It happened in 1946
The year was 1946 when the last cricket team from undivided India landed in England. It included the 21 year old dashing all rounder from Lahore, Abdul Hafeez (he added Kardar to his name some years later) who was to become one of the three players to have the distinction of playing both for India and Pakistan, the other two being Gul Muhammad, who was on the 1946 England tour, and the great leg break and googly wizard Amir Elahi, who was well past his prime by then, which was why he played for Pakistan on no more than a couple of occasions.
Michael Melford, writing in 1982 about the historic 1946 tour of England recalled, “In the wet English summer of 1946, India, despite the runs which Merchant, Hazare, Pataudi, Modi, Mankad, Amarnath and Mushtaq Ali made on good pitches – Merchant scored 2,385 runs in first class matches – had some bad days. Of the three Tests, they lost the first by 10 wickets, earned a draw in the second with their last pair at the wicket, and had the third ruined by rain. One of the pleasant memories which that side, led by the Nawab of Patudi senior, will have taken home is of the last-wicket stand of 249 between Sarwate and Banerjee against Surrey at The Oval, the only occasion on which both numbers ten and eleven made hundreds.”
Sarwate made his first appearance for Hindus in the Bombay Pentangular in 1936 and was one of the best leg break bowlers of his time, while Banerjee was a fast bowler who toured England in 1936 as understudy to the legendary S.M. Nisar, who was as fast if not faster than Harold Larwood, but never acknowledged as such, by the British cricket writers of the day.
I have with me – courtesy my cricket-mad friend Donny Joshua in Toronto – a copy of the official brochure of that last tour, which, an inscription shows, originally belonged to one D. Cox of 55 Westminster Road, Handsworth, Birmingham. The foreword by the High Commissioner of India, Sir Samuel Runganadhan says, “1946 will be the first post-war cricket season, and I am confident that the Indian team will make it most attractive and interesting. Several of its members are old friends of English cricket lovers and in particular its Captain, the Nawab of Patudi, has in the past delighted English crowds with his classic batting.” The manager of the team was P. Gupta, MBE, and to my delight, a journalist, which shows that journalists were not always held in low esteem.
The team was made up of Vijay Merchant (Vice Captain), S.W. Sohni, Abdul Hafeez, R.B. Nimbalker, C.S. Nayudu, Vinoo Mankad, Lala Amarnath, Rusi Modi, D.D. Hindlekar, S.G. Shinde, Vijay Hazare, Mushtaq Ali, C.T. Sarwate, S.N. Banerjee and Gul Mohamed. Patudi had played for England against Australia in three Tests, scoring a century in his first one.
The brochure introduced Abdul Hafeez – who will always remain Skipper Kardar to so many of us – in these words, “Age 21. Graduated from the Punjab University in 1945. This youngster started on his cricket career at the early age of 14 at Lahore, and he has blossomed into an extremely good all-round player and is already referred to as the coming “(C.K.) Nayudu of India.” His quick sight of the ball, combined with almost perfect footwork, ranks him in the first class of batsmen, possessing the right temperament under all circumstances. He played in all three Test matches against the Australian Services XI (which included Keith Miller and Lindsay Hasset), scoring two centuries (one was a double hundred). He is a very skilful bowler, his fielding and return a pleasure to watch, and like most young players, is keen and enthusiastic in all his work.”
Of the 22-year old Gul Mohamed, the brochure said, “He is a first class batsman, both steady and brilliant; faultless footwork and correct stroke play are his chief assets; he has played for the Muslims in the Bombay Pentangular and Ranji Trophy. He is full of confidence and courage and with a sound defence whenever occasion demands. There is no finer fielder in the country, with speed, smartness and an accurate return that is unsurpassed anywhere. This quiet, unassuming, rather retiring disposition is typical of his race (remember it is 1946 not 2006) but his keenness and enthusiasm in his work are a tonic for the most severe critic and is certain to please.”
And this is what was said of the debonaire Mushtaq Ali, then 34, “One of the most popular Indian batsmen of today, he received his tuition under that great Indian batsman and sportsman, Major C.K. Nayudu, who fashioned him into one of the most faultless cricketers in India. He faultless 112 runs in the Manchester Test of 1936, sharing a glorious partnership with Merchant of 203 for the first wicket, is still well remembered and discussed. His perfect harmony of wrist, foot and timing is a joy to watch; he fully exploits his height and reach, and when anything loose comes along, promptly hits hard. On the leg side, his glances and glides are perfect. He bats right hand and bowls very effective spinners with the left.”
And this was how 34-year old Lala Amarnath, a true son of Lahore, was introduced, “A member of the 1936 team to tour England, he is one of the finest all rounders in cricket. He leaped into fame against Jardine’s team in 1934, when he had the distinction of being the first Indian to score a century in an official Test match against England. Since then he has 72 centuries to his credit, two recently against the Australian Services XI. He is a first class spin bowler, maintaining a perfect length for long spells; a good keeper and keen field. The whole of his work is characterised by coolness and method which stamp him among the world’s best all-rounders.”
The England team that the Indians faced was led by Walter Hammond and included Len Hutton,, Cyril Washbrook , Dennis Compton, J.D. Robertson, S.C. Griffith, Laurie Fishlock. H. Halliday, Trevor Baily, R.H. Valentine, Robert Pollard, Freddie Brown and D.V.P. Wright.
I want to close this with a tribute to Mushtaq Ali, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ideal cricketer, who died recently, and about whom the Australian cricket journalist Ray Robinson wrote in 1955, “The only thing that is still about him is the momentary pause to take guard from the umpire. Why he goes through this formality is one of the mysteries of the Orient because after making his mark, he takes no notice of it.” He added that that Dennis Compton, compared to Mushtaq Ali “in full flow” made Compton look “comparatively a stay-at-home.” Mushtaq Ali epitomised Iqbal’s couplet: “And behold yonder the mountain stream leaping/rushing forth in spite of many a curb and twist.” ( Aati hai naddi faraz-e-koh se gati huwi: Sang-e-rah se gah bachti, gah takrati huwi ) Robinson also called Mushtaq Ali “the least law-abiding” batsman, “always delighted to break the rules of batting.” Mushtaq Ali could also be moody. After hitting a six over the minaret of the mosque overlooking the ground, wrote Robinson, he would pat back a few half-vollies. A half-volley is a batsman’s delight since one step out and he can hit it out of the ground. But that was Mushtaq Ali, who loved the game for its own sake and who played for the crowds – a far cry from many of the cricketers of today whose principal interest is money.