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Lala Amarnath: First India Centurion - Gulu Ezekiel Column
by Gulu Ezekiel
Dec 15, 2008
It was 75 years ago today (Jan. 15) that the first Test match was played on Indian soil. And what a way for Indian cricket to celebrate the occasion with the grand victory at Chennai, setting a record for the highest winning total at home.

Though MCC (England) won the first Test back in 1933 by nine wickets, Lala Amarnath's century on debut--the first by an Indian-made the match memorable.

India had played their maiden Test match 18 months earlier at Lord's and now in 1933 Test cricket had come to India.

The nation was still part of the British Empire at the time. In fact when the Indian cricket board had met in 1932 to pick a captain for the first team to tour England, one of the names that came up for discussion was Douglas Jardine who was born in Bombay.

Jardine, of Bodyline infamy and CK Nayudu were the opposing captains both at Lord's in 1932 and a year later at the Bombay Gymkhana.

Nationalist feelings were running high in India. Viceroy Lord Willingdon had used ruthless methods to crush Mahatma Gandhi's civil disobedience movement and independence appeared a distant dream.

Cricket fever was at its peak and the first two days of the Test match were declared public holidays with over 20,000 spectators packing the ground on each day.

The 22-year-old Amarnath was top scorer with 38 in India’s first innings of 219 and when England replied with exactly double the score (Bryan Valentine making a century on debut), India had their backs to the wall.

With the openers dismissed with only 22 runs on the board, Nayudu-the first superstar of Indian cricket-joined Amarnath with an innings defeat looming.

By the end of the third and penultimate day, Amarnath had raced to a dazzling century in just 118 minutes and the face-saving stand with his captain saw India reach 159 for 2.

My late father (who was 12 at the time) was on his way back from school in Bombay when the news of the century broke. He recalled trams and buses stopping in the middle of the road as people poured out and danced with joy.

Jardine confessed: "I just could not place a field to Amarnath. On that day he did what he pleased." The centurion for his part was convinced that he had been possessed by some mysterious power as he tore the bowling apart.

Even in the last years of his life (he died in 2000), Amarnath could recall every ball of that innings. Though he always had a soft spot for Don Bradman, Amarnath told me Jardine was his favourite captain. "He played to win."

Amarnath told me with a lump in his throat that the bat he had used in that famous innings had been left behind in Lahore at the time of Partition. "Perhaps it is in a museum there."

Back in 1911 Mohun Bagan had become the first Indian football club to win the IFA shield when they beat East Yorkshire Regiment, lighting an early torch of Indian nationalism and patriotism. That torch was relit 22 years later by a young Indian cricketer who would go on to be independent India's first captain.

--The writer is a sports journalist and author based in New Delhi.

Stats box

Tests played in India (till the end of the 2008-09 series against Australia)

Total: 217; W: 66; L: 48; D: 102; Tied: 1
Highest individual score: Virender Sehwag: 319 v South Africa, Chennai, 2008.
Highest team total: 676 for 7: v. Sri Lanka at Kanpur, 1986.
Best bowling (innings): Anil Kumble: 10/74 v. Pakistan, New Delhi, 1999.
Best bowling (match): Narender Hirwani: 16/136 v West Indies, Chennai, 1988.
 
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