My timeline on Twitter was abuzz on Monday, celebrating not just the 29th anniversary of the 1983 World Cup victory but also the fact that it was exactly 80 years since Colonel C.K. Nayudu led 10 men out for India’s debut in Test cricket—as it happens, at Lord’s, England.
That the two dates and ground coincide has always been known, of course, but as one Twitterati pointed out, while the 1983 World Cup victory has been celebrated with great fanfare since, not much has been done about India’s advent in Test cricket. “So little is known of that Test and even less cared for,” went the Twitter message.
Alas, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)— and the Union government, of course—appeared to have missed the significance of the occasion completely and let yet another opportunity to recognize and honour past stalwarts go by.
The BCCI is obviously more culpable because as the body which runs the sport, it should have been more sensitive to the occasion. While ensuring former cricketers get pension is highly laudable, there is need for a broader appreciation of legacy than just signed cheques.
Extraordinary men: A part of the Indian team that went on that historic first tour to England, at Lord’s in June 1932: (from left) Lall Singh, S. Nazir Ali, M. Jahangir Khan, S. Wazir Ali, S.R. Godambe, C.K. Nayudu, L. Amar Singh, J.Naoomal, S.H.M. Colah, P.E. Palia and J.G. Navle. Photo: Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Just to highlight the point, I would have liked the BCCI to convince the government to issue a postage stamp commemorating the magnificent feat of Mohammad Nissar in the inaugural Test in 1932. If not that, then a specially commissioned book on him would have been a good substitute. These are the kind of players who have been lost in the maze of time and the lack of adequate cricket literature/documentation.
From what we know, Nissar was perhaps the fastest and most fearsome bowler India has ever had. On the first morning of that Test, after England chose to bat, he stunned a packed Lord’s by clean-bowling openers Herbert Sutcliffe and Percy Holmes for 3 and 6 and left the strong home side reeling at 11-2 within 15 minutes of start.
Nissar finished with 5 for 93 to make an indelible impact not just on the England batting and fans, but also the game’s administrators, who had not been entirely convinced that India deserved Test status. The scorebook shows that the 1932 Test was lost by 158 runs but Nayudu’s team won accolades for its gumption and talent. India’s wonderful journey in cricket had commenced.
The good thing about legacy is that it takes rebuff in its stride and throws up other opportunities recurrently. The next Test played by India, for instance, was at the Bombay Gymkhana in December 1933 against Douglas Jardine’s Englishmen; this too was a match replete with landmarks and highlights which demand a revisit.
As the scorebook shows, Nissar had a five-wicket haul (5-90) once more, but with little support for him, England managed to score 438 in reply to India’s modest 219. An innings defeat looked inevitable, till a young batsman put England’s bowlers to the sword with a panache that had the crowd in raptures.
Home ground: A 1933 photo of C.K. Nayudu (left) and Lala Amarnath. Photo: Central Press/Getty Images
Lala Amarnath, just past 22, was one of two debutants in the match who would go on to play significant roles in India’s cricket history, the other being Vijay Merchant, who batted at No. 6 in both innings. Merchant was to finish his career with the second-highest first-class average after Don Bradman, but in this match, Amarnath was the hero.
Batting for only 3 hours, he struck 21 fours in his scintillating 118, the first Test century by an Indian. In A History of Indian Cricket, Mihir Bose recounts that delirious women tore off their mangalsutras to reward the young batsman for his achievement.
In post-World War II cricket, Indians have frequently held batting records: Sunil Gavaskar broke Bradman’s mark of 29 Test centuries and Sachin Tendulkar now boasts of the amazing feat of having scored 100 international centuries. These achievements, nonetheless, are rooted in Amarnath’s century at the Bombay Gymkhana in 1933.
There is talk in Mumbai cricket circles currently of making a statue of Tendulkar at the Wankhede Stadium to honour his stupendous performances. Well-founded, I would say, but I think it is no less important for the Mumbai Cricket Association/BCCI (along with the Bombay Gymkhana) to commemorate the first-ever Test played in the city and India’s heroes in that match.
I am not a weepy sentimentalist, but nostalgia is not entirely misplaced—in sport as in life. It is a truism that the past helps in understanding the present and the future better. Legacy and heritage provide evolutionary patterns and sharpen sensibilities if cared for; if not, they are a mere exercise in puerile academia.
This becomes even more relevant in the context of preserving Test cricket, a cause which every administrator across the world espouses, but few manage to support with sensible action. The onus on the BCCI is even greater considering the clout it commands in the game currently, as also the waning appeal of five-day cricket in India, which it must address seriously—if it is indeed serious!
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at beyondboundaries@ livemint.com