshire and Warwickshire without winning a first XI cap. Tom Graveney made 175 and 25 not out in the Bombay Test in 1951-52. He batted for 495 minutes and 75 minutes respectively — a total of 570 minutes in all (nine-and-a-half hours).

It was a similar story in the second Test of the 1963-64 series at the Brabourne. England’s campaign was marred by a series of unfit players. So much so, that in a desperate attempt they sounded out a journalist Henry Blofeld — once a promising cricketer and a Cambridge Blue in 1959.

But poor Blofeld missed a golden chance for a Test debut as Micky Stewart, one of the unfit players, announced himself available. More drama unfolded in the Test. Stewart fell ill again and took no part in the match after tea on Day One.

England, however, used the 12th man’s services of two Indians. Kripal Singh substituted for Stewart, while Hanumant Singh, who fielded in the deep cutting off many runs, earned the dubious distinction of entering a Test arena before being capped for his country.

Now, let’s fast-forward to the 1970s. During the concluding fifth Test of the 1972-73 series at the Brabourne, a cat trespassed the East Stand and moved to the clubhouse. The crowd booed and wanted Pat Pocock to catch the cat, not the catch.

Talking of the 70s, how can we not mention the Jubilee Test? It’s best remembered for Ian Botham’s unprecedented feat of scoring a century and capturing thirteen wickets. Bob Taylor, the England wicketkeeper, also established a new world Test record by taking ten catches in the match.

However, it was the Indian captain Gundappa Viswanath who rose to fame with a rare gesture. Hanumantha Rao upheld an appeal against Taylor for a caught-behind off Kapil Dev. Taylor protested the decision. Viswanath, fielding at first slip, was as certain as the batsman that there had been no contact and called Taylor back. Viswanath drew flak as India lost the Test.

If Viswanath exemplified what spirit of cricket was, an episode in the 1992-93 series was a far departure from the definition. There was a mix-up over a short single, and both Alec Stewart and Mike Atherton were stranded at the bowler’s end. Morally and technically, Atherton, the non-striker, should have been declared out. It was he who responded to Stewart’s call and had crossed before he thought the better of it. But having been forced to sit out the previous two Tests, Atherton was in no mood to sacrifice his wicket. Umpire S Venkataraghavan decided that Stewart should depart.
In the morning of the same Test, Sunil Gavaskar presented Vinod Kambli a pair of Italian goggles for scoring 224. Kambli would truly need them. After all, the flashlights would be trained on him in the days to follow.

Sachin Tendulkar also stood in line for a possible gift from Gavaskar. The legend promised to gift Tendulkar his watch provided he hit a hundred. Alas, Sachin missed out. However, he had the cheek to suggest that since he had struck a half-century, he should get part of the watch that he liked. And what was it? The dial.

(The writer is a cricket statistician andhas been regularly contributing to Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack since 1996
edition. He is a librarian at CCI, Mumbai

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