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Indian Cricket Controversies Part 5 -
by Boria Majumdar
Jul 06, 2007
The final round of the Vizzy-Patiala rivalry was played out between 1933-1936. Though Vizzy was in the ascendancy in 1933, Patiala, had not resigned to the situation. To make a comeback, he fell back on a trusted weapon—patronage. He entertained the MCC team lavishly when it toured India in the winter of 1933. Overwhelmed by the grand stadium he had built in Amritsar, the MCC cricketers showered generous praises on Patiala; and it was at Patiala that the MCC played the only four-day first class fixture of the tour. During this match, the tourists were taken for shoots to the hills, and even Douglas Jardine, the captain, was won over. However, despite Patiala’s success in reinforcing control over the game, C K Nayudu was retained captain for the Test matches against the MCC, overriding the Yuvraj of Patiala, an able cricketer and son the Maharaja was trying to promote. Vizzy welcomed Nayudu’s appointment. He too used the tour to good effect by leading his side to a significant victory against the MCC. This was the MCC’s only loss on the tour and it may well have been the result of complacency. Whatever the reason, Jardine, the MCC captain, did Vizzy’s cause a lot of good by proclaiming he had the potential to be a good captain. By the end of the MCC tour, therefore, the stage was set for a showdown between the two rival princes.

Patiala had an advantage because the game was once again confronted with a financial crisis and, given his economic position, he was the only person capable of resolving it. With the Pentangular stopped for the time being, the moment was ripe for a national championship. Commenting on the occasion of the Indian team’s return from England in 1932, the mayor of Mumbai had emphasised the need for such a championship. Also, with the BCCI having been born in 1928, a zonal competition was imminent. Accordingly, at a meeting of the Board in Shimla in the summer of 1934, A.S. De Mello, the secretary, submitted the proposal for a national championship. He also presented a sketch of the proposed trophy, which Raiji describes as ‘a Grecian urn two feet high, with a lid, the handle of which represented Father Time, similar to the one on the weather vane at Lord’s.’ As soon as De Mello mooted the plan, the Maharaja of Patiala stood up to declare that he would be pleased to donate the trophy and committed a donation of £500, Rs 6,667 at the prevailing exchange rate. He wanted the trophy to be named after Ranji. The Maharaja also declared his intention to present a miniature trophy to the winner of the championship, one that could be retained permanently. His offer drew considerable applause.

The connection between Ranji and Patiala was well known. Ranji had played for Patiala’s team in 1898-99. While touring Bengal in 1899, Ranji and Patiala had been accorded a royal reception, the Kolkata Town Hall spending the huge sum of Rs 3,000 on the occasion.

However, as Vasant Raiji puts it, ‘For some unknown reason, the official announcement of the decision to launch the Ranji Trophy was withheld.’ This allowed Vizzy to work his manipulations. He proposed that the trophy be named after Lord Willingdon instead of Ranji who, he argued, had done little for the game in India. An emergency meeting of the Board was summoned to discuss the renaming and Vizzy strengthened his case by donating a trophy himself. The meeting accepted the Willingdon Trophy as the national championship.

Reporting the decision, the Times of India declared that the Willingdon Trophy, specially selected by Lady Willingdon, had been gratefully accepted and placed on display. Despite being present at the meeting, Patiala could not prevent the acceptance of the Willingdon Trophy.

The rivalry between Patiala and Vizzy only intensified when their teams met at the final of the Moin-ud-Dowlah Trophy in Hyderabad. The match had assumed great significance with both princes determined to stamp their supremacy:

‘The two princes had scoured the land for the best cricketers and Vizzy had also obtained Learie Constantine. The teams met in the final and a record crowd of 15,000 turned up at Secunderabad Gymkhana to watch it. Vizzy himself did not take part, a very minor prince, the Rajkumar of Alirajpur, deputised for him. In the middle of the final he sent Constantine a telegram promising him a certain number of pounds for every run scored and every wicket taken.

Despite the inducements, Vizzy’s side lost by three wickets. Following the acceptance of the Willingdon Trophy by the Board, newspapers such as the Bombay Chronicle and Star of India wrote in support of the Ranji Trophy. Writing in the former, J.C. Maitra argued:

‘I wonder if by doing so (accepting the Willingdon Trophy) they ever thought of the sacrilege they were doing to the memory of the greatest cricketer ever born in India, whose memory is still cherished by thousands of followers of the game in all parts of the world. If such a move is made, the duty of all cricketers in this country is clear. They should rise in a body and oppose the sacrilege.’

Despite such protests, it was expected that Mumbai, the winners of the first national championship in 1935, would be presented the Willingdon Trophy. However, a surprise awaited H.J. Vajifdar (standing in for indisposed captain L.P. Jai) when he walked up to collect the trophy a week after the final, at a function in Delhi. Lord Willingdon was present at the podium to give away the prize, but the trophy he handed out was the Ranji Trophy.

It turned out that Patiala had successfully outmanoeuvred Vizzy while touring England with the Board president, Grant Govan, in January 1935. The two had represented India at the Imperial Cricket Conference (now the International Cricket Council or ICC) meeting at Lord’s, and it was during this trip that Patiala turned the tables on Vizzy. The trump card was his promise to sponsor Jack Ryder’s Australians, who were to tour India in October 1935. To Vizzy’s dismay, the Willingdon Trophy was later presented to the winners of the Festival Cup played in Delhi.

The skirmish was over, not the war. Vizzy had the last laugh when he was appointed captain of the Indian touring team to England in May-June 1936. He won the vote by a 10-4 margin against Nayudu, after Patiala had withdrawn the candidature of his son, the Yuvraj. While Delhi, Bengal, Central Provinces, Maharashtra, United Provinces, Hyderabad, Rajputana, Mysore, Bangalore and Madras voted for Vizzy, Southern Punjab, Northern India, Sind and Mumbai voted against him. Central India and Gujarat did not vote and the Western Indian States nominee was not present. That Vizzy had spared no pains to win this election is evident from the following description:

‘He had journeyed up and down the country gathering votes. Associations that voted for him were promised special consideration when it came to the choice of players for the tour.’ Realising Vizzy had outdone him, Patiala withdrew his invitation to host Ryder’s tourists. Vizzy, of course, was an undeserving captain. The tour saw the sending back of Lala Amarnath, the team’s best performer, on grounds of alleged insubordination. This triggered one of cricket’s most bitter controversies.

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