Off-the-field gamechangers that defined Indian cricket

Indian cricket of the 1930s was mostly dominated by pace

In the early 1860s, two Melburnians, Felix William Spears and Christopher Pond invited Charles Dickens on a lecture tour. When Dickens showed little interest, they invited some of the best English cricketers. This cricketing tour, between England and Australia, became the forerunner of the Ashes.

Dickens’ refusal helped cricket evolve from assorted local events to an international sport. There are similar examples in Indian cricket, too.

Fazal attacked on train: India were to visit Australia in late 1947 for their first cricketing tour after Independence. The pre-tour camp was held in Poona from 15 August 1947. Fazal Mahmood, twenty, was supposed to attend the camp, but a full-fledged curfew had been imposed at Lahore in the aftermath of religious riots. He travelled to Karachi by road before flying out to Bombay. He made it to Poona.

The camp concluded without much fuss. The cricketers took the train back to Bombay. A mob attacked this train with the intention of lynching the Muslim cricketers. C.K. Nayudu, then fifty-one, stood between the rioters and Fazal with a cricket bat. Fazal reached Bombay safely, abandoned his original itinerary (via Delhi), and flew straight back to Karachi.

He did not tour Australia with India. Instead, he became Pakistan’s first great fast bowler. It took him five years to return to India — as the spearhead of the opposition’s attack. He took 12-94 to help Pakistan win the second Test match ever at Lucknow.

Indian cricket of the 1930s was mostly dominated by pace, with Mohammad Nissar, Amar Singh, Jahangir Khan and even an ageing Ladha Ramji calling the shots. Fazal would not only have carried on that legacy but also inspired a generation after him, like Kapil Dev did in the 1980s.

As things turned out, no Indian fast bowler was able to take 100 Test wickets until Kapil in 1979/80, and the lack of fast bowlers meant that India seldom won Test matches outside the subcontinent.

Kapil denied food: In 1975, a young Kapil Dev was attending a camp for budding cricketers at the Cricket Club of India in Bombay. After a gruelling session in sultry heat, the youngsters were served a meal of two dry chapatis and vegetables.

A famished Kapil demanded more. When he was told that the instructions had come from Keki Tarapore, administrator of the camp, Kapil led a small group to Tarapore’s office. Kapil was blunt: “Nobody can fill my belly with such a small serving, and I am a fast bowler. I practise a lot and really sweat it out. That’s the reason—“

Kapil never forgot Tarapore’s response. “Young man, India has been playing international cricket for over forty years, but till date India hasn’t produced a single fast bowler. Fast bowler … that’s the best joke I’ve heard in years!”

The man who led India to their first World Cup victory broke the stereotype of Indian cricket being dependent on batting and spin bowling forever and inspired generations of fast bowlers has always cited Tarapore’s reaction as a motivation behind his cricketing career.

Doordarshan telecasts Guide: One Sunday evening in 1984, Doordarshan telecast the classic Dev Anand-starrer Guide. While the residents of Sahitya Sahawas Colony, Bandra, Bombay, sat glued to their television sets, three boys — Sunil Harshe, Avinash Gowariker and Sachin Tendulkar — climbed a mango tree. During their pursuit, a branch gave way and all three fell with a crash.

The boys received some ‘treatment’, but the Tendulkar household went a step further. The family decided that something had to be done about young Sachin’s pent-up energy, especially during the long summer vacations. Ajit Tendulkar, his brother, recommended Ramakant Achrekar’s cricket coaching camp. The rest is history.

Lamba’s injury: The Karachi Test match of 1989/90 boasts two of the most significant incidents in the history of Indian cricket. One was Sachin Tendulkar’s debut. The other took place not too long before the toss. By the late 1980s, much of Mohammad Azharuddin’s initial shine had worn off. Having gone almost three years without scoring a Test hundred, he was on the verge of being dropped from the side. In the Karachi squad Azharuddin would be the 12th man.

Just before the toss, Raman Lamba, who had scored the most runs for India in the recently concluded Nehru Cup, reported a finger injury. Azharuddin played instead, scored 35 in each innings, but took five catches, some of them spectacular. In the next Test match, he scored a 109. He was back. Lamba would never play Test cricket again.

India drew the series 0-0. A few days after the squad returned, Raj Singh Dungarpur, then chair of selectors, approached Azharuddin during a domestic match: “Miyan, kaptaan banoge?”

Azharuddin agreed, and went on to become one of India's longest-standing, as well as controversial, captains.

And finally, the one that could have but didn’t: On 10 July 1949, Narayan Masurekar was visiting a Bombay hospital to meet his nephew, who was born earlier that day. He noticed a tiny hole near the top of the left earlobe of the baby. When he returned next day, to his horror, the hole was no longer there!

Upon a frantic search, the infant Sunil Gavaskar was found “sleeping blissfully” next to a fisherwoman. The babies had been swapped accidentally when they were being bathed. Had Masurekar not noticed, India might not have got their first legendary batter!

Excerpted with permission from The Great Indian Cricket Circus (HarperCollins India)

The Great Indian Cricket Circus
By Abhishek Mukherjee and joy Bhattacharjya
pp. 435; Rs 599

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