In the year 1932, the Indian cricket team went on a tour of England. They played a total of 37 matches on this tour, under the captaincy of the Maharaja of Porbandar, out of which 26 were first-class matches. The visitors won nine of the first-class games and the credit for that was given to legendary batsman CK Nayudu and two fast bowlers – Amar Singh and Mohammad Nisar.
In his acclaimed book on the history of cricket – A Corner of a Foreign Field – Ramachandra Guha wrote in detail about this tour. In the book, Guha termed CK Nayudu the ‘first great Indian cricketer’.
In the same context, it is worth mentioning that Munshi Premchand also wrote an account of the Indian cricket team’s tour of England on October 12, 1932, in an editorial published in Jagran.
Premchand wrote in it that the Indian cricket team may not have achieved as much success as the Indian hockey team, but its successes were still significant.
Expressing happiness over the success of the Indian cricket team, Premchand wrote: “The Indian cricket team returned home. Although it did not achieve such spectacular success, it showed to England that India cannot be neglected even in the field of play. The truth is that the people of India can beat the world if they get opportunities, in every sphere of life. The people of England take pride in cricket. This pride must have received a big shock this time. It is a matter of joy that the Viceroy honoured the Indian team and introduced himself as a gentleman.”
Just as the craze around the IPL has manifested in India these days, in the third decade of the twentieth century the matches organised by the Marleybone Cricket Club were very popular. Those days, on the one hand, there was economic turmoil in India due to the British rule, and on the other hand, the matches of MCC were being organized in full swing.
Commenting on this, Premchand wrote in Jagran: “For the cricket matches, railways gave concessions, express trains were put into service, entertainers are moving to Kolkata with their luggage in tow. And here it is being said that there is recession and lethargy. There is recession and lethargy to reduce wages, to cut the salary of servants but there is always a boom in such occasions.”
In an editorial written on January 15, 1934, in Jagran, Premchand compared this terrible situation in India with the French Revolution. He wrote: “It is said that before the French Revolution, people used to die of hunger and their rulers and zamindars and mahajans would enjoy drama and dance. We are witnessing the same scene in India today. There is an outcry in the countryside. In the cities, they are having a ball. In the MCC extravaganza, there are aeroplane exhibitions on display and money is being spent with great cruelty.”
Today, selectors in Indian cricket are often criticised for making arbitrary decisions that rile up the country. It was no different back in the day.
In an editorial written on January 1, 1934, in Jagran, Premchand, commenting on the selection of the players, wrote: “Any player the administrators like is the one who finds himself in the XI. The only player certain of a place in the XI is the one who is nominated by the officials. On behalf of India, the Viceroy sends the congratulations, the representation of India is in the hands of these officials so why shouldn’t the power to select players be in their hands too.”
Premchand had a good understanding of why India’s Raja-Maharajas showed interest in cricket. He wrote: “I have heard that the Viceroy has great love for cricket. He was a good player in his youth. He can’t play now but he enjoys watching the sport. And it comes as no surprise that our Rajas, Maharajas, Nawabs and the rich are interested in whatever the Viceroy is interested in.”
Around the same time, in a cricket match held in Benares, five thousand spectators gathered and Rs 25,000 were collected as revenue from tickets.
Commenting on this, Premchand wrote: “At least twenty-five thousand rupees were collected from tickets. And where did all this money come from? It came from the same babus and rich people who might not offer a dime for any national work.”
It is noteworthy that Premchand has also written about cricket in his literary works.
In the novel Vardan, Premchand has given a lively description of a cricket match between the students of Aligarh and Prayag. An important character of Vardan is Pratap Chandra, who is an all-rounder. Prayag’s team is completely dependent on Pratap Chandra’s batting after the Aligarh team posts a huge total batting first.
Here’s the thrilling description of Pratap Chandra’s batting by Premchand: “The third ball arrived. It sounded like a firecracker as the ball flew towards the boundary like the summer breeze, falling a hundred yards ahead of the player standing in the field. People clapped in appreciation. There was water in the dry paddy. The ones who were about to leave stopped in their tracks. The downtrodden got some hope. The fourth ball came and was hit 10 yards ahead of the first ball. The fielders were shocked. The fifth ball came and was cut away. And then the over ended. The next bowler was good and capable of producing some deadly deliveries. But the first ball he bowled was hit so high that the ball ended up kissing the sun. From that point on, it seemed like there was a friendship between the ball and his bat. The ball would come and take the lateral route... sometimes going eastwards, sometimes West, sometimes North and sometimes South. The fielders were soon out of breath with all the running.”
Similarly, Premchand also wrote a story on cricket, the title of which is Cricket Match. This story was published after Premchand’s death in July 1937 in the Urdu letter Zamana printed from Kanpur. This story, written as a diary, begins in January 1935. The main characters of this story are Indian cricketer Zafar and Helen Mukherjee, who has returned to India from England after studying medicine. Zafar is saddened by the Indian team losing the match and he knows the reason for it – the arbitrariness of the selectors. Zafar records in his diary, “Our team was stronger than the enemies, but we lost and they took away the trophy. Why? Because we do not believe that talent is the qualification for leadership. We consider wealth to be important for leadership. His Highness was elected captain. It was the cricket board’s decision and had to be accepted by everyone.”
In this story, Premchand has expressed the state of Indian cricket in the colonial period very clearly. This was a time when the deserving cricketers were ignored and the Maharajas used to lead the cricket team despite their lack of qualifications.
During this time, Zafar meets Helen Mukherjee, who wants to form a team of Indian cricketers based on merit and skill. Together with Zafar, Helen selects players from Lucknow, Aligarh, Delhi, Lahore and Ajmer and puts together a cricket team. In the story, this team, under the leadership of Zafar, plays a match against the Australian team in Bombay and emerges victorious.
This article was first published on Satygrah.in and has been reproduced here with permission.