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How Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Merchant defied the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram

There is a great piece up at Cricinfo in which Suresh Menon remembers cricket dramas past, and reflects on how memory plays tricks.

Particularly fascinating was this, about this match played at Old Trafford in 1936:

India’s captain the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram (the only active cricketer to be knighted, we must remember, although it was not for services to cricket – he didn’t serve cricket till he gave it up altogether as player, captain, selector and broadcaster) called his opening batsman Mushtaq Ali aside for last-minute instructions. Vizzy had been worried about the growing stature of Vijay Merchant, and instructed Mushtaq to run him out. Mushtaq told Merchant, they had a good laugh, and put on 203 for the first wicket.

What a selfish, self-important bastard, and what a great punishment. I’m guessing that the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram was totally bought and paid for by the British (hence the knighthood), and that when Mushtaq and Merchant disobeyed him they felt that they were also defying the very Empire itself. You can see from the scorecard that “Vizzy” batted at number nine, scoring a grand total of six runs, and did not bowl, even though seven other Indians did. Talk about a non-playing captain.

What a joy for cricket fans like me that India used cricket to defy Britain, rather than defying Britain by dumping cricket and taking up – I don’t know – baseball, or something similar.

More Indian anti-Imperial defiance is reported here (my thanks to Antoine Clarke for the link). I think it’s a sign of how strong the Indian presence in the world generally now is that people feel relaxed about taking the piss out of Indians, and out of the non-Indians who now grovel to Indians. We couldn’t comfortably do that when Indians were nothing but the Starving Millions, and when, cricket-wise, they were mostly Ghandi clones who could only bowl slow and bat slow and play for draws.

I have been following the current England India cricket series with fascinated delight. This already feels like the best series here since 2005, which it will definitely be if the Indians come back hard, as is their recent habit, after their poor first test at Lord’s. At Lord’s, legendary Indian batsmen like V.V.S. Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar looked a bit like ancient monuments rather than current threats. Tendulkar’s mere participation in the game turned its last day from a fine occasion into a great one, but his actual batting was a disappointment. Of the three surviving members of the Big Four (the now retired Saurav Ganguly being the other), only Rahul Dravid made his presence truly felt. But Tendulkar is not old, he was merely ill. And if he in particular does some great things in the later games, what a series this could be.

By the way, I have been getting it wrong about England being already ranked number two in the test match rankings. Now that I have actually consulted the relevant website, I see that England are only at three, behind South Africa (India being top). My apologies. But, England will go to at least two if they beat India in the current series, and they will indeed go top if they beat India by a clear two games. That last bit, I definitely got right.

Game two starts tomorrow.

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12 comments to How Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Merchant defied the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram

  • the only active cricketer to be knighted, we must remember, although it was not for services to cricket

    Actually, Richard Hadlee was knighted during his final test series for New Zealand, and played his final two test matches as Sir Richard. Hence http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/63532.html. Hadlee, of course, was a wonderful player whose service to the game was immense, so much contrast there. (I am not sure when Sir Richard’s actual investiture was, but that does not matter. Custom is that you are a knight from the moment it is officially announced).

    I wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that Laxman’s situation is any more than that he had a so-so game at Lord’s either. He has played at least two brilliant, rear guard match winning innings in the last nine months. (One against Australia at Mohali and another against South Africa in Durban). He could easily do it again against England.

  • Antoine Clarke

    What’s changed is that England are no longer rubbish at Lord’s. I recall a couple of decades back when any player brought in the test side for a debut at Lord’s (if English) could be expected to fail. In fact in the 1980s, I think England lost or drew most tests there.

    Certainly 1984: lost to West Indies, drew against Sri Lanka, 1985: lost to Australia (only loss of the series).

    Now it’s the foreign teams can’t handle the slope, and making it the first venue is bad too for tourists.

  • Antoine: Yes, that’s certainly a good point. Australia only lost at Lord’s once between 1896 and 2009, and that was in 1934. (That was out of 27 games). Basically Australia had a stronghold at England’s home ground. That run finally ended in 2009.

  • Alan Little

    Er, I take it you are aware that Lagaan is a work of fiction? Albeit I highly entertaining one that I thoroughly enjoyed on both the occasions that I sat through all nearly four hours of it.

    I’ve asked Indian acquaintances a number of times which bits are factually based. The disabled untouchable spin bowler is, apparently, but the main story not.

  • Yes, but the very charming article Brian linked to was about looking at the past of cricket through relatively rose coloured glasses so as to see it as you would like to remember it (usually when not having actually been there or even born at the time) rather than as it actually happened. And Lagaan comes from that tradition. There certainly were games of cricket going on between the British and the locals in that era, but they tended to involve posher locals rather than the working class, and they tended to be in Bombay. Also, the locals in question were not always Hindus: the Parsi community in Bombay actually taking to cricket before the Hindus did.

    (There is one fascinating exception to the general rule that earlier Indian cricketers were posh Indians though . My guess is that his story is where the untouchable spin bowler in Lagaan came from, although I don’t know that for sure. There must be a film in his real story, though. The question that fascinates me is just how good he was. He was clearly the greatest Indian cricketer of his era by far, and he was enormously successful during the one season he played in England. He may well have been one of the best cricketers in the world at that time, but that was long before India was playing test cricket).

  • Kim du Toit

    I’m sorry, but if there’s a better game than Test cricket, it hasn’t been invented yet. Cerebral, complex, physical, in turns exciting and boring, requires intense concentration over five DAYS of play.

    You Brits and other cricket-playing countries don’t know how lucky you are to be able to watch it live on TV. I, on the other hand, am left to gnash my teeth as ESPN is more likely to show the Australian Underwater Wrist Wrestling semi-finals of 1995, than the current Test.

  • Kim du Toit

    Aargh… I wuz smote.

  • I am completely with Kim here. There is nothing in all of sport that approaches a good test match in terms of excitement, drama, concentration, strategy (and yes, sometimes boredom). In the time I have followed cricket (gulp, thirty years now) it is remarkable how many people have claimed that test cricket is dying, how many classic games and series there have been, and how often there have been things like people so desperate to get tickets that they start queueing at 3am, as happened on Monday.

    I’m watching the second test from Nottingham now. India on top, but a couple of quick wickets – who knows. England are bowling well, so that’s quite possible. I agree with Brian that this has the feel of a good series, and maybe a great one.

  • Laird

    “excitement, drama, concentration, strategy (and yes, sometimes boredom).”

    Clearly you’ve never watched curling.

  • Kim du Toit

    Laird, if a single curling match could sustain interest over five days, I might.

  • Laird

    Kim, I envy you for the leisure time you have, that you can devote a full 5 days to a sporting event. Perhaps some day I can aspire to such luxury. For the present, though, the most I can manage is a few hours at a time.

  • Paul Marks

    Brian – why do you assume politics (being pro or anti British) was anything to do with this cricket match?

    However, if the Raj has been brought up….

    India may be changing now (although only some of the changes are for the better), but for decades after independence life for most Indians was worse (less free) than it was before.

    The Raj was hardly perfect (far from it) – but it was a lot better than Nehru and his daughter Mrs G.