5 human stories from the world of sports from the Fanattic Sports Museum

  1. First All India Cricket Tour of England 1932
Souvenir of First All India Cricket Tour of England 1932

The Times, London on March 1, 1932, one-and-a-half months before the Indians embarked on their tour of England, published the following report:

“The game gown on…The Delhi police may be having three sharp rounds with a rioting crowd in the Chandni Chowk, the crowded bazaar of the old city, but a mile or two away on the club ground set in the gardens that 400 years ago Shah Jehan built for his princess, a Roshanara side will be playing the Punjab Wanderers or an Army team from New Cantonments will be fielding in the white sunlight.…

Here is the team for England:

The Maharaja of Patiala, Captain (eventually withdrew in favour of the Maharaja of Porbander), K. S. Ghanshyamsinhji (Kathiawar), Vice Captain, Amar Singh (Jamnagar), S.M.H Colah (Bombay), Ghulam Mohammed (Ahmedabad), Joginder Singh (Punjab), B.E. Kapadia (Bombay), Lal Singh (Kuala Lumpur), N.D. Marshall (Bombay), J. Naoomal (Karachi), J.G. Navle (Gwalior), C.K. Nayudu (Indore), Nazir Ali (Patiala), S. M. Nissar (Punjab), P.E. Palia (Mysore), S Godambe (Bombay), Wazir Ali (Bhopal).

It will be seen that the team is composed entirely of Indians; the question of selecting Englishmen playing in India did not arise.”

And soon after the Indian team arrived in England on April 13, 1932, the Evening Standard commented on the socio-political significance of the tour:

“No politics, no caste, just cricket. This is the unofficial slogan of the cricket team that has come from India after a lapse of 21 years to try its strength against England and the first class counties.

There has never been such a team of contrasts meeting on the common footing of cricket. The 18 players speak eight to ten languages among them; they belong to four or five different castes.

Caste demands that the Hindus do not eat beef or veal, and that the Mohammedans avoid pork, bacon and ham. So to prevent any difficulties at meal times the order has gone forth that these things must not appear on any menu during the tour. Instead the men will eat mutton, chicken and fish.

The team contains six Hindus, five Mohammedans, four Parsees and two Sikhs. The Mohammedans forswear alcohol by religion and most of the others do so by choice. The Sikhs, who will play cricket in turbans, are similarly denied smoking…”

The Indians played their first tour match against T.G. Trott’s XI at Pelsham Farm, Pearmarsh near Rye on 29 April 1932. Interestingly, playing against the Indian team in this match was Duleepsinhji. While the Indians acquitted themselves well, Lall Singh, with the Sikh from Malaya leading the way, it was on May 22, 1932 in the match against the MCC that the world got a glimpse of what India’s first home grown legend, C. K. Nayudu, was capable of doing.

Nayudu, Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1933, smashed the first Indian century of the tour in style. The Star’s headline on 22 May 1932 summed it all up: “The Hindu Bradman in Form at Lords”. The Observer was equally eloquent: “A brilliant not out innings of 116 by C.K. Nayudu was the feature of the first day’s play between All-India and the MCC.”

However, it was in the first and only Test match at Lords that the Indians shocked the English in the first half-hour itself. The MCC was reduced to a dismal 19-3 by some excellent Indian bowling and fielding. Wrote The Birmingham Post: “It was an extraordinary start to the match. Sutcliffe and Holmes, Yorkshire’s record smashing opening pair, united in a similar manner under the banner of England, went out full of cool confidence.

But the first ball of Nissar’s second over was an in-swinger and Sutcliffe, playing with the edge instead of the middle of the bat, diverted it into the wicket—and one of England’s greatest batsmen was out.

The disappointment was redoubled and revived when the last ball of the same over, a delivery perfect in flight, length and pace, sent Holmes’ off stump spinning through the air, while the batsman was only half way through the stroke…Woolley and Hammond were now together…

When he (Woolley) had got nine in 20 minutes, he played a ball from Nissar to a point between short leg and mid-on. The stroke was worth a comfortable single and no more, but for some extraordinary reason an attempt was made to secure two runs. The fielder, the blue turbaned Lall Singh, threw in rather wildly, but even so the wicketkeeper had time to gather it and remove the bails while Woolley was still several feet from home. The wicket was thrown away by wild calling, and three men were out for 19…”  

Though India eventually lost the match by 158 runs, the courage and grit shown at Lords clearly conveyed to the world that the Indians, in little time, would carve out a niche in the world of cricket.

2. Abhinav Bindra’s Holy Grail moment

The glove that protected the hand that got India it’s 1st individual Olympic glory

In his autobiography, A Shot at History (with Rohit Brijnath), AbhinavBindra has repeatedly emphasised the importance of timing, a state of full preparedness before the big moment arrives. Being the nation’s first ever individual Olympic gold medal winner will always make him special. But what makes the ‘Bindra moment’ pivotal for Indian sport/shooting is that it has encouraged thousands to take up the sport despite its lack of popular appeal and television coverage.

And when we add his many medals at the Asian Games, far more significant than his personal triumph, turns out the fact that his Gold has unleashed a revolution of sorts in Indian shooting. Indian shooters winning at the world stage is no longer a surprise. In fact it is now almost expected, the Rio failure notwithstanding. 

Bindra’s Gold at Beijing in 2008 had suddenly awakened the country to the significance of the Olympics as an event. Indians realised they could win Olympic medals as well. It helped satisfy a national yearning and in the process made a statement about the significance of sport in an era of escalating political turmoil. Olympic success, the victory demonstrated, held the promise of uniting Indians across the country. For the first time in Indian Olympic history, the media appropriated this victory in a manner associated commonly with cricket.

With Bindra going on to add an Asian Games silver in 2010, a CWG gold in 2014 and two more medals at the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon, it is natural that his achievements, analysed for hours on television, has made him into India’s most feted shooter ever.  

What stands out in the Bindra story is that his legacy hasn’t come easy to him. Not many know that Bindra had shot a 4 in his first sighting shot before the final at Beijing in 2008. The second was an equally baffling 4.2. While we still can’t pinpoint the exact reason, (the likelihood is that his standing position was loose and somewhat unstable affecting his balance) first shot of 10.5 in the final against this backdrop helps demonstrate the enormity of the achievement.

3. The start of good things for Sindhu – 2016 Rio Olympics silver medal

Sakshi Malik’s bronze medal had lifted the sense of gloom that had started to cast a spell over the Indian media contingent in Rio. And with PV Sindhu having scalped a top-10 player in the pre quarter-finals, we now had our hopes firmly pinned on a second medal. However, she had a face-off with Wang Yihan of China in the quarters and it was only natural that memories from London would come flooding back. Yihan had beaten Saina Nehwal in London and this time, stood between Sindhu and the medal. It was a brutal contest and Sindhu held her nerves to go past the world number two.

However, Gopichand, her mentor and guru, was  in no mood to relax after the victory. In fact, he had turned that much more stoic and non-expressive after the quarter-final and had turned down every interview request made to him. I was a little taken aback to be honest. Sindhu had just defeated the very best in the world and yet Gopi was refusing to speak.

It was only after she had beaten Naomi Okuhara in the semi-final did the secret finally come out. “Moments after she won the semi-final, my mind went to my own Olympics campaign in Sydney. I had failed to handle pressure and lost my medal. I was starting to have a bad feeling and just did not want to lose a medal this time. I did not want to come fourth. Once she had beaten Naomi, I could breathe easy”, said Gopi, the best thing to happen to Indian badminton for years.

Sindhu, on the other hand, was taking it one day at a time. She knew Carolina Marin would come hard and had prepared for the challenge. The way she came back from 16-19 down to win the first game was evidence of her mental strength, something that was on show right through the competition.

Marin may have won the next two games but this was clearly the best Sindhu had ever played. Court coverage, fitness, commitment- she did it all and the silver medal is testimony to a week of super human effort.

4. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going

For Deepa Malik, life has never been able to pose a challenge that could dim her spirit. From getting operated upon when her husband was serving the nation in Kargil and getting 183 stitches between her shoulder blades, she has been a real life inspiration for years now. Having won sporting laurels at the international stage for close to a decade, the only medal missing from her repertoire was the Paralympic one. And at Rio, she has fulfilled her dream.

Deepa has never been daunted by adversity. When told as a 26-year-old that her choice was between paralysis and death, anyone with a weaker heart would have had a meltdown. A budding sportswoman and cricketer for Rajasthan despite suffering paralytic shocks since the age of eight, Deepa, however, faced the impossibility of life head-on. Seven broken vertebrae and frequent MRI scans in the absence of titanium plates could not stop her from taking to throwing the javelin in 2006. Then it became the shot put, the event that has given her Paralympic glory in Rio.

Tasting success at the 2010 Para Asian Games, Deepa aspired to make a mark at the 2012 London Paralympics. However, she wasn’t able to make it in the absence of a quota and that only resulted in strengthening her resolve. Rio had to happen. It was in a sense the climax of her journey. Having fought 19 long months to get a license as a rally driver in Maharashtra, Deepa knows how it is to be a para athlete in India. She knew the system wasn’t conducive to getting her ready.

But it is never about the system in India, is it? Our athletes win despite the absence of a system. They win because they stand out.  

It is absolutely essential to state in this context that our treatment of Mariyappan, Devendra, Deepa and Varun and our sensitivity and affection showered on these three super achievers will go a long away to defining us as a ‘people’.

Deepa in that sense is an opportunity for each of us to redeem ourselves and stand up to the test of our own conscience. She is the best story of grit and determination that we can possibly have and she is proof that never was it about facilities and infrastructure as it is often made out to be. It was always about will and the determination to succeed. It was about the fire in the belly and the conviction to make a mark at the biggest stage of them all. Finally, it was about the burning desire to make the country proud.

5. Farewell to the God of Cricket :

Sachin’s retirement Test – Wankhede 14-16 November 2013. Not out on 38 overnight at the end of the first day, Sachin Tendulkar set the Wankhede alight with some breathtaking shots first thing in the morning on Day 2. A trademark straight drive for four to bring up his fifty, the “Sachin, Sachin” chants were going through the roof in the near-packed stadium. Can he get that elusive hundred in his last innings?

That was the only question doing the rounds. He couldn’t. But what he did was no less. Vintage batsmanship to finish off, he had given his fans something they will cherish forever. The walk back to the pavilion for one final time, the turnaround to absorb the applause, the tears that flowed the next day and that incredible farewell speech, Sachin could not have finished off any better.

The speech, a spontaneous one from the heart, will rank as one of the best farewell speeches delivered by a sports icon. Not many could have imagined Sachin was capable of such word play and rendition, which spanned a good 20 plus minutes. Meeting Sourav on the way out, greeting Rahul and Laxman when they were shown on screen and bidding a final goodbye to his fans from inside the team bus, it was as if the gods had scripted the perfect swansong for the best ever batsman of all time.

I did have the opportunity of meeting Sachin in the evening on the day it all came to an end. By then he was Bharat Ratna, the ultimate recognition he could have asked for and the first ever Indian sportsperson to have been given the honour. It was in his 19th floor room at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai and the legend was all relaxed while all around him were getting emotional.

Ajit Tendulkar, his brother and more, was with me when we met up in his room at 7pm or so in the evening. Sachin presented me with a box of dark chocolates, signed the match ticket with the words “Bharat Ratna” to mark the end of what had been an incredible journey. Amidst all the emotional outpouring around him, he was still playing the perfect host.

(Chronicled by BoriaMajumdar.)

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