England in India - how it all began

It's been 86 years since the first official tour by an English side (MCC) to India in 1926-27. No Test matches were played during that tour as India were then not yet granted Test status.

Reported by: Mohandas Menon
Last updated on Monday, 12 November, 2012 14:01 IST
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Cricket ties between India and England go back such a long way that it is almost impossible to pinpoint when, where and exactly how they began. The local Indians at the turn of the 19th century took with gusto to a sport which was at the time simply a past-time of the elitist British officers posted in India. The British left India in 1947, and of the many legacies they left behind, the cricketing culture was most definitely a major one. Soon, from the maidans in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras emerged some great names and some heroic feats, making cricket India's No. 1 sport today.

It's been 86 years since the first official tour by an English side (MCC) to India in 1926-27. No Test matches were played during that tour as India were then not yet granted Test status. Since then, 13 English sides have toured India to play Test matches. Douglas Jardine's MCC team in 1933-34 had the distinction of being the first touring side to play Tests in India. Despite not playing any Tests, the first tour by the MCC side in 1926-27 was historical for many reasons. Incidentally, before this tour, three other English sides (in 1889-90, 1892-93 and 1902-03) had toured the subcontinent to play matches against local sides.

The first English tour to the Indian subcontinent took place in the winter of 1889, when a team of amateurs under the captaincy of GF Vernon played matches in Ceylon and India. This tour was undertaken after two Indian sides (the Parsees) visited England in 1886 and 1888. After playing two games in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the Indian leg began with a match at the Eden Gardens against the Calcutta Club on December 23 and 24. For the home side, CE Greenway carried his bat through the innings for a faultless 130. AE Gibson hit a century for the visitors and the game appeared evenly.

The Calcutta side then collapsed in the second innings and the tourists won by nine wickets. After four further matches in the eastern part of India, the team travelled to Bombay to meet the Parsees, the strongest side in the country, for the most important fixture of their visit. Some 10,000 spectators attended the first day of the three-day game. They saw Vernon's team being dismissed for 97 and the Parsees conceding a lead when they replied with 82.

ME Pavri's 7 for 34 in the second innings helped dismiss the visiting side for 61. That left the Parsees a target of 77 to win, which they achieved losing six wickets on the second day to register a historic win over the Englishmen. The Parsees thus became the first Indian team to beat the English at their own game. This win will always be regarded as an important milestone in the history of Indian cricket. The tour was significant in many ways - it helped stimulate interest among the public in India and was generally regarded as a success. Vernon's team played 13 games, winning 12 and losing one.

In less than two years of Vernon's tour, another team of amateurs led by Lord Hawke landed in Colombo in November 1892. The side, which contained three players from the previous tour, was generally considered quite strong with most of them having played first-class games in England the preceding season. After a couple of matches in Ceylon, the team played several games in Madras and Bangalore against local sides.

Three major matches took place at Bombay. The first once was against a strong Parsee side. Once again, the Parsees beat the visiting side by 109 runs, their second win against an English side. Lord Harris, then the Governor of the Bombay Presidency and former England Test captain, is reported to have watched this match. A week later, the visitors, had their revenge in the return fixture, winning by a narrow margin of seven runs.

Hawke's team also lost another match against Behar Wanderers at Muzaffarpur by 69 runs. The tour finally ended with a match at Peshawar in March 1893. Earlier, the team played an All-India team at Alfred Park ground at Allahabad, which included just three Indian players - namely ME Pavri, BD Gagrat and NC Bapasola, the rest being Englishmen stationed in India. The visitors won by an innings & five runs. The team played 23 games, winning 15, losing two and drawing six. They also won three and lost one of their four first-class games on tour.

The third tour by an English side was in 1902-03 when a team called Oxford University Authentics toured India, thanks to the initiative of the secretaries of Oxford University Authentics (E Britten-Holmes) and Calcutta Cricket Club (FH Stewart). Led by KJ Key of Surrey, the team had a few first-class cricketers. The opening game was played at the Bombay Gymkhana grounds from November 17 to 19 against the Bombay Presidency.

Thanks to a double century (204) by JG Greig, the home side won by 48 runs. A week later, the Parsees created history by defeating an English side for the third time, by eight wickets. It was a hat-trick of wins for the Parsees. The tour was fairly successful and the tourists were surprised at the enthusiasm and relatively the high standard of play by the locals. Of their 19 games, they won 12, lost two and drew five.

The first major cricketing tour to India came with the MCC's first visit to the subcontinent in 1926-27. It was an ambitious one, lasting four months from October 1926 to February 1927, in which 34 games in three countries (India, Ceylon and Burma) were scheduled. This also meant hectic travel for the players. Many of the games were reduced to two-day affairs and thus had little prospect of definite finishes. The extensive travel, in some cases involving 4-5 days at a stretch, took its toll on the players.

The team had sailed on September 24, 1926 on the SS Narcunda to Bombay before travelling to Karachi, where the tour began. Andrew Sandham had the distinction of registering the first century of the tour –129 against the Hindus and the Rest. The visitors' game against the Hindus at Bombay was watched by over 45,000 spectators on the two days, with CK Nayudu slamming 153 in just 100 minutes.

The visitors played an All-India XI at Bombay in an unofficial Test match. DB Deodhar, who made 148 in this match, is credited with having recorded the first ever international century for India. These two knocks from Nayudu and Deodhar paved way for the ICC granting Test status to India seven months later. In many ways, this tour changed the cricket scene in the country, resulting in the formation of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The MCC in all played 34 games, winning 11, and drawing 23.

Top run-getters and wicket-takers during the tour were:

Leading run-getters: Andy Sandham 1756 runs (ave 62.71), 7 100s; Bob Wyatt 1747 runs (ave 52.93), 5 100s; John Parsons 1289 runs (ave 49.57), 2 100s; Maurice Tate 1193 runs (ave 36.15), 3 100s

Leading wicket-takers: Maurice Tate 116 wickets (ave 13.78); George Geary 81 wickets (ave 14.34); Ewart Astill 71 wickets (ave 21.91); George Boyes 56 wickets (ave 18.69)

The MCC squad:

Arthur Edward Robert Gilligan (Captain)
Age: 32 yrs. Teams: Sussex 1920-1932; also Surrey 1919; Cambridge University 1919-1920. Amateur. Right hand batsman & right arm fast medium bowler (all-rounder). Appeared in 11 Tests (from 1922-1925). Captained England in 9 Tests (1924-25)

William Ewart Astill
Age: 38 yrs. Team: Leicestershire 1906-1939. Professional. Appeared in 9 Tests (from 1927-1930). Right hand middle order batsman and right arm off-break bowler (all-rounder). He was 40 when he made his Test debut. He was an accomplished billiards player, winning several titles, whilst he was also a noted vocalist, singing to his own accompaniment.

George Stuart Boyes
Age: 27 yrs. Team: Hampshire (1921-1939). Professional. Right hand lower order batsman & left arm slow bowler (all-rounder). Was making his only tour of his career.

George Brown
Age: 39 yrs. Team: Hampshire (1908-1933). Professional. Left hand opening/middle order batsman, right arm medium pacer and wicket-keeper. Appeared in 7 Tests (from 1921-1923). He was a first-class umpire from 1935-1936.

Major Raleigh Charles Joseph Chichester-Constable
Age: 36 yrs. Teams: Yorkshire 2nd XI; also Yorkshire 1919 & Minor Counties 1935. Amateur. Right hand lower order batsman and right arm fast bowler. Was making his only tour of his career. He captained Yorkshire 2nd XI from 1926-1938.

Guy Fife Earle
Age: 35 yrs. Teams: Somerset from 1922-1931; also Surrey 1911-1921. Amateur. Hard hitting right hand middle-order batsman and right arm fast bowler (all-rounder). He captained Harrow in the famous 1910 Fowler's match. He was badly injured in a motor cycle accident in Egypt in 1932 and retired from first-class cricket.

Peter Thorp Eckersley
Age: 22 yrs. Team: Lancashire 1923-1935. Amateur. Right hand middle-order batsman. Lancashire captain from 1929-1935. In 1928 he gave up a political career for cricket, then in 1935 gave up cricket for politics. He was a Conservative MP for Manchester Exchange at the time of his death. He was killed in a flying accident in 1940.

George Geary
Age: 33 yrs. Team: Leicestershire (1912-1938). Professional. Lower order right hand batsman and right arm fast medium bowler (all-rounder). Appeared in 14 Tests (from1924-1934). His best bowling in first-class cricket was 10-18 in an innings in 1929.

Mervyn Llewellyn Hill
Age: 24 yrs. Teams: Somerset 1921-1932; also Glamorgan 1923 & Cambridge University 1923-1924. Amateur. Lower order right hand batsman and wicket-keeper. Was making his only tour of his career. He also played for Eton while in school and also for Devon in 1935.

John Mercer
Age: 33 yrs. Teams: Glamorgan 1922-1939; also Sussex 1919-1921, Wales 1923-1930 & Northamptonshire 1947. Professional. Lower order right hand batsman and right arm fast medium bowler. His best bowling figures in first-class cricket was 10-51 in an innings for Glamorgan in 1936. He was the coach of Northamptonshire County from 1946-1960 and then their scorer from 1963-1981.

John Henry Parsons
Age: 36 yrs. Teams: Warwickshire 1910-1934 & also Europeans 1919-1922. Professional. Attacking right hand middle order batsman and right arm medium pace bowler. He hit 1000 runs during the tour, which was his only one of his career.

Andrew Sandham
Age: 36 yrs. Team: Surrey 1911-1937. Professional. Right hand opening batsman. Appeared in 14 Tests (from 1921-1930). In 1930 in the West Indies, he became the first batsman in Test history to register a triple ton (325). From 1946-1958 he coached the Surrey County and the following 12 years he the County scorer. Was the leading run scorer during the tour, with seven hundreds.

Maurice William Tate
Age: 31 yrs. Team: Sussex 1912-1937. Professional. Hard hitting right hand middle order batsman and right arm fast medium bowler (all-rounder). Appeared in 39 Tests (from 1924-1935). He scored over 1000 runs and also claimed over 100 wickets during the tour.

Robert Elliott Storey "Bob" Wyatt
Age: 25 yrs. Teams: Warwickshire 1923-1939; Worcestershire 1946-1951. Amateur. Sound right hand middle order batsman and right arm medium pace bowler (all-rounder). Appeared in 40 Tests (from 1927-1937). Captained England in 16 Tests (1930-1935). He was a Test selector from 1949-1954, being Chairman in 1950.

The following were not in the original squad, but assisted the MCC during the tour:

Arthur Dolphin (Age 41 yrs). Teams: Yorkshire 1905-1927 & also for Patiala (1926-27). Appeared in one Test in 1920/21. Right hand lower order batsman and wicket-keeper. After retiring from first-class cricket he became an umpire and stood in 6 Test matches (1933-1937). He was coaching in India when he appeared in six games for the MCC, when both the keepers Brown and Hill were injured.

Maurice Leyland (Age: 26 yrs). Teams: Yorkshire (1920-1946), MCC (1926-27) & Patiala (1926-27). Appeared in 41 Tests from 1928 to 1938. He was coaching in India when he appeared in a couple of game for the MCC.

Bhupendrasingh Rajindersingh, the Maharaja of Patiala (Age: 25 yrs). Teams: Hindus (1915-1922), Southern Punjab (1926-1935), MCC (1926/27), Patiala (1926-1934). Right hand middle order batsman. Had captained the All-India side to England in 1911.

Lieut Ronald Ernest Stephen Yeldham (Age: 24 yrs). Teams: MCC (1926-27); Europeans (1924-1927) & Northern India (1926-27). Was born in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra in 1902. All his six first-class games came in India. Right hand lower order batsman.

Story first published on: Monday, 12 November 2012 13:58 IST

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