HomeTest CricketBeyond the Maidans: CK Nayudu's Epic 153 and India's Test Saga

Beyond the Maidans: CK Nayudu’s Epic 153 and India’s Test Saga

The Bombay Gymkhana was buzzing. Thousands of workers and cricket enthusiasts had thronged to the iconic maidan of their masters, which had to raise temporary stands to accommodate these many spectators. The first day was a bittersweet affair for them. They had witnessed the MCC side piling up 363 runs by the end of the day’s play. The highlight was, of course, 130 from Guy Earle, which he smashed in about 90 minutes while launching eight deliveries among the crowd. The Hindus, who had to bat for a while on the opening day, finished at 16/1. At the start of the second day, no one had anticipated what was to come. No one on 1st December 1926 had expected that they were witnessing the birth of a behemoth that would go on to become the most dominating cricket entity of all time.

The Birth of Cricket in Mumbai

The Bombay Gymkhana in Mumbai is, in many ways, the cradle of Indian cricket. It was this metropolitan city that first adopted and adored the British sport. Among the many communities that lay claim to the port city, Parsees were the first who gravitated towards it. Bombay (now Mumbai) was effectively a town living inside a fort in the 19th century. Outside of the fort were lush green patches, the esplanade. The esplanade became the primary playground for cricket and nurtured the game for the British and the natives alike.

The Parsees soon became a cricketing force to reckon with. In 1848, they formed their first club dedicated to the game known as Oriental Cricket Club. Many more such clubs sprang up in the nooks and corners of Mumbai. By 1877, the Parsees had become strong enough to challenge their imperial masters. The Bombay Gymkhana represented the British cricketers, and they faced the Parsees for the first time in the same year.

Parsees set a Precedent

In 1877, the first such encounter, later referred to as the Presidency Match, took place. The Parsees showed their mettle by taking the first-innings lead against Bombay Gymkhana. The match ended in a draw but served as the proof of concept. It was all set to be an annual feature, but after 1878, the sport of Polo became a cause of controversy. The Parsis and Hindus of Bombay became locked in a struggle against the governing Europeans over the use of the playing fields. Gymkhana members would play polo on the field, rendering much of it useless for cricket because of the large divots left by the horses.

Eventually, the British settled the dispute in 1884 by offering a special piece of land, which we now know as Parsee Gymkhana. With a strong native team present, many touring parties from England started trickling in and competing with the teams present. Hindus went on to form their clubs and became a part of the Presidency matches in 1907, which was then termed the Bombay Triangular. The addition of the Muslim team in 1912 saw it being renamed as the Quadrangular. The Rest joined in 1937 to make it the Pentangular. Before the tournament was called off owing to its communal nature in a soon-to-be partitioned India, it was the most popular cricket tournament in the subcontinent.

English Tours come Calling

The growing enthusiasm for the sport saw the Parsees tour England in 1886 and 1888. The Britishers reciprocated this in the coming years with G. F. Vernon’s XI in India in 1889–90 and Lord Hawke’s XI in India in 1892–93. The rapid growth of the native sides contributed to raising the standards of the game. By the end of 1918, first-class cricket was established in India. In such circumstances, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) led by Arthur Gilligan, arrived in India in 1926-27 to play as many as 26 first-class matches. After playing in Karachi, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Ajmer, they arrived in Bombay to take on the Hindus.

On 30th November 1926, the MCC side won the toss and chose to bat first, as was the norm. Andy Sandham, who scored the first-ever Test triple century three years later, posted 52. Guy Earle’s stormy knock of 130 and another half-century from Maurice Tate ensured MCC posted 363. Shankarrao Godambe was the star for the bowling side with four wickets. Hindus batted and ended the day on 16/1. The next morning, they lost Janardan Navle at the score of 67, and in walked Cottari Kanakaiya Nayudu – CK Nayudu.

Nayudu Storm hits Bombay

India’s future test captain sowed the seed of the country’s promotion with his supreme knock. It was a whirlwind innings that captivated the imagination of all those who witnessed it. By the time he walked back to the pavilion, Nayudu had smashed 153 runs in less than two hours of batting. He clonked 11 fours and 13 towering sixes. He targeted Stuart Boyes, a left-arm spinner, in particular. Nayudu started by depositing him on the roof of the pavilion. He then launched him into the tents twice and then sent a delivery soaring over the Gymkhana in the same over. It is said that the umpires joined in applauding this last stroke.

The massacre was over soon as the Hindu team finished just 7 short of the MCC total. However, its impact left an indelible impression on both parties involved. A unanimous decision was made on 10 December 1927 to establish a provisional board of control, leading to the formation of the BCCI in December 1928. R.E. Grant Govan was elected as the inaugural president, while Anthony de Mello assumed the position of secretary.

Stepping into the Test Arena

The golden age began on 25th June 1932 in London as CK Nayudu stepped out for India’s first-ever toss in Test cricket. Mohammad Nissar’s fiery spell reduced the hosts to 19/3, and England felt early jitters. India was not up to the mark in the remainder of the Test and lost by 158 runs. However, the inexperienced lot showed that they were no pushovers.

Our story completed a full circle next year. In 1933, India played their first home test. The opponents were England, and the Test was played at the same venue where Nayudu had played his miraculous knock – Bombay Gymkhana. Captain CK scored 28 in the first innings and followed it up with 67 in the second innings. But the Test belonged to someone else this time. Lala Amarnath scored India’s first-ever century in the second innings, and so emerged a new star. The Indian cricket galaxy would go on to create many superstars in the decades to come, and it all started with that epic 153 from CK Nayudu on one fine day in Mumbai.

Omkar Mankame
Omkar Mankame
My love for cricket transcends teams and formats. Always on the lookout for wonderful cricket stories, from Grace to Gayle.

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