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Vol. XXX No. 1, April16-30, 2020

Madras Cricket, in the 1890s

by an Anglo Indian

Editor’s note: We reproduce this article that appeared in the magazine Cricket, a Weekly Record of the Game, in its issue of Jan 30, 1896. We thank Vikram Raghavan, a friend and admirer of Mr. S. Muthiah’s for sending us this link.

Page 7Cricket at Chepauk, dating to the 1890s.

I have often heard the question asked, in fact, I have myself often put it – “Why does Cricket have so little about Indian cricket in general, and almost nothing of Madras Cricket in particular?” – The real reason, I suppose, is that no one out here has quite sufficient energy to write and tell you anything about what happens; so being a firm believer of “the better the day the better the deed” theory, I will this Christmas Day indite you a few lines, which if they do nothing else may act as an example to others better qualified than myself to give the information.

Cricket in Madras, it is unnecessary to inform Cricket readers, or, at any rate, those of them who remember the results of the matches played by Lord Hawke’s Team in this Presidency three years ago, is of by no means indifferent quality in the better class matches. Madras, indeed, at the present time could probably place as strong an all-round team in the field as either Bombay, Bengal, the North-West, or Central Provinces, to say nothing of Burma, between whom (not forgetting Ceylon and Singapore) we may in a few years time see a similar competition to that now waged by the Australasian colonies for Lord Sheffield’s trophy.

The last occasion when a representative Madras Presidency team took the field was just a year ago, when a strong team went up to Bombay to tackle the Bombay Presidency and the Parsis, through in neither case did the cricketers from the South prove successful. Excuses, though, were justifiably made for their then comparatively indifferent show. As besides the fatigues of the journey proving too much for one or two members of the team, who owing to circumstances could not get a proper amount of rest before going into the field to play, the best bowler on the side cut his hand so badly as to be practically unable to bowl, while two of the other invalids were his chief understudies in the bowling department. This year, however, it was confidently anticipated that, whether Lord Hawke’s team come to Madras or not, the Christmas holidays would at least produce a couple of interesting matches with Bombay and the Parsis, and preparations for both these were practically complete, and the team to represent Madras actually discussed in the principal cricket organ of the Presidency, when, like a bolt from the blue, it was announced that the Bombay authorities could not see their way to send a team as one of their best men could not play. That, at least, is the generally accepted reason given for this disgraceful breach of cricket faith, and it would be hard to find a feebler one. Scarcely had the indignation at this news subsided, when it was whispered that the Parsis were taking advantage of the belief that their presence at Madras this Christmas was indispensable, and asking for the whole, or a portion of their expenses – an almost inconceivable piece of meanness for the representatives of the richest of all Indian communities to be guilty of. This led to the second match being off, as the Madras people very rightly declined to be the first to introduce an entirely new feature into Indian cricket, and efforts were then made to get a team over from Ceylon, but without avail, so that a very interesting point as to how the places in the Madras Presidency team would be filled remains in abeyance.

There has, however, been some talk of a fully representative Presidency eleven taking the field against a Madras native team, but whether this is arranged this season or not, it will not be long delayed, as signs are not wanting that the native college could even now put such a team into the field as would take a really good Presidency eleven all its time to dispose of, there being at Bangalore just now a particularly fine batsman of the name of Jayaram, who, so good judges tell me, might speedily develop into a Ranjitsinhji, given the opportunities, while some of the bowlers at the Madras Presidency College would take their part in the best of Cricket. As yet, though, unfortunately there exists nothing in the way of combination between native schools and cricket clubs, but this once given they will prove a hard nut for the best to crack, and with a Governor of Madras, such as Lord Harris of Bombay, the cricket prospects of the so-called “benighted” Presidency would be unexceptionable. Lord Wenlock, the present man, who retires so shortly in favour of Sir Arthur Havelock, has never taken the keen practical interest in cricket that might have been expected from an old Quidnunc and I.Z. player, but then early in his career as Governor of Madras, Mr. Labouchere, in Truth, suggested that the famine-struck millions of Madras were left to die without the gubernatorial care while H.E. was disporting himself with his staff at cricket! A grose perversion of the facts even for Truth, but sufficient to put rather a damper on Lord Wenlock’s cricket, and, in fact, except for an occasional game at Ootacamund, when Government has been away at the Hills, he has never played, making his first appearance in a match at Madras itself last week. However, I must not run on like this, but may mention just a few names of the best men now available in Madras to show that I have not been speaking without the book in what I said about a good team being procurable.

The most recent player at home of those now out here is H.C. King, who was in the Marlborough Eleven the same year as A.G. Steel. That he is still fairly useful may be gathered from the fact that, when last in England he was considered good enough to play for M.C.C. and Ground v. Yorkshire at Scarborough, though sad to say he did not there shine, at any rate with the bat. Another comparative oldster is R.J.H. Arbuthnot, who has played for Kent on occasion when in England: while still another of the “Old Brigade” who can be counted on to field and catch with the best of ‘em, besides being as good a bat as ever, is H.G. Wedderburn, who was nearly, if not quite, an Oxford Blue some quarter of a century ago. All these are household words in Madras cricket, though possibly they would all have to give way to younger men of whom H. Reynolds as an all-rounder, is perhaps entitled to first place. He will be well remembered about London as a cricketer, as for Kensington Park a few years ago, he both made runs and took wickets, a trick he still possesses. Bob Thomas, I know, wanted him for Middlesex one season, but he could not get away. Then another good all-rounder is H.R. Ellison, a nephew, I believe, of that good old cricketer, the Yorkshire President. He never did much while at Cambridge, but now would undoubtedly be chosen before a good many of the men who wore a cricket blue at the time he was in residence. If I go on like this, though, I shall be trespassing on the functions of the Selection Committee, should that body be called into existence in the near future, besides which it would be invidious to make anything approaching a list of representative Madras cricketers without more time than I can give to the subject even on Christmas day. So I will content myself to referring the more curious to the reports of the matches being played this week at Madras, which – despite the behavior of the Bombay and Parsi cricketers (“chuckers” they have only too justly been termed) – has from a cricket point of view been a very busy time. Mention of Madras cricket would be quite incomplete at this time without any reference to the departure in a few days from Madas and India of Colonel Pennycuick, R.E., who has played the game out here for over 30 years with a vigour that is still unabated, as proved by the fact that in every one of those thirty seasons he has, I believe, always got his 100 wickets, besides taking part in every match (when he has been out in India) that has taken place between Madras and Bangalore.

In conclusion, let me wish all your readers a happy cricket season for 1896, with lots of runs and wickets like that we now have here on the Madras Ground, hard as nails, true as a billiard table and quick as lightning.

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