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Indian cricket controversies Part 1 - Rajputana XI's Tour of England
by Boria Majumdar
May 07, 2007
At a controversial time for Indian cricket, Dreamcricket starts a new series on some of the best known controversies that have plagued the game in India since its formal inception in 1932, 75 years earlier, when India played its first Test match against England at Lords.

With the 75th anniversary of India-England cricket fast approaching, it is pertinent to recount a controversy, one of the dirtiest in Indian cricket history, that brings to light the intrigue and rampant politicking dominating Indian cricket in the 1930s.

It all started when W D Begg of the Rajputana Cricket Club asked permission from the Board to take a team of young cricketers on a tour of England. Such unofficial tours had been a long established tradition in Indian cricket and the just intentions of Begg was lauded in most quarters. Mr. S C Roy of Calcutta even went on to promise Begg 10,000 rupees to meet some of the costs of the tour.

When all seemed set, A S De Mello, the Secretary of the Board, announced that the Board did not approve of any private tour, either at home or abroad. Regarding them as burdens on the Boards exchequer, De Mello was firm in asserting that that Board would do everything possible to check Begg from going ahead with the proposed tour.

However, when in the very next year the Maharaja of Patiala wanted to bring out a team of Australian cricketers under Jack Ryder to India, De Mello promptly altered this decision. Thereafter the Board also permitted the Cricket Club of India to arrange for Lord Tennyson’'s Englishmen to visit India in November-December 1937. Further, the refusal to sanction the proposed Rajputana tour cost Begg more than 5000 rupees, a heavy sum by contemporary standards.

The decision to disallow the tour had made the Board extremely unpopular and public opinion was firmly aligned against it. Realizing that the ordinary cricket fan was against the Board’s decision, De Mello relented, allowing Begg to go ahead with the proposed tour in May-June 1938. Having associated itself with the tour, it was now the duty of the Board to ensure that the tour went ahead smoothly. However, the Board did nothing to ensure its success and the trip turned out to be the most disgraceful Indian tour undertaken.

A team, which claimed to consist of young players, had in its ranks veterans like the Nawab of Pataudi, Ramji and Botawala. Given Pataudi’s influence and social status, the Board could hardly raise a voice against this anomaly. The Rajputana team included in its ranks 20 players to play in 22 games, a variance the Board allowed to pass. Later, the inclusion of an unusually high number of players resulted in tremendous internal discord within the team. With each player having paid 500 rupees towards the expense of the tour, it was natural that most would want more than a handful of games to demonstrate their talent. Eventually players like Dhani Ram Chopra and B D Shankar got a solitary game each while Sultan Abbas did not even get a game. This put the Board in an embarrassing position, summed up aptly by J C Maitra in the Bombay Chronicle of 17 July 1938. “Unfortunately the Board of Control would never learn a lesson from past experience. There have been squabbles and wranglings among some of the players for places in the team before every match was to be played.”

The tour had in fact started well with the Rajputana side winning the first two games. Ironically, everything started to go wrong for the touring side before the match against the Indian Gymkhana. When the Gymkhana decided not to pay for the lunch and tea of the visiting side, something the secretary of the Gymkhana denied later, the Rajputana team, feeling insulted, refused to take the field. It was only after a protracted telephone conversation between Jehangir Khan, the Gymkhana Captain, and W D Begg, that the problem was sorted out and the match, due to have started at 10.00 in the morning, finally got underway at 2.20 in the afternoon.

From May 24 onwards began the really unhappy chapter in this tragic tour. By then differences had begun to arise within the team on questions of captaincy and selection of elevens for various matches. Things got worse in early June, evinced from a report in the Daily Express that the Rajputana team was in danger of getting stranded in London because they had no money to pay their hotel bills. The team cancelled fixtures against West and East Norfolk for want of funds but played against Cambridge who paid them 150£ for the match.

With the Board staying indifferent, it wasn’t a surprise that the tour had to be called off midway. The calling off was decided upon all of a sudden, proved by a report published in the Chronicle on 25 June 1938. “From information available here it is learned that the Rajputana cricket XI, at present playing a series of matches in England have cancelled their remaining fixtures and are expected to arrive in India by July. It is understood that owing to financial troubles the team had to cut short all their engagements in England.”

Eventually the team left the British shores on July 2 amidst utter confusion. “Only a handful of sympathisers witnessed the departure of the Rajputana team when they entrained on Saturday, July 2, at Euston by the 11.50 a.m. Express to Liverpool where at 4.00 p.m. they embarked on the SS Elysia, which sailed an hour later for India. Unhappy days they were for the team. Days full of doubt, alarm and anxiety, which at times developed into utter consternation.”

When it became known that the team was on its way back from England headlines like “Rajputana Tour Discredits Indian Cricket” and “Unhappy return of the Rajputana cricket team from England” brought much disgrace to the Board. Soon, the Chronicle mounted a scathing attack against the board and declared, "In writing so bitterly against the Board of Control for Cricket in India we are not exaggerating the state of public feelings in the least. They have hopelessly betrayed the cause for which they are supposed to stand.”

The criticisms against the Board hardly proved effective as the Board was once again involved in a major controversy in a couple of years- this time over the banning of the Bombay Pentangular.

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