Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 15, November 16-30, 2019

Madras Men in India’s first English cricket tour – 1

by Karthik A. Bhatt

In the annals of Indian cricket, 1911 will always be a landmark year. In May that year, a squad of sixteen cricketers drawn from across the country embarked on a tour of England, making it the first All India Cricket Tour to that country. It was not the first visit by a team from India however, for a Parsee team from Bombay had already made the tour two decades earlier. An attempt to replicate the Parsee visit on a larger scale by a team comprising representatives from the Hindu and Muslim communities apart from Parsees was made in 1903-04, only to be scuppered at the last moment ostensibly due to lack of funds, though there were insinuations that the real reason was the lack of cordial relations between the members of the communities. By 1909, the idea regained traction and efforts were renewed to facilitate the visit of a team that would be representative of the country.

An ‘Indian Cricket Team for England Committee’ comprising representatives from the three principle cricketing communities was constituted to oversee the preparations for the tour. Over forty leading cricketers from across the country were contacted and their availability ascertained. The final squad of sixteen was chosen by John Alexander Cuffe, an experienced Australian cricketer who represented Worcestershire in the English County Circuit, he having been hired to identify the best players and coach them. The team was captained by the nineteen-year-old Maharajah Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, a rather surprise choice and included several players who are spoken about and commemorated even today, such as Dr. H.D. Kanga, the Palwankar brothers (Baloo and Shivram), H.H. Shivajirao Gaekwad of Baroda and Keki Mistry. This two-part series is an attempt to profile the two cricketers from the Madras Presidency who were automatic picks in the team despite their age at that time, Bangalore Jayaram and Kilvidi Seshachari.

What little we know of Seshachari today is thanks to a profile that appeared in the June 1906 issue of the magazine Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game. Born on January 2, 1875 Seshachari took to the game in his teens and made a name for himself as a wicket keeper in the minor club matches and soon found himself elected as a member of the ‘Premier Hindu Club of Southern India’. This presumably must have been the Madras United Club, founded by Buchi Babu Nayudu in 1888 as an attempt to provide Indians with an opportunity to develop their cricketing talent and to compete with the English on an equal footing in the game.

Sesahachari’s move to Ootacamund, ‘the delightful sanitorium of Southern India’ in 1900 to work in the plantations provided him with the opportunity of moving with and learning from several European cricketers, most notably the missionary C.T. Studd. His simple but effective practice of having balls thrown at him indiscriminately helped him gain the reflexes and skills so necessary for a keeper and before long, his cricketing graph soon soared and he was in demand to play for several teams. He had an active fan following and after a game where he helped the United Hindus acquire a creditable draw against the Oxford Authentics in 1902, was presented with a gold watch and chain by an admirer. His performances often attracted effusive praise in the media. ‘Seshachari is a stumper of the highest order, and has no equal in India’, reported the Indian Sporting Times in 1903, describing his performance for the United Hindus against the Parsi Gymkhana. His disposal of Captain Greig of the Bombay Presidency in a game against the Hindus, had the Times of India exulting that it was ‘superb piece of stumping, worth going miles to see’. With such encomiums being showered on him, it was little surprise that he was an automatic pick for the aborted tour in 1904.

Seshachari’s occupation as a planter seems to have gained precedence over cricket during this period, as the profile notes in 1906 that he ‘nowadays has no opportunities for practice’. He however continued turning up for various teams such as the Bombay Hindus, the Civilians (in Ootacamund) and most notably, the Maharaja of Natore with the same efficiency as before. The Bombay Gazette noted in 1909 that he was still the best wicket-keeper in India and it was thus no surprise that he was selected in the 1911 touring party.

Kilvidi Seshachari

According to reports of the England tour, the duo of Seshachari (as keeper) and Palwankar Baloo (the lead spinner) created a formidable combination, though the tour was anything but a success. The All India team managed just two wins out of twenty-three games.

Seshachari played his last game for the Hindus in the Bombay Quadrangular tournament the following year. He thereafter turned out occasionally for the Maharaja of Natore’s team and passed away due to pneumonia in January 1917 at Calcutta.

It is indeed unfortunate that today nothing much is known about the life of this cricketer, who was widely considered the best wicket keeper in his time.

(To be concluded next fortnight)

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