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From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 4

Vijay Samuel Merchant
Vijay Samuel Hazare
Vijay Samuel Hazare had a curious cricketing career. He burst on the Indian Cricket horizon in the 1933-34 season as a promising allrounder from the nondescript cusbah of Jat in the Sangli district of the Bombay presidency (now Maharashtra). Yet despite of his birth in such a remote place, he was coached by none other than Clarrie Grimmet, one of the best legspinners the world has ever seen, and a key member of Bradman’s Australian team. The Maharajah of the Jat state had arranged for Grimmet to come and teach his offspring’s cricket, and since there were players needed to make a complete eleven a young Vijay Samuel Hazare was drafted in to the coaching programme. Hazare then made the most of this godsend opportunity, and how! Hazare had the most unorthodox stance and technique, but since he seemed to be batting well inspite of it, Grimmet advised him to stick to it.

He scored tonnes and tonnes of runs in the pentangulars and the Ranji Trophy and hit the first of his many purple patches. He scored 1,423 runs. He made scores of 248, 59, 309, 101, 223 and 87, reaching 1,000 runs in only four matches. As soon as the second world war was over, he was drafted in the 1946 touring party to England. He had won his place in the squad by the sheer weight of runs scored. In tests there, he scored a few 30s and 40s, but no big scores came.

It was the 1947-48 tour of Australia when Vijay Hazare actually arrived in International cricket. He became the first Indian batsman to score two hundreds in a test match. His maiden hundred (116) came in the first innings of the Adelaide test and he quickly followed it up with 145 in the second innings. He wasn’t very easy on the eye to watch, but was extremely difficult to dislodge once he got his eye in. After the twin hundreds at Adelaide, Hazare become the man for the crisis for the Indian cricket team. He bowled handy medium pace, good enough to get twenty international wickets.

And with this reputation behind him, Vijay Samuel Hazare set out on his voyage to England, as the leader of the Indian team. Barring the last- minute conferring of captaincy to CK Naidu in 1932, Hazare was the first Indian captain to be chosen on pure merit. He had just three months ago guided India to their first test match win after 20 years of being granted test match status: against the same opponents, albeit at home. And for his performance, he did not disappoint, but the team did not keep up the expectations of the fans. India had played nine lead-up matches going into the first Test. They had lost one game, won another and drew the rest. Most of their frontline batsmen were in form, especially Polly Umrigar; and GS Ramchand and Ghulam Ahmed were outstanding with the ball. Morale was reasonably high.

But, they had to face fire right from the first session of the first test. England had included a 21-year-old Yorkshire rookie in their team and captain Hutton wasted no time in unleashing him on the Indians. Fiery Fred Truman reduced India to 52 for 3 in no time, sending back Datta Gaekwad, Bespectacled Pankaj Roy and Polly Umrigar back to pavilion in quick succession. The onus of constructing the innings fell on the lean shoulders of Vijay Hazare. He found an able allay in namesake Vijay Manjrekar, and both the Vijays added 222 runs for the fourth wicket. The rest of the batsmen did nothing better than merely recording their attendance at the crease, and India was all out for 293. England too started shakily and lost Hutton, Richardson and May by the time they had reached 62. But then Graveny, Evans, Watkins and Jenkins batted responsibly to give England a first innings lead of 40 runs.

Again Fred Truman wreaked havoc, reducing India to the infamous score of four wickets down without a single run scored.At 26, Umrigar got out. Again, Captain courageous came to rescue and with Dattu Phadkar, steered India to a somewhat respectable total of 165. Hazare made 56 and Phadkar made 64. England got the required 126 runs to win the match losing 3 wickets, and the tradition of India losing their first test of the series was kept intact.
India lost the second test at Lords too, but this time they put up a very good fight, courtesy Vinoo Mankad. A man for all situations, Mankad was made to open the innings and he responded by scoring a polished 72 at the top. Hazare made 69 and India were all out for 235. England made 537, riding on centuries from Hutton and Godfrey Evans, supported by half centuries by May, Graveny and Simpson. In a mammoth bowling effort, Mankad took 5 for 196 in 73 overs. India was 302 runs behind and staring at an innings defeat. But not for nothing is this test called “Mankad’s test”. Mankad again opened the innings and scored 184. Hazare made 49 and Gulabrai Ramchand 42 to take India to 378. England needed a small matter of 76 runs to win, which they got easily to take an unbeatable lead of 2-0 in the series.

The next test at Manchester was nothing to write home about for the Indians. England made 347 for 8 and declared their first innings closed. Hutton made 104, Evans and May made half centuries. India were bowled out for 58 and 82 in their two innings. Indians just couldn’t handle the pace of Truman and the swing of Bedser. Their both innings put together were finished under 58 overs. India was completely outplayed. Hazare scored a pair of 16s.
The last test at Oval looked destined for a similar fate as Manchester, but for the rain gods saving the visitors. England made 326 for 6 and India were all down for 98. Hazare top scored with 38.

Hazare didn’t play long after this series. He retired after a couple of years and became a very good cricket administrator. He had risen to great heights from the ground level and he had sympathy for cricketers coming from small towns. It was he who had drafted a young 21-year-old parsee from the then small town of Godhra in the Indian team, and that man grew to be the best captain of India till his time. This boy was called Nariman Contractor. Hazare then retired into seclusion in his Baroda home. His brother, son, nephews and grandson played first class cricket too.

Hazare left the crease of life scoring 89 years, and towards the end fought a valiant battle with a very hostile and wily bowler called Cancer of the intestine who eventually claimed his wicket.

Special thanks to Sanjeev Sathe, who is an avid cricket fan and a dear friend of ours for contributing this wonderful article

From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 3

Iftikhar Ali Khan (The 8th Nawab of Pataudi)
Iftikhar Ali Khan (The 8th Nawab of Pataudi)

After the 1936 tour of England, Indians hardly played any international cricket owing to the volatile situation around the world due to the second world war. With only 11 first class matches happening in the first Post War in 1945, the fans all over the world were thirsting for some quality cricket to watch.

India were invited to play a 3 test match series in England, and as usual, the selectors’ plotting and scheming started before selection of the squad and more importantly, it’s captain. The garland of captaincy landed on the shoulders of the 36 year old Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, the 8th Nawab Of Pataudi, a small riyasat in Haryana. He had earlier represented England briefly with fair success, and with his experience of playing in English conditions (He played County Cricket for Oxford University and Worcestershire, in his college days and after that)

Another England tour, another prince as a captain, and India sailed to England to play the first international cricket series after the great war. But this was a much better prince. As compared to the viciously whimsical Vizzy, Pataudi (Sr.) was as suave, cultured and talented as they come. He was a fine gentleman, a well-educated one and above all, appeared disarmingly oblivious to his prince hood. He was liked a lot by his team mates. However, at the time, Pataudi (Sr.) was past his prime as a cricketer, and none of his fine qualities could avoid India’s series defeat and his own dismal performance on the tour. He did a lot to inspire his players, though.

Mushtaq Ali, in his autobiography “Cricket Delightful” states that Pataudi was to be appointed Indian captain several months ahead of the tour of England in 1936. The idea was that he could watch the players in the winter series against the visiting Australians Servicemen and a few other players led by Jack Ryder and pick the side he wanted. All these plans were rendered null and void when Pataudi withdrew in February claiming he was not fully fit. It was ten years later that he finally led an Indian team to England, when he was, a mere shadow of his best self as a cricketer and had played little first-class cricket in the preceding years.

Born as the eldest son of the 7th Nawab of Pataudi Muhammad Ibrahim Ali Khan and Shahar Bano Begum of Bhopal, on March 16, 1910, Pataudi (Sr.) was educated in Lahore, and later, in Oxford where he earned the coveted “blue” after a two- year apprenticeship, scoring 106 and 84 in a match against Cambridge University and saving the match for his team. Post that, the Nawab never looked back. He went on to pile up heavy scores for the University, and the 1931 season, he scored 1,307 runs for Oxford and finished with a batting average of 93, heading the Oxford averages. In the University Match that year, Alan Ratcliffe scored 201 for Cambridge, a new record. Pataudi declared that he would beat it and hit 238 not out on the very next day. This stood as a record for the University Matches until 2005. Pataudi qualified to play for Worcestershire in 1932 but played only three matches and scored just 65 runs in six innings. However, his slaughter of Tich Freeman with marvelous footwork during an innings of 165 for the Gentlemen at Lord’s in July 1932 brought him to the England selectors’ notice. He was selected as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1932. These performances earned him a passage to Australia to play the 1932-22 Ashes tests. He did not take long to impress. In the first test at the Sydney Cricket ground, coming in to bat with an ideal launching pad of 300 for 2, Pataudi (Sr.) didn’t let the advantage slip out of the hands of the English side. He scored a resolute 102 in five and a half hours, doggedly defying the Australian attack of Bill O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmet, had a 123 run partnership with Herbert Sutcliffe and shepherded the tail to guide England to 524 against Australia’s first innings score of 360. He was the last batsman out in that innings and had followed Ranji’s footsteps in scoring a 100 in the debut test and doing it in the Ashes. And he had lived his only moment of glory in International Cricket.

But this fairy tale beginning ended abruptly. As mentioned in an earlier article of this series, the Bombay born England Skipper Douglas Jardine hated to lose, and would resort to any means, fair or unfair to achieve a victory. In the second innings of the Sydney test, Jardine adopted the notorious tactic of making the bowlers bowl at the bodies of the batsmen, thereby threatening them with injuries and making them fend at the ball awkwardly to the close in fielders who would gobble the catches up. A true sportsman, the Nawab disagreed with this, but kept mum in the English victory at Sydney. However, his reluctance for fielding in the close was not noticed by Jardine then. In the second test, Pataudi told Jardine that he would not play his cricket this way, and he wouldn’t be party to this blood shedding tactics of the England Captain. Jardine remarked, “Ah ! His Highness seems to be a conscious objector! You would never play for England again.”

Pataudi (Sr.) played no more tests in that series. However, it was Jardine who had to swallow his words an year later, when he was sacked from England Captaincy following the bodyline series, and His Highness earned a recall in the 1934 Old Trafford rest against Australia. However, Pataudi failed to perform in that test and never played for England again. His 3 test career with England was over.

The Nawab played little cricket thereafter, owing to a busy Royal Schedule and poor health.

Still, he was named captain for the 1946 series. Mushtaq Ali, in his autobiography says, “The late Nawab of Pataudi, a great cricketer in his own right, had done nothing to earn the captaincy for the 1946 tour in preference to Vijay Merchant.” The tour was a disaster, as the players couldn’t unite and the captain was much lost in himself and indifferent.

The team was fatigued after a busy home season and then playing unofficial test matches with the Allied forces teams, and the fatigue showed in all the test matches. There were 3 test matches and 33 first class fixtures played on the tour, and India fared well in the first class fixtures, winning 13, only 3 and drawing the rest. However the tests were a different cup of tea altogether.

In the first test at Lords, India won the toss, batted first and was skittled out for 200 with Alec Bedser taking 7 wickets on debut. Russi Modi made 57. India never really recovered as Joe Hardstaff’s 205 propelled England to 428. In their second salvo, India fared slightly better by making 275 largely due to fifties from Vinoo Mankad and Lala Amarnath. England made the required 48 runs to win in the second innings without losing a single wicket. The captain made 9 & 22 in the match.

At Manchester, in the second test, England made 294 in the first innings thanks to fifties from Hutton, Washbrook, Compton and Hammond. Amarnath took 5 for 96. India, despite Merchant (78) and Mushtaq Ali (46) adding 124 for the first wicket, folded up for 170. Bedser and Pollard broke the spine of Indian batting. In the second innings, England declared their innings closed at 153 for 5, Compton making 71 not out. India were to chase 278 for a win on an extremely wet wicket and they made no pretense of trying to win. All the batsmen tried to play out time, yet India lost 9 wickets. Bedser took his second seven-for of the series, yet Sohoni and Hindlekar hung on grimly till close of final day’s play and saved the match for India.

In the last test, Indian batting fared much better. Play didn’t begin until the tea time of the first day, but Merchant and Mushtaq Ali added 79 runs and kept their wickets intact in the two hours play that was possible. The partnership couldn’t blossom further with Mushtaq (52) getting out with the score on 94. However, the rest of the team played around Merchant who scored a chance-less 128 and India crossed 300 for the first time in the series. They made 331, and England had made 95 for the loss of 3 wickets when the rains drew a curtain on the match.This was Pataudi (Sr.)’s last cricket match.

The numbers don’t reflect the quality of cricket the Indian team played though. Syed Mushtaq Ali, who opened the batting for India in the series says, “Though India didn’t win a single test, but considering that the first test was won for England by practically one man, the second ending in a thrilling draw despite holdups and the third test being abandoned, ours was not too mean a performance.” He was right. India had tested the mettle of debutants Vinoo Mankad, Abdul Hafeez (who went on to captain Pakisan), Vijay Hazare, Rusi Modi and Sadu Shinde (He died young, but his Son in Law went on to head BCCI and the ICC), and they came through good for India in the future years. Stalwarts Merchant and Amarnath performed well too. And the captain, well past his prime kept encouraging his players and egging them on to improve.The state of Pataudi became part of the newly independent India in 1948.After Indian independence, he was employed in the Indian Foreign Office till the time of his death.
The 8th Nawab Iftikhar Ali Khan of Pataudi died on his son’s 10th birthday (January 5, 1952) aged 41. His son went on to represent India with great success and became arguably the best Indian captain of all times.

Special thanks to Sanjeev Sathe, who is an avid cricket fan and a dear friend of ours for contributing this wonderful article.