Saturday, December 07, 2019

Posted at: Jul 14, 2019, 12:15 AM; last updated: Jul 14, 2019, 12:15 AM (IST)

Shot stories

The World Cup comes to an end today but cricket goes on. Here are some lesser-known cricketing tales from the region. Read on...

Subhash Rajta

In the run-up to Independence, two English cricket teams toured this part of the world. In 1933, an English team, led by Douglas Jardine, the architect of the infamous Bodyline theory, played a tour game against Maharaja Bhupinder Singh’s team in Patiala. In 1940, a club team from England squared off against the Chamba State cricket team. Surprisingly, the visitors finished second best on both the occasions — in Patiala, a ‘tactical masterstroke’ by the hosts is said to have left them stumped; and in Chamba, a superlative individual performance from an unknown local youth caught them on the wrong foot.

The Maharaja of Patiala was a keen cricketer and generous patron of the sport. It’s believed that his aides felt a loss in their own backyard would reflect poorly on the Maharaja’s and state’s cricketing credentials, and hence they chalked out a ‘strategy’ to ensure a favourable result. As part of the plan, it’s said, lavish parties were thrown for the English players that ran late into the night to ensure the visitors were sleepy and tired when they turned up on the ground the next day. For the record, the hosts outscored the visitors in a three-day match.

“We’ve heard umpteen stories about how the liquor flowed in those parties, how women sang and danced to keep the Englishmen engaged until very late in the night,” says a senior cricket administrator, requesting anonymity. “The plan worked well... Despite the presence of several big names, the English side couldn’t perform to its potential and the hosts won the match.” Sounds pretty much like the now-banned after-match IPL parties! 

SM Verma, one of the vice-presidents of the Punjab Cricket Association  and a retired history professor, feels such stories are exaggerated and mere hearsay. “In the royal family, it was a traditional thing to welcome and lavishly entertain their guests. Parties may have been thrown but it’s wrong to assume that the celebrations were organised to distract the visitors. The English players were grown-up and mature; wouldn’t they have figured it out if anything fishy was happening?” asks Verma.

“The Maharaja was famous for his hospitality. He would send his Rolls-Royce cavalcade to Lahore to fetch the visiting teams; he would take them on shikaar (hunt) and ensure they were looked after extremely well. Similarly, the Jardine-led team was accorded a rousing welcome and was looked after very well.”

What Verma says could be true but most tend to believe the more colourful and intriguing version of the event. What’s going to be your pick?

With love, from a dacoit

It’s not unusual for cricketers to receive letters and messages of appreciation from their fans. What if such a letter comes from an incarcerated dacoit? Sounds improbable? Well, not quite. Haryana’s record-breaking spinner Rajinder Goel did receive one such letter way back in 1985, when his tally of wickets went past 600. It’s almost 35 years since a dacoit, imprisoned in a Madhya Pradesh jail, wrote the letter but the highest wicket-taker in India’s domestic circuit remembers the day and details like it happened yesterday. “I had gone to Delhi to play a match. When I returned, I was shocked to learn that a dacoit had written me a letter. I was stunned, a little scared too. But when I read the letter, I was really moved,” says Goel.

When his friends and teammates learnt about it, they tried to scare him saying the dacoit was perhaps setting him up. “The Haryana Cricket Association had given me a cash award of Rs 25,000 when I picked my 600th wicket. My friends pulled my leg saying perhaps the dacoit had learnt about it and wanted to grab that money,” laughs Goel. “But I knew it was a genuine letter and I even wrote back to him.”

Till date, Goel has preserved the letter. He considers it as big an award as any he has won in the course of his illustrious career. “I’ve broken several records, won many awards. I was awarded CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award two years back. For me, this letter is as valuable as any of these awards,” says Goel.

That’s not difficult to understand. After all, how many sportspersons would have impressed dacoits with their craft enough to get an appreciation letter from them!

Cheers to Patiala peg

If you love your Patiala peg, you got to thank cricket for it. While many stories abound about its origin, including the one related to polo, Verma recounts the one linked to cricket. According to the retired history professor, most of the British soldiers stationed in India were avid cricketers. One Colonel Douglas, who was stationed in Ambala, would often visit Patiala with his team to play against the Maharaja’s team. “In around 1915-16, the Patiala XI hammered the British team in one such game, with the Maharaja scoring a double hundred,” recalls Verma. “As usual, a party was thrown in the evening. That day Maharaja was so thrilled that he poured drinks himself. In his excitement, he poured drinks double the normal size, leaving Douglas aghast. Sensing Douglas’ discomfort, he quipped ‘don’t worry, this is how we celebrate our victory and serve our guests. This is a Patiala peg, enjoy’.”

Chamba checkmate

In the quaint hill town of Chamba, the visiting English side proved no match to the sheer brilliance of a local youth playing for the Chamba State team. “His name was Mahant... he wore no pads, no shoes but ended up smashing a match-winning hundred, besides picking up four wickets,” recalls SC Nayyar, the founding secretary of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. Now in his late eighties, Nayyar was just 10 years’ old when he watched the native team thrash the English side. And all he remembers from the game is the exploits of Mahant, and the result. “The match was played at Chamba’s Chaugan, and a huge crowd had turned up to watch the game. England scored some 180 odd runs, but the local team chased it down rather comfortably, thanks to Mahant’s century,” says Nayyar, sounding absolutely certain.

The corroboration of Nayyar’s account, if at all needed, comes from Mirza Asghar Baig, an 80-year-old retired drawing teacher in Chamba. And he would know, for his father, uncle and one of their cousins were an integral part of the Chamba State cricket team, developed and nourished by Raja Ram Singh. “All three of them played in that game and several other matches. The Raja would say he could take on any team in the world if he had these three players in his team,” recalls Baig.

The octogenarian discloses that Chamba’s victory was no fluke. The province, he says, had a thriving cricket culture and the players were quite skilful and well prepared to take on the English side. “Cricket was regularly played between the provinces of Chamba, Mandi, Suket and Kullu. There was a dedicated sports week during which these provinces would play with each other. So, the win over the English side would have hardly come as a surprise to the people here at that time,” says Baig.

And to show his hometown in even more glowing light, this time literally, the old man informs Chamba was the second place in India to get electricity. “Kolkata was the first city to get electricity in 1908, Chamba got it in 1910, two years before Delhi was illuminated,” he says with an an unmistakable hint of pride in his voice.


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