Indian Cricket Controversies Part 4 - Cricket as status symbol

2007 Jun 23 by DreamCricket

The Patiala-Vizzy rivalry, one of the most intriguing in the history of Indian cricket, climaxed with the sending back of Lala Amarnath from the tour of England in 1936. It also gave India the Ranji Trophy, India's national cricket championship. It was, quite simply, sensational stuff, packed with intrigue and rivalry, pride and guile, twists and turns, and a dramatic finale.

The Patiala-Vizzy rivalry, one of the most intriguing in the history of Indian cricket, climaxed with the sending back of Lala Amarnath from the tour of England in 1936. It also gave India the Ranji Trophy, India's national cricket championship. It was, quite simply, sensational stuff, packed with intrigue and rivalry, pride and guile, twists and turns, and a dramatic finale.

By the early 1930s, the Maharaja of Patiala was among the most powerful princes in India. He controlled the newly formed BCCI, donated huge sums towards the building of the Cricket Club of India and was the vice-patron of the Board, second only to Lord Willingdon, patron by virtue of being the viceroy. Patiala employed many senior cricketers and had supported Ranji in times of financial crisis. However, it was beginning to be clear by the early 1930s that the Maharaja of Patiala was falling out of favour with Willingdon, as a result of his involvement in numerous sex scandals. The situation was ripe for the emergence of a new power player in Indian cricket.

The challenge came in the form of the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, the younger son of a ruler of a principality in modern Andhra Pradesh who had left his home in the south to settle in Benaras. He rose to prominence in 1930, by organising a tour to Ceylon and parts of India.

The political situation in India in 1930 was stormy. Mahatma Gandhi had announced the Civil Disobedience movement, which resulted in the cancellation of the proposed MCC tour. Vizzy capitalised on this opportunity by forming a team to tour parts of India and Ceylon. This team included, among others, Jack Hobbes and Herbert Sutcliffe, two legends of English cricket. The Indian stars were C.K. Nayudu, S. Mushtaq Ali and D.B. Deodhar. This tour catapulted Vizzy into a position of power, a position only strengthened by the praise showered on him by Sutcliffe. Commenting on the tour in the Daily Express , Sutcliffe declared, 'The Maharajkumar is a candidate for the captaincy of the Indian team to tour England, and if he is fortunate enough to be appointed, he will no doubt give an excellent account of himself for he has had a thorough grounding in the finer points of the game, and is a most capable leader.'

Vizzy used this newfound success to project himself as a rival to the Maharaja of Patiala. He offered to sponsor India's tour to England in 1932. His announcement was thus reported by the Times of India: 'No financial anxiety An important statement made after the meeting of the emergency committee held in Delhi on Friday was that all anxiety regarding the financial side of the tour had vanished as a result of the generosity of the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram who had written a letter to the Board marking a donation of rupees 50,000 to the Board of which 40,000 must be earmarked for the tour to England next year. The position now is that the Vizianagram donation should ensure a surplus for the benefit of Indian cricket.' The correspondent concluded, saying, 'I understand the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram will captain the Indian team (to England) next year.'

Soon after this meeting Vizzy met Willingdon to discuss arrangements for the forthcoming English tour, beginning on 27 November 1931. This meeting was reported widely in the national press. The struggle for supremacy between Vizzy and Patiala was thus out in the open before the 1932 tour of England. With Vizzy having won the first round, the Maharaja of Patiala came back to win the second by agreeing to sponsor the trials of the touring party. In the annual general meeting of the Board in November 1931, Patiala announced his intention to sponsor the trials, agreeing alongside to take care of the finances of the touring party for a whole month. This offer was too tempting for the financially impoverished Board to refuse, allowing the Nawab to reinforce his supremacy over Indian cricket.

That both princes were vying for the captaincy of the touring team became apparent when cricketers from round the country started taking sides on the issue. In a letter addressed to the editor of the Times of India, an Indian cricketer of the past asserted:

'In the first place there was a report in the Statesman of Delhi some days ago that the Nawab of Pataudi had intimated his willingness to forego his qualification for Worcestershire county if he was selected to play for India. Of his selection of course, there is no doubt. Even with that case, with all due respect to the Nawab, he is far from an ideal skipper for the Indian team, as he would be lacking the necessary knowledge of the abilities of the men under his command, a necessity with which your correspondent agrees. In my opinion the Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagram is obviously the best choice, and I put the Nawab of Pataudi with his extensive knowledge of the conditions in England as the second in charge.'

It was the hosting of the trials between 23-29 January 1932 that tilted the issue in Patiala's favour and he was appointed captain of the touring party on 4 February 1932.

Patiala's election evoked mixed responses in the media. This is borne out by the publication of two contrasting reports in the Times of India of 6 February 1932. The first described the selection of the Maharaja of Patiala as a 'tribute to His Highness' long and devoted service to the cause of Indian cricket'. The second, by contrast, declared, 'The selection of the Maharaja of Patiala as captain of the team is, however, a strange nomination, as it can hardly be claimed that he merits a place in the team on form alone. Neither can his tactical knowledge be considered very high.' It went on to suggest that, 'It is very likely that he will be a non-playing captain and that Prince Ghanshyamsinhji will be skipper on the field itself.' The report concluded, saying, 'His Highness, the Maharaja of Patiala will undoubtedly be in his element in the social side of the tour and this is probably the reason for his official nomination as captain.'

Vizzy, the defeated challenger, was given the subordinate position of deputy vice-captain. He withdrew from the tour citing personal reasons and spent his time cosying up to Lord Willingdon. Saying that he was 'broken-hearted', Vizzy issued the following statement: 'I have just sent a letter to the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and I can hardly express how broken-hearted I am, but I am making this immense sacrifice for the future of cricket in India, for which I worked so hard for the past two years, and shall continue to do so in the future. The Board of Control have indeed bestowed on me a very great honour by appointing me Deputy Vice-Captain of the team that is to tour England next summer. I not only regret, but am very disappointed that I shall not be able to undertake this tour on account of ill health'.

In the wake of Vizzy's statement, the Maharaja of Patiala announced his decision not to tour. As the Times of India reported on 3 March 1932, 'The Board of Control for Cricket in India have now received confirmation from His Highness the Maharaja of Patiala that he much regrets his inability to accept the captaincy of the cricket team to tour England this summer as he finds that it will not be possible for him to get away.' Finally, the Maharaja of Porbandar was appointed captain of the touring team on 15 March 1932. Vizzy greeted his appointment with the following words:

'On the eve of my departure to Europe, I feel I must offer my felicitations to the Indian team under the Maharaja of Porbandar sailing early next month. I have had the hand in the formation of the side and I am proud to say that it constitutes the core and kernel of cricket talent in India. I shall watch its career in the West with deepest interest. I wish them the very best of success, and hope that they will prove (to be) true representatives of India, both on the field and away from it.' Perhaps the worst player of the touring party, Porbandar wisely decided to leave the captaincy to C.K. Nayudu, arguably his best player. Vizzy made use of Nayudu's rise and his growing unpopularity within the team to plot against Patiala. He deliberately sang praises of Nayudu, who, by the end of the tour, was greatly unpopular with his teammates. The team that was initially united under Patiala's leadership was deeply divided by the end. Soon after the tour was over, Vizzy donated a pavilion to the newly built Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium in Delhi, naming it after Lord Willingdon. These efforts to curry favour with the viceroy were successful, and though Patiala was elected chancellor of the Chamber of Princes after Ranji's death in 1933, his influence was on the wane. In fact, by the winter of 1933-34 he was pushed to the sidelines. The rivalry climaxed once again before India's tour of England in 1936 when Vizzy finally got his measure of Patiala. To this we turn in the next issue.