Bewitched, bothered and bewildered: a short history of India v England, part one

There is something about an India and England Test series: bewitching, beguiling and rich in historical context. England and Australia may have a longer and perhaps more bitter rivalry, but there is a no less intense feeling to the chronicles of India and England.

It was sometime in 1721 that a British ship dropped anchor off the coast of Kutch in western India. A sailor named Downing recalled his time on the Kutch coast in his memoirs thus: “We everyday diverted ourselves with playing cricket and other exercises.”

This is the earliest recorded reference to cricket in India. The establishment of the Calcutta Cricket Club in 1792, was another watershed for the sport in the land. In fact, it is the second-oldest cricket club in the world, after the MCC (1787).

Ten years after its inception, the CCC organized a match between its team and the Old Etonians. The highlight of the game was Old Etonian Robert Vansittart’s hundred. It was the first recorded century on Indian soil.

The Parsis were the first Indian civilian community to take to cricket and sent a team on tour of England in 1886 under the captaincy of Dr DH Patel. At the team’s send-off in Bombay, Pherozeshah Mehta, an eminent Indian of the time, stated the squad’s objective: “As artists go to Italy to do homage to the Great Masters, or as pilgrims go to Jerusalem to worship at a shrine, so now the Parsis are going to England to pay homage to the English cricketers, to learn something of that noble and manly pastime in the very country that is cricket’s chosen home.”

In 1889-90, the British, under the captaincy of GF Vernon toured India in the one scheduled match against the Parsis. This turned out to be a red-letter event for Indian cricket as the Parsis prevailed by four wickets, the first cricket defeat suffered by the British on Indian soil.

1911 witnessed the first-ever tour of England by an All-India team. Sponsored and captained by the Maharaja of Patiala, the team featured the best cricketers of the time. The top performer was the left-arm spinner Baloo Palwankar, who bagged over 100 wickets. For more of his history, I urge you to read Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling by our own Anindya Dutta.

Anindya is also a great source to learn about the MCC’s first trip to India under the leadership of Arthur Gilligan in 1926. “It was the first MCC side to tour India and played 26 first-class matches in India and four in Ceylon. Originally intended to encourage cricket-playing Europeans living in India, the team played Indian sides rather than the European sides envisaged by the tour’s organisers, given that it was

being sponsored by the Maharajah of Patiala who expressed his strong desire that it be so.

“The team that Gilligan brought across the ocean was not to be scoffed at. Gilligan himself was an accomplished fast bowler and a competent lower-order batsman. Accompanying him were the likes of Maurice Tate, Maurice Leyland, Andy Sandham, Bob Wyatt, Arthur Dolphin, George Geary, Ewart Astill and George Brown”.

The match between the visitors and the Hindus at the Bombay Gymkhana in 1926 was made memorable by CK Nayudu, who blasted 13 fours and 11 sixes on the way to 153. “Arunabha Sengupta writing in Cricket Country about the innings said it all when he remarked: It was essentially Nayudu s innings on that day, which was instrumental in elevating India from a minor to a serious power in the cricketing world”.

Says Anindya: “Nayudu’s knock, in one afternoon, had dispelled the notion that Indians played cricket at a lower level than their colonial masters and put in motion discussions that would in a few years have far-reaching consequences for the future of Indian cricket.”

Tomorrow we look at a few notable landmarks between the two sides.

Broadcast Schedule

IPL 2024
IPL 2024 Q1 KKR v SRH
21st May
Start time: 3:00 pm BST
England v Pakistan 2024 T20 series
1st T20, ENG v PAK, Headingley
22nd May
Start time: 6:30 pm BST