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CK Nayudu: An icon for the ages

The cricketing icon was India's first ever Test captain.


CK N
CK Nayudu

India has had several cricketing heroes over the years, and among the biggest names in the Indian cricketing pantheon is that of CK Nayudu - long considered India's first real Test superstar

Born, like many of India's early cricketing heroes, in British India, Nayudu was a native of Nagpur, in Maharashtra, although his family were from Andhra Pradesh.

As a child, Nayudu did not want for much, with his father a zamindar and a respected lawyer in the area. Cottari Kanakaiya Naidu followed his father into the legal profession, with his younger brother called to the Bar in England as well.

Although he played cricket from the time he was seven, CK Nayudu did not play Test cricket until much later in his life.

Nayudu got his title of 'Colonel' from the then Maharaja of Holkar - his eventual Ranji team, who summoned him and made him a captain in the Army - giving him the title of Colonel at the time.

Professionally into First-Class cricket from the age of 21, Nayudu played the Bombay Triangular - which was divided on the basis of religion; Nayudu was on the 'Hindus' team, and steadied his team, which eventually would end up on the losing side, against the Europeans.

Nayudu made his Test debut in 1932, at the age of 37, with India taking on England in what was the team's first ever Test match, held at Lord's. But age was never a problem for Colonel CK Nayudu, who played until his late 60s.

By late 60s, I do not mean Nayudu played cricket on a personal basis. 'The Colonel,' as he was known to peers, was part of a Ranji Trophy side at that age. Eminent Indian cricketer - now more well-known to younger generations as one of India's most iconic selectors - Chandu Borde, recalled playing against a Holkar side captained by CK Nayudu in the 1952-53 Ranji season.

Borde described Nayudu as a "towering figure" and indeed, Nayudu was a staggering 6 ft 2 in tall and according to several accounts from rivals and those under his leadership at the time, a hard task-master. But the fact that his career spanned over five decades speaks strongly to his fitness and endurance levels as well.

Funnily enough, however, Col Nayudu was a known chain smoker all his life, and it is believed that his 1967 death - from what was described as a "protracted illness with acute respiratory problems" - was a result of his heavy smoking habit.

But for his one big vice, Col Nayudu was a strict disciplinarian - and stories of his rigid nature abound in cricketing history. Most famous of those was an anecdote from the 1952-53 season of the Ranji Trophy, when a Col. Nayudu-led Holkar side took on Maharashtra for a finals berth.

Nayudu was so insistent on sticking to the game and keeping concentration unbroken that he did not want players from either of the teams to drink water during the breaks. It was some cajoling from Holkar player Khandu Rangnekar that saw Nayudu marginally relent - allowing the Maharashtra players to use their drinks break, but not Holkar.

Nayudu was just as strict with himself. Just the year prior, he had been hit with a bouncer off Mumbai's Dattu Phadkar, losing a few teeth and injuring his mouth and jaw in the process.

With bowler Phadkar and Mumbai captain Madhav Mantri both shocked, Nayudu is said to have spat the teeth onto the pitch, refused medical help, and then asked Phadkar to continue bowling - even going so far as to "ask him to bowl another bouncer."

He was a stickler for this sort of discipline, and ordered another Indian first-class icon - Vijay Hazare - back onto the pitch whilst the player was looking to have a cut stitched up during a match, telling Hazare "it can wait."

Over nearly 50 years, Nayudu played in 207 First-class matches, scoring 11,825 runs at 35.94 and taking 411 wickets at an economy of 29.28.

A highly decorated cricketer, Nayudu was chosen as Wisden's Cricketer of the Year in 1933, and in 1955 he became the first cricketer to be nominated for India's third-highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan.

Col. Nayudu also served as a selector in his later life, and passed away in 1967 in Indore.

But his legacy has endured - the BCCI named their Lifetime Achievement Award in CK Nayudu's honour, and India's U-23 tournament is also named for Nayudu.

Aditya Bhushan's "Destined to Lead," a tribute to the iconic cricketer, will be launched in the second week of December.

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