More than a century after it witnessed its first cricket match, Indore was accorded Test status by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in October 2016. India drubbed New Zealand in the match held at Holkar Stadium to add a new chapter to the city’s rich cricketing history.
Founded in the early 18th century, the city was home to some of cricket’s luminaries in the early 19th century. CK Nayudu, India’s first Test captain, played most of his cricket here. Maharashtra-born Janardan Navle, the first Indian to face a ball in Test cricket, plied his trade at Holkar. India’s first Test centurion overseas, Syed Mushtaq Ali, was born and brought up in Indore.
Cricket takes roots
The Third Anglo-Maratha War saw the defeat of Holkar rulers in Indore following which an agreement was signed on January 6, 1818, with the British. The agreement led to the establishment of Indore Residency, a political residency with a British resident. Later, Indore was made the headquarters of the British Central India Agency. Establishment of the Residency might have brought cricket to Indore, according to experts.
Dev Kumar Vasudevan, a Mhow-based historian, says the annual reports of city’s Daly College, which was set up in 1864 for the children of the princely states, suggest that the game was first played in Indore in the 1890s on its historical cricket ground. Newsletters of Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA), however, state that cricket was first played in Mhow and Residency ground in Indore in the 1850s. But it was a local Parsi club — established in 1890 — that started giving opportunities to local players. Since Daly College had its team comprising members of royal families, it used to play matches at the ground with the Europeans.
‘Jungly’ Greig’s birthplace
Mhow, which was renamed as Dr Ambedkar Nagar in 2003, is a small cantonment town 30 kms away from the district headquarters Indore. The small town might have given the country its first cricketing hero. John Glennie ‘Jungly’ Greig was born here on October 24, 1871 — less than a year before KS Ranjitsinhji in Sarodar, Kathiawar. He is considered by many as India’s first great batsman. So how did he become ‘Jungly’ Greig? His fans, who usually were Indians, could not pronounce Glennie and used to call him Jungly instead. Jungly, interestingly, translates into ‘wild’ in English.
He later moved to England and joined the army. His association with the British army made him return to India. A small man with supple wrists, Greig made his first-class debut in the second Bombay Presidency match. He represented Hampshire and also occupied key posts as secretary and president of the club. Greig, who went on to play more than 100 first-class matches while scoring more than 7,000 runs, also served as a selector when the All India side was chosen for its first official tour of England in 1911. Greig was not the last great cricketer to be associated with Mhow. Denis Compton was posted at Mhow during World War II. It was during this period that he played for Holkar in the Ranji Trophy.
The beginning of Holkar era
Tukoji Rao III Holkar, the 13th Maharaja of Indore, is credited with promoting the game in the city.
Those who know the history of Indore cricket say Tukoji Rao was a cricket enthusiast and wanted his only son Yeshwant Rao II Holkar to learn the nuances of the game. He also formed a team consisting of palace officials so that Yeshwant could play the game. In 1916, he established Yeshwant Cricket Club to ensure his son played cricket professionally. The Indore ruler also hired services of Alexander Stewart Kennedy of Hampshire and leg-spin googly bowler from Oxford, Bernard James Bosanquet to coach Yeshwant.
Not satisfied with his son’s progress, Tukoji invited prominent players from the country in his quest to hone Yeshwant’s cricketing skills. Tukoji eventually invited Nayudu to Indore in 1923 and made him a Colonel in the Holkar army. Nayudu was also installed as the captain of Yeshwant Cricket Club.
As luck would have it, Tukoji had to relinquish the throne to his son after the scandalous Bawla murder case in 1926. The coronation of Yeshwant Rao, though, changed little as like his father, the 14th Maharaja of Indore continued patronising the game and its players.
Dominance in Ranji
Nayudu’s arrival marked a new era in Indore’s cricket scene. The influx of professional cricketers grew considerably by 1927 with a sharp rise in cricketing activities in the city. Yeshwant Rao was instrumental in the formation of Holkar team in 1940. He passed on the reins of the team to CK, who in turn brought noted cricketers like Chandu Sarwate, Khandu Rangnekar, Hiralal Gaekwad, Arjun Nayudu, Kamal Bhandarkar and S Dhanwade to Indore to form a formidable outfit. The team also consisted of local stars like Mushtaq Ali, MM Jagdale, JN Bhaya, Rameshwar Pratap Singh and NR Nivsarkar. Rao also invited foreign teams to Indore and even sponsored the team’s overseas trips.
Holkar participated in the Ranji Trophy from 1941-42 to 1954-55 playing 49 matches. The tournament was then played in a knockout format. Holkar reached the final on ten occasions in those 14 years, winning the coveted trophy four times. The team twice went out in the semifinals.
India’s 1st Test centurion overseas
The great Mushtaq Ali learnt the basics of cricket from his elder brother Altaf and maternal uncle Bashir in Indore. In his early days, Ali used to play cricket at Police Line where his family resided. His father Syed Yaqoob was posted as Shahar Kotwal (city inspector) with the Central Indian Agency Police.
The family moved to Ali Manzil in the Residency Area after Yaqoob’s retirement. The locality is now called Ushaganj. By then, Tukoji had brought CK Nayudu to Indore. After moving to Indore, CK rented a house near Mushtaq Ali’s place and thus began the association. CK was accompanied by his brothers CR and CS Nayudu.
Mushtaq Ali’s son Syed Gulrez, who has played Ranji matches for Madhya Pradesh, has a story on how CK convinced his grandfather to allow his father to play a tournament in Hyderabad. “CK sought my grandfather’s permission to allow my father to accompany him to Hyderabad to play a tournament. My father was still a teenager then. However, my grandfather agreed as he always wanted my father to play cricket.”
Mushtaq Ali’s memoirs Cricket Delightful reveals that he played for Raja Dhanarajgiri’s team in the Behram Ud Dowlah tournament. He claimed a hat-trick against Nizam’s Railway side and scored 65 against Hyderabad XI for the team that went on to win the final. After starting out as a slow left-arm orthodox spinner, Mushtaq soon transformed into a good batsman. This all-round ability meant he was called for selection trials for India’s first-ever Test on home soil in 1933.
He missed out on the chance to represent the country in the historic match in Mumbai (then Bombay) but the dashing all-rounder was included in the playing XI for the second Test scheduled in Kolkata, making the 19-year-old India’s youngest Test player then. Four years later, the right-hand batsman created history when he became the first Indian to score a Test century overseas. Opening the innings with Vijay Merchant in 1936, he scored 112 against England at Old Trafford in Manchester.
When Jardine went hunting
A strong Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) led by Douglas Jardine toured India in 1933-34. During the visit, three Test matches and several first-class matches were played in various cities. After two Tests, one each in Bombay and Calcutta, the Jardine-led side visited Indore and played an unofficial match against Central India XI at the Daly College ground. The visiting team was led by CF Walters in the absence of Jardine, who skipped the match for shikaar (hunting).
The MCC sides visited Indore six times. Among those visits, was a tour in February 1977. Mike Brearley led MCC against Ranji Trophy winners Bombay in a match played at Nehru Stadium.
In January 1982, MCC visited Indore once again and played against Central Zone at Nehru Stadium. The MCC team comprised stalwarts like Ian Botham and Mike Gatting.
The last man standing
In their glorious days, Holkar batsmen set a world record, which is still intact. During their 1945-46 Ranji Trophy semifinal against Mysore at the Yeshwant Club ground, six Holkar batsmen slammed centuries in a single innings. Those who entered the record books were CK Nayudu, Kamal Bhandarkar, Chandu Sarwate, MM Jagdale, BB Nimbalkar and Rameshwar Pratap Singh. None of them is among us barring one.
Meet the nonagenarian Rameshwar Pratap, who was a part of that elite club that created history. The 93-year-old lives with his family in Indore, not very far from the Yeshwant Club where he played most of his cricket. Fondly remembering his playing days, he said: “It was an honour to play for the great Holkar team which had so many stalwarts. We, the youngsters, were fortunate enough to be a part of that side.”
He made his debut for Holkar at 17 in 1943. However, the most important match of his career came a couple of years later. Rameshwar Pratap was still in school (Daly College). “Almost everyone got a century in that game except for Mushtaq Ali, who got out for 2,” Rameshwar Pratap said.
Yeshwant Rao Holkar, president of the selection committee, was also present at the ground. In fact, Maharaja Holkar asked skipper CK Nayudu to declare when Rameshwar Pratap was on 80 as the team’s total has already gone past 800. However, a member of the selection committee convinced Maharaja not to declare the innings and let Rameshwar Pratap complete his century. Holkar eventually declared at 912 for 8. He scored exactly 100. Among the other centurions, Bhandarkar scored 142, Sarwate 101, Jagdale 164, Nayudu 101 and Nimbalkar 142. Apart from six centuries, the Holkar innings also saw seven century partnerships and the then highest total in a Ranji Trophy match. Tamil Nadu equalled it in 1988-89, while Hyderabad bettered it with 944/6 declared against Andhra Pradesh in 1993-94.
Rameshwar Pratap was also a part of a record eighth-wicket partnership in the premier domestic tournament with Sarwate until Amit Mishra and Jayant Yadav surpassed them by putting up 392 runs for Haryana against Karnakata in 2012. Holkar were struggling at 181/7 in their 1950-51 semifinal against Delhi at Feroz Shah Kotla when Rameshwar Pratap took guard. The duo put on 236 for the eighth-wicket stand helping the team reach 615. The match ended in a draw but Holkar progressed to the final based on first innings lead.
10 Times Holkar team entered Ranji Trophy finals in 14 years of its existence, winning the title four times in 1945-46, 1947-48, 1950-51 and 1952-53.
49 Ranji matches Holkar team has played. On 40 occasions, the team was led by the legendary CK Nayudu while Mushtaq Ali led the side in the remaining nine matches. Mushtaq Ali also has the distinction of playing all 49 matches for the Holkar team.
0 International matches India have lost at the Holkar Stadium. They’ve played a Test, five ODIs and one T20I at the venue so far.
1 Sachin Tendulkar became the first to score 10,000 ODI runs when he made 139 against Australia at the Nehru Stadium in Indore.