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Vol. XXX No. No. 15, December 1-15, 2020

86 years ago at Chepauk…

by Partab Ramchand

It was a match watched among others by three young cricket fans who went on to become well known writers on the game. This was November 4, 1934 and nearly four decades later as a rookie sports journalist I sat with rapt attention listening to them as they at separate times related the events of that remarkable game. The match in question was the first-ever Ranji Trophy game between Madras and Mysore at Chepauk and the three spectators were P.N. Sundaresan, N.S. Ramaswami and K.N. Prabhu.

Besides being historic it is also remarkable in that it was over in a day. That was the start of the Ranji Trophy which over the years became the premier national competition. It is important to remember that at the time the Quadrangular tournament in which the participants were the Europeans, the Hindus, the Muslims and the Parsees was the premier domestic competition in what was then undivided India.

Despite its immense popularity it was felt that a tournament involving the various provinces in the land was also needed and thus was born the Ranji Trophy. Within a decade the Ranji Trophy became the prestigious domestic tournament with the abolition of the Pentangular (which the Quadrangular had become in 1937 with the participation of another team – The Rest) in 1945 with Mahatma Gandhi agitating against it because of its communal character.

Anthony de Mello then the secretary of the BCCI and one of its founding members recalls in his memoirs: “It was with trepidation that I submitted my proposal of the Ranji trophy for the national championship of India to the august gathering and also laid before the meeting in Simla an artists’ drawing of the proposed trophy a Grecian urn two feet high with a lid the handle of which represented Father Time. Even I was not prepared for what followed.

The Maharajah of Patiala jumped up when I was scarcely halfway through my brief proposal. The pine scented air appeared immediately electrified. In deep tones charged with emotion His Highness claimed the honour and privilege of perpetuating the name of the great Ranji who had passed away only the year before. He offered to present a gold cup of the magnificent design submitted by me and valued at 500 pounds. To be called the Ranji Trophy it was to be competed for annually by the provincial cricket associations of India.”

It is not for nothing that Madras has earned this aura of being a hallowed venue. In 1961 the first Duleep Trophy match was held at the Nehru stadium and 12 years later the first Deodhar Trophy limited overs game was played at Chepauk. But it is the staging of the inaugural Ranji Trophy game 86 years ago that has given the city its special status as far as Indian cricket is concerned. Tied Test II and it being the scene of several international records being set here all came later. It was the significant event of November 4, 1934 that set the ball rolling.

The match scheduled for three days was over in one involving just about 51/2 hours of play. To M.J. Gopalan went the honour of bowling the first ball. The pitch had been affected by heavy overnight rain and conditions were far from ideal for playing. But as Ramaswami told me “the cricketers were very keen on playing despite the wet field aware that it was a historic occasion.” And as Sundaresan recalled: “It was with little hope of there being play that many of us reached Chepauk in the morning but we were swept away by the swift sequence of events.”

Swift is the right way to explain the dramatic events as they unfolded for on the rain-affected surface left arm spinner A.G. Ram Singh took six for 19 as Mysore were shot out for 48. With off spinner M.G. Vijayasarathi later well known as a Test umpire reveling in the conditions in bagging six for 23 Madras fared only a little better but they managed to get 130. But this was good enough to win by an innings and 23 runs with Mysore being bundled out twice in a day the second time around for 59. Ram Singh continued to be unplayable bagging five for 16 this time supported by Gopalan who had three for 20 and C.P. Johnstone (two for 10). Incidentally both teams were captained by Englishmen for while Johnstone led Madras, M.S. Teversham was the Mysore captain though the majority of players were Indians.

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