Durgaprasad Sabnis, a senior lawyer, examines the curious relation between the history of Indian cricket and partition of India.
HEN the left-handed batsman Abdul H. Kardar, got out for a single in the third test against England in London, little did he know that this would be the last run that he would ever score for India. The year was 1946, and the day 17th of August, when the fateful test began. It had been fourteen years since India’s test debut in 1932, under the captaincy of C.K. Naidu. India was playing a test series after a gap of almost ten years as the second world war had disrupted sports world over.
Dreadfully, just a day prior to the start of the test match, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had declared ‘direct action day’, which led to the killing of close to 4000 Indians in the metropolitan city of Calcutta (now Kolkata). Direct action day set in motion, events which ultimately lead to the partition of our nation and ensured that this game, in London would be the last Test match that a united India would ever play.
India won the toss and elected to bat. Vijay Merchant opened the batting with S. Mushtaq Ali and scored a well-deserved century. S Mushtaq Ali, who holds the distinction of scoring the first century by an Indian abroad, managed to score a half-century in this Test. It was only fitting that a Hindu and a Muslim would open the batting for United India, one last time. S Mushtaq Ali, unlike Kardar, chose to remain back in India and achieved great veneration as a cricketer. In fact, India’s domestic T 20 tournament is named after him, a tribute to the legend.
The Indian team had always been a synthesis of Hindu and Muslim players, and Cricket had always been a thread which bound the two communities together.
The British, India’s rulers for close to 90 years, had a team which comprised of legends like Hutton, Hammond, and Bedser. Eight years back, Hutton had managed to score 364 runs, a record for the highest individual score in an innings. Hammond was closest that anyone could come to Bradman, the Don of cricket, and Bedser had the reputation of being one of the finest seamers that England had.
England had won the first test of the series and had managed to draw the second. India had to win this test to level the series. Although the odds were against India, there was a lot of hope under the captaincy of the inimitable, Nawab of Pataudi Sr., who was playing in his debut series. There are very few examples in International Cricket where a player has captained a team in his debut test. Even the Nawab knew the enormity of the task that lay ahead.
(Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi; Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The times were uncertain; the reason that Jinnah had declared the misconceived Direct-Action Day, was the pronouncement of the Cabinet Mission Plan, the absurdity of which, was not lost on anyone. The Cabinet Mission Plan proposed that the future Indian Government would be a three-tier system with the Central Government retaining the subjects of Defence, Currency, Foreign Affairs, and Communications.
The two communities had lost the ‘Test’ the day they had given up on these qualities and had let the narrative of an imperialist nation, its cronies in India and some despots, control their thought processes.
The second tier was provinces that would be autonomous regions and would govern on all subjects other than the subjects which were retained by the Central Government. The third tier comprised of provincial groupings. Each province was allowed to establish and join groups with an executive and a legislature, and each group could determine the provincial subjects to be taken in common.
Unlike the ‘week of the long knives’, which succeeded the Direct-Action Day, the test match in London proceeded in a rather uneventful manner. The Indian team had always been a synthesis of Hindu and Muslim players, and Cricket had always been a thread which bound the two communities together. The situation back home may have been playing on the minds of the players, but even if that was the case, the Indian team had not allowed it to reflect on its performance. India began steadily by scoring 79 for no loss at the end of day one, with the Hindu-Muslim pair of Merchant and Ali at the crease. India ultimately managed to post a respectable total of 331.
An interesting fact about this test series was that the Indian wicket-keeper D.D Hindlekar batted at No.11. This was a rather peculiar position for a wicket-keeper to bat. This is quite in contrast to the wicket keepers that India would field in times to come. Some of them would have great batting abilities, and a wicket-keeper would even go on to become the most successful captain of his time.
The Indian bowling attack rested on the shoulders of Amarnath and Mankad. It certainly missed the services of Mohammed Nissar, who was the fastest bowler that India had at that time and who also held the distinction of taking the first wicket for India. Interestingly, the bowling attack lacked the firepower that Pakistan developed post-partition. However, the bowlers did manage to strike in this particular test and reduced England to 95 for three.
It is rather ironic that the last Test match was played by a United India against the very country which was instrumental in partitioning it.
This was a time when test matches were played for three days. By the end of the second day, it was clear that Nawab of Pataudi’s team would not be able to secure a victory, and that a series defeat was inevitable. The teams never played on the third day due to inclement weather, and United India’s era of test cricket met with an abrupt end.
As the Direct Action Day unfolded in the holy month of Ramzan, the fanatics nurtured by Jinnah took this as a divine sign to demand a separate nation which they would call Pakistan. As fate would have it a year later, India’s partition too would take place during the holy month of Ramzan. If it was Ramzan for the Muslims, it was Shravan for the Hindus. No matter the purity of the period, the communal harmony had been damaged beyond repair.
It is rather ironic that the last Test match was played by a United India against the very country which was instrumental in partitioning it. United India’s partition like its last Test match was abrupt; if only it had ended in a draw, lives of close to 2 million people would not have been lost, 75 thousand women would not have been raped, and close to fifteen million people would not have been displaced from their homes and from their livelihoods. But that is where sports and real-life differ. Partition unfolded like sepsis resulting from an injury and ended up amputating India which once thrived on the plank of a culture of fusion. British officers who had witnessed the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp would often compare India’s partition to these brutalities.
On June 3rd, 1947, Lord Mountbatten would announce a plan to partition India, which would be the price that the people would have to pay for gaining Independence. A Test stands for perseverance, determination, and tolerance. The two communities had lost the ‘Test’ the day they had given up on these qualities and had let the narrative of an imperialist nation, its cronies in India and some despots, control their thought processes.
In 1952, six years after the last Test, India would play the newly formed Pakistan, led by the same Abdul H. Kardar, who had once played for India. At that moment when Amarnath met Kardar at the toss, shook his hands, and smiled at his former colleague, both nations knew deep down that Cricket had ceased to be a sport. The bitterness and the rivalry between the two nations in Politics and in Cricket would intensify over the decades, but the memories of the last test played by a united India would remain lost in memory forever.
(Durgaprasad Sabnis is a senior lawyer.)