India's First Cricket Tour To England - The Story
Near about 100 years ago, the then Indian cricket team went for its tour to England for the very first time. The day was 6th May 1911. The Ballard Pier of Mumbai was thronged by huge crowd of people. Some of the Indians were setting out for a historical journey and the huge crowd was enthusiastically giving their best wishes to those Indians. These Indians were none other than the Indian cricket team on its tour to England. The team captain was 19 years old Maharaj Bhupinder Singh of Patiala. This team of Bhupinder Singh included players of various regions. Among them the selection of two team members namely Baloo Palwankar and Shivram Palwankar was quite shocking. The reason was that they belonged to the untouchable’s community; a disgusting custom prevailed during that time. When this team came back to India on completion of England tour, then that tour was recorded in the history as the most exceptional cricket tour of India.
Actually, it was not really the first time when Indians tried to prove their cricket potential on the land of the England. Before 1911, the Parsis of Mumbai have tried to make an attempt in this context in 1877. A Parsi man called Adashir Patel along with other Parsi people tried to make a team for England tour. But the differences of opinion among the Parsi people proved this attempt a failure. This issue became so controversial that a case was filed against Adashir Patel by Kabraji, the secretary of Parsi Cricket club and the editor of a local Gujrathi newspaper, Rast Goftar. Again in 1886, the Parsi people tried to send their team to England. This time they were successful but the financial situation and the result of the match made this tour ignominious. Again in 1888, one more Parsi team went to England with a better result this time.
However the above attempts of England tour were made by a typical community. But prior to 1911, one attempt was made to send a team to England as India’s representative. In 1903, one team of Oxford University came to India and it participated in various cricket matches. At that time, the Parsi team has defeated this team which created a curiosity among the Indians about sending their team to England. In this context, a meeting of Parsi, Hindu and Muslim officers was organized. But the discussion failed due to the over budget of the tour which prevented India’s tour to England.
In 1909, again the topic of India’s tour to England came to light. Interestingly, this time the topic was focused by a Parsi person who failed to organize such tour twice before this. This man was Fremji Patel. He made contact with many rich persons for financing the tour. The rich men gave him a good response which encouraged Patel and he made more strong attempts to organize the tour. The first meeting in this context was held in the office of Ratanji Tata. In this meeting Patel stated that this tour will prove very useful in improving the relations between India and England. The Britisher’s, who were finding ways to discourage the Indians from agitating for independence, immediately agreed with Patel’s statement. For the organization of this tour a committee was formed. This committee enthusiastically collected an amount of Rs.53000 from Kings, emperors and many rich people. In spite of this, the final decision regarding this tour was to be made by world’s largest cricket organization, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). In the month of November in 1909, MCC granted its permission for the tour by writing a letter to the organization committee and along with it agreed for a help of 200 pounds for the match which was to be held on Lords Ground.
Besides financial problem, one more difficulty in organization of the tour was the selection of the team. There was a strong possibility of disputes to happen on selection. Due to this, a selection committee of seven members was formed. According to the tradition of that period, the committee secretary was a British person and the remaining six members were a combination of Hindu, Parsi and Muslim. This committee wrote letters to near about 30 players asking about their interest to participate in the tour. Among these 30 players one was the great player of that time, Ranjitsing aka Ranji. The interesting thing about Ranji was that he never used to treat himself as an Indian. He had a strong belief that he was a British. The coach of the selected team was an Australian player. This proves that selection of foreign coach for Indian team was not a new idea prevailed nowadays. This Australian coach, in order to check the potential of the players, took matches by dividing the team in various groups.
On 1st March 1911, the last meeting of the selection was held and it was decided that Bhupinder Singh will be the captain of the team. The Britisher’s also agreed with the decision because the kingdom of Patiala has helped the Britishers in many sense. But at the same time, the Patiala dynasty has also became troublesome for the Britishers. The reason behind this was Bhupinder Singh's father Maharaj Rajinder Singh was addicted to alcohol and British women. The excessiveness of this addiction led to the death of Rajinder Singh in 1900 and Bhupinder Singh became the new emperor of Patiala at the age of 9. In 1909, the Britishers gave Bhupinder Sing all the rights of Kingship. But the new emperor was one step ahead of his father. His activities, addiction and lust for women were more shameful than his father. He was supposed to be thrown out of his Kingship but he was saved somehow. Rajinder Singh and Bhupinder Singh were very fond of Cricket and other sports. To treasure their love for the sports, they have given much respected position to the players like Ranji in their kingdom.
Maharaj Bhupinder Singh
On selection of the captain, the Indian team was complete. Besides the King Bhupinder Singh and the Palwankar brothers of the untouchable community, all other players of the team were from common middle class families. Out of the seven Parsi players of the team the best was Keki Mistri. He was given a dignified position in the court by Rajinder Singh on being impressed by his performance. After the death of Rajinder Singh, Mistri took care of Bhupinder Singh and thus gained his trust. Bhupinder Singh made him his secretary and he was also selected in the Indian team for England tour. Among the Hindu players selected in the team, one was Bangalore Jayram of age 39. He was very famous batsman of his time but was not so active during this tour. Another Hindu player was 34 years old Kilwidi Sadachari. He was the best wicket keeper of that time. The third Hindu player was Mukundrao Pai, who used to do a job in Mumbai. The three Muslim players of the team were students of a college in Aligad.
After the tedious journey of two weeks by waterways, the Indian team reached England. The team was to move to London by railway from Merlace port . On reaching London, King Bhupinder Sing went to stay in a posh bungalow while the remaining team was lodged in Imperial hotel of London. Immediately the players started their practice but the captain of the team was not present for the practice session. He was busy in meetings with the British officers. The Britishers were also very clever. As soon as Bhupinder Singh reached England he was warned by the Britishers and a friend cum spy person was allotted to keep a watch on Bhupinder Singh.
On the cricket ground Indian team was facing a very bad defeat. The team was defeated in continuous 11 matches. The strong team of England, atmosphere of England and the best player Mistri who was more interested in his secretary position then his activities on cricket ground, led to the shameful defeat. The British journalist also started writing comments on the team. Some of them were:
1) Let the team enjoy the coronation of the fifth George instead of playing Cricket.
2) The team is not at all capable of playing against the main county team.
3) The team has many internal differences on religion.
4) The Parsi and the Hindu players’ do partiality while playing in the practice session.
The team was continuously criticized for their shameful performance and suddenly in the middle of July, the Indian team surprised everyone by defeating two strong teams of Leicestershire and Somerset. After this there was tremendous improvement in the performance of the team. The credit of this improvement goes to the Palwankar brothers, who did an outstanding job. Along with them Salamuddin, Kanga, Meherhomji and Bajana also gave a valuable contribution. After this the Indian team went to Scotland to play three tournaments. The team was treated very hospitably in Scotland. Then the team went to Ireland and won the match with one complete innings. In this match Meherhomji made 1000 runs of the tour and Baloo Palwankar took 100th wicket of the tour. Actually Baloo was suffering from shoulder pain but still his sportsmanship and determination enabled him to do such a hilarious job.By the end of August, the team completed its tournaments in Scotland and Ireland and returned to England. There the team played the last two matches of the tour. The team won six matches out of total 23 matches in the tour and lost 15 matches and two matches were undeclared. Out of the 23 matches, 14 matches were of first class quality and India has won two of them and lost 10 matches.
On returning back to India, the team was given a very warm welcome. The Journalists has stated very satisfactory comments about the tour. They were aware of the difficulties that the team has faced while completing the tour. Even a small share of victory was a very satisfactory thing for the Indians in such a laborious situation. Along with this one more thing was very assuring that the people of various regions have stayed together without any conflicts for so many days. The Palwankar brothers, who belonged to the boycotted community, had the highest share in the victory of the team. Later, Baloo Palwankar was honored in Mumbai and the speech was given by the young and dynamic person, Babasaheb Ambedkar. This has encouraged the people of Untouchable community and the society has also changed its perspective towards them.
Today, after100 years, there have been a lot of changes on social and political status. But in the field of cricket, India has occupied the space of England. The cricket economics and all the important decisions in cricket are taken by England. India has occupied a higher position than England than cricket. But after all this has all began from 1909 and hence the history of this tour is a must to be known and remembered.
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