Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXIII No. 12, October 1-15, 2023
With the opening ODI between India and Australia in the forthcoming series scheduled at Chepauk, for October 8 this year, we thought it is a good time to feature this story on the first official test that was played here, 89 years ago.
The first official team to tour India, from the Marylebone Cricket Club, was Douglas Jardine’s in 1934. It was his last series as Captain and indeed, after the notorious Ashes tour of 1932/1933 where he had unleashed bodyline tactics against the Australians, using Harold Larwood as his hitman, everyonewas keen to see him go. Jardine’s team toured India and he succeeded in getting on everyone’s nerves, including those of the Viceroy Lord Willingdon. In the end he did not return to England with his team, staying on in India for some time, this being the country of his birth and also because he was attracted to Hinduism. At Chepauk, Jardine’s team played three matches – the Europeans, the Governor’s XI and the Presidency team – the last being the first Test to be played at Chepauk. The visitors won all three.
The mathematician Alladi Ramakrishnan, then 11, watched the Test and forty years later, claimed to remember “every ball and every stroke, the style and personality of various players of that famous test match at the MCC grounds in Madras in January 1934. I can still see before me (Nobby) Clarke the fast left arm bowler from Nottingham skittle the wicket as our local hero, (AG) Ramsingh nervously stepped back a few paces to avoid the whistling missile, the masculine Amarsingh, India’s effective medium pace bowler delighting the crowds with sparkling sixes, the elegant late cuts of (Fred) Bakewell who partnered the immaculate (Cyril) Walters as the opening batsman, the wily wizard and medium spinner (Hedley) Verity wiping out the Indian batsmen off the field and above all the imperturbable Jardine! And all this on one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the world at Chepauk fringed by lush tropical trees, the spacious elegance of the MCC pavilion symbolising the leisured comfort of the English middle class for whom afternoon tea was the hallmark of a preserved way of life. The lowest ticket cost four annas which allowed one to watch either sitting or standing a few yards from the boundary line. The chairs near the pavilion cost Rs. 5 or Rs. 2 and Rs. 20 for the season and one could order lunch for Rs 3. served by bearers in colonial style.”
Two names deserve highlighting from the passage above. Amar Singh or Lala Amar Singh or Nakum Amar Singh Ladha, had he not died at the age of 29 or pneumonia, would have been a legend. In the 1934 Test in Madras he took seven wickets giving only 12 to 28 runs apiece. He was the first Indian to be retained as a professional in England. A.G. Ram Singh is of course the local legend, still fondly remembered and the founder of the “first family of cricket” in Tamil Nadu. Though he did not play Test cricket, he dominated the Presidency matches and also had a very impressive Ranji record. “Playing 27 Ranji Trophy matches without a break, spread over fourteen seasons, he was the second cricketer, after the legendary Amar Singh to complete the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in the championship,” writes Ramachandra Guha.
Reverting to Alladi Ramakrishnan’s memoirs, we find that the account concludes with the following statement – “Only a privileged few could sit inside the pavilion at a time when it was accepted as quite logical that English clubs would not admit native Indians as regular members.” But then, even as the Test was being played, some of the MCC members appear to have had second thought about this apartheid.