Ranji: Lights, camera, action

It is well known that Hindi films and cricket are the two pillars upon which Indian popular culture rests. They are the two most potent symbols of Indian cultural life and it is no surprise that for the longest time there has been a successful blending of the two in trying to promote both domestic cricket and Hindi cinema.

Ranji Trophy scorecard – UP Cricket Association XI vs Holkar State Cricket Association XI, 1943

Ranji Trophy scorecards in India advertised the latest film releases and were one of the best means to reach out to the masses. This was not restricted to domestic cricket, and in the 1960s, the India-New Zealand Test series was also used to promote films which were awaiting release in the following few weeks.

Souvenir programme – New Zealand vs India, third Test match, 1965
Souvenir programme – New Zealand vs India, third Test match, 1965
Souvenir programme – New Zealand vs India, third Test match, 1965
Souvenir programme – New Zealand vs India, third Test match, 1965

This practice continued into the 1980s – as long as the Ranji Trophy was a highly watched and followed event in the country. Although attendance has fallen over the last two decades, the competition continues to be the most important supply chain for players wanting to make it to the national team.

Also, playing well at the first-class level earns a player enough money to lead a prosperous life.The BCCI’s decision to increase the fee of Ranji Trophy players from Rs 10,000 to Rs 31,000 per match in 2003 added value to domestic first-class cricket. Now a player earns in lakhs if he plays a full season.

Scorecard – Ranji Trophy final, 1944-45, Bombay vs Holkar
Scorecard – Ranji Trophy Bengal vs Madras, Eden Gardens, 1939

India in England, for the first time

One-and-a-half months before the Indians embarked on their tour of England, The Times, London, published the following report on 1 March 1932:

“The game gown on...The Delhi police may be having three sharp rounds with a rioting crowd in the Chandni Chowk, the crowded bazaar of the old city, but a mile or two away on the club ground set in the gardens that 400 years ago Shah Jehan built for his princess, a Roshanara side will be playing the Punjab Wanderers or an Army team from New Cantonments will be fielding in the white sunlight...Here is the team for England: The Maharaja of Patiala, Captain (eventually withdrew in favour of the Maharaja of Porbander), KS Ghanshyamsinhji (Kathiawar), Vice Captain, Amar Singh (Jamnagar), SMH Colah (Bombay), Ghulam Mohammed (Ahmedabad), Joginder Singh (Punjab), BE Kapadia (Bombay), Lall Singh (Kuala Lumpur), ND Marshall (Bombay), J Naoomal (Karachi), JG Navle (Gwalior), CK Nayudu (Indore), Nazir Ali (Patiala), SM Nissar (Punjab), PE Palia (Mysore), S Godambe (Bombay), Wazir Ali (Bhopal). It will be seen that the team is composed entirely of Indians; the question of selecting Englishmen playing in India did not arise.”

Itinerary of the tour, 1932

And soon after the Indian team arrived in England on 13 April 1932, the Evening Standard commented on the socio-political signicance of the tour:

“No politics, no caste, just cricket. This is the unofficial slogan of the cricket team that has come from India after a lapse of 21 years to try its strength against England and the  first class counties...There has never been such a team of contrasts meeting on the common footing of cricket.The 18 players speak eight to ten languages among them; they belong to four or five different castes...Caste demands that the Hindus do not eat beef or veal, and that the Mohammedans avoid pork, bacon and ham. So to prevent any difficulties at meal times the order has gone forth that these things must not appear on any menu during the tour. Instead the men will eat mutton, chicken and  fish... he team contains six Hindus, five Mohammedans, four Parsees and two Sikhs. The Mohammedans forswear alcohol by religion and most of the others do so by choice. The Sikhs, who will play cricket in turbans, are similarly denied smoking...”

Autographs of the Indian team members, 1932
Souvenir of the first Indian cricket tour of England, 1932

The Indians played their first tour match against TG Trott’s XI at Pelsham Farm, Pearmarsh, near Rye on 29 April. Interestingly, playing against the Indian team in this match was Duleepsinhji. While the Indians acquitted themselves well, with Lall Singh, the Sikh from Malaya, leading the way, it was on 22 May 1932, in the match against the MCC, that the world got a glimpse of what India’s first homegrown legend, CK Nayudu, was capable of doing.

Nayudu smashed the first Indian century of the tour in style. The Star’s headline on 22 May 1932 summed it up: “The Hindu Bradman in Form at Lord’s.” The Observer was equally eloquent: “A brilliant not out innings of 116 by CK Nayudu was the feature of the first day’s play between All-India and the MCC.”

Letter from S Nazir Ali

However, it was in the first and only Test match at Lord’s that the Indians shocked the English in the first half-hour itself. The MCC was reduced to a dismal 19-3, thanks to some excellent Indian bowling and fielding. Wrote the Birmingham Post:

“It was an extraordinary start to the match. Sutcliffe and Holmes, Yorkshire’s record-smashing opening pair, united in a similar manner under the banner of England, went out full of cool confidence...But the first ball of Nissar’s second over...was an in-swinger and Sutcliffe, playing with the edge instead of the middle of the bat, diverted it into the wicket – and one of England’s greatest batsmen was out...The disappointment was redoubled and revived when the last ball of the same over, a delivery perfect in height, length and pace, sent Holmes’ off stump spinning through the air, while the batsman was only half way through the stroke...Woolley and Hammond were now together...When he [Woolley] had got nine in 20 minutes, he played a ball from Nissar to a point between short leg and mid-on. The stroke was worth a comfortable single and no more, but for some extraordinary reason an attempt was made to secure two runs. The fielder, the blue turbaned Lall Singh, threw in rather wildly, but even so the wicketkeeper had time to gather it and remove the bails while Woolley was still several feet from home. The wicket was thrown away by wild calling, and three men were out for 19...”

"Punch" cartoon of the Indian cricket team, 1932

Although India eventually lost the match by 158 runs, the courage and grit shown at Lord’s clearly conveyed to the world that we would carve out a niche in the world of cricket in no time.

Boria Majumdar

Excerpted with permission from A History of Indian Sport Through 100 Artefacts, Boria Majumdar, HarperCollins India.