Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. 17, January 1-15, 2021
One of the casualties of the packed international cricket calendar is tradition. In the past come what may Test matches in England started only on Thursdays and Tests in Australia would only commence from Friday. In India Calcutta (now Kolkata) would host the Test spread over the New Year period while Madras (now Chennai) would host the Test over the Pongal holidays.
With so many countries now playing international cricket and so many formats of the game around it is next to impossible to follow the old traditions. The Pongal Test match at Chepauk or for nearly ten years (from 1956 to 1965) at the Nehru stadium in Park Town is a thing of the past. If it is any comfort for those who believe that tradition should be strictly followed, Tests in England now start on any day of the week and the same goes for matches staged in Australia. About the only tradition still followed is the Melbourne Test starting on Boxing Day (Dec 26).
The Pongal Test in the city was more than just a match between two international sides. In keeping with the harvest season it had a festive atmosphere around it. The weather in January is generally pleasant and there was almost always a capacity crowd that enjoyed the fare. The Madras crowd is generally acknowledged to be the most knowledgeable and sporting in the country and its impeccable behavior and the faultless conduct of the matches by the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association somehow seem to have inspired the players to bring off their best. Indeed the venue has been the scene of several record breaking feats and memorable matches, the most unforgettable obviously being Tied Test II played in September 1986.
The Pongal Test tradition actually has its genesis with the Madras Presidency match between the Indians and the Europeans that started in 1916. The first game was actually to have been played in 1908 but was abandoned owing to rain. Apart from a break in 1934 the popular annual fixture was played every year till 1952. Out of 30 matches played, the Indians won 14, the Europeans eight and the remaining ended in a draw. It was played in the third week of January every year and was known as the Pongal match. Many great players including C.K. Nayudu, C. Ramaswami, M.J. Gopalan, A.G. Ram Singh, C.P. Johnstone, H.P. Ward and Ron Nailer regularly took part in the matches.
When Madras started hosting Tests the Pongal period was the obvious choice and from 1934 to 1988 with a few exceptions the match was held in January give of take a few days. Weather wise too it is the best time to host a Test in the southern metropolis and at times when the matches have been held in November – December the monsoon has played havoc with the proceedings. One remembers how Cyclone Baaz ruined the India – Sri Lanka Test in 2005 when play did not start till midway through the fourth day while ten years before the India – New Zealand game held around the same time ended up being one of the shortest Test matches ever played – its duration being restricted to a total of 71 overs over the five days. Indeed the very first Test in India to be seriously disrupted by the weather was the game against Pakistan in November 1952 when two full days of the scheduled four-day Test were rained off. By contrast Tests played in January have never been affected by wet weather.
But all that appears to be a thing of the past. The last Pongal Test match in the city was held in 1988 when debutant leg spinner Narendra Hiwarni finished with a world record haul of 16 for 136 in bowling India to a 255-run victory over West Indies led by Vivian Richards. But vivid memories of the traditional Pongal Test match will always remain etched in the minds of cricket fans in the city.