By 1926, Bombay’s – presently known as Mumbai – relationship with cricket was now over a hundred years old. For the people of all classes – rich and poor, Muslim and Hindu – cricket was still the favourite tool for recreation. There were those Bollywood films and various religious and cultural festivals, but for the people of Bombay, cricket was still the best option to get relieved from the monotony of daily life.
According to Mudar Patherya’s “Wills Book of Excellence – Cricket”, the earliest record of cricket’s presence on Indian soil goes back to 1721. To get free from the stress of heavy workloads and ship voyages, the traders placed stumps at Cambay and got engaged in a hurriedly conducted match.
As the British rule continued to become permanent in the Indian subcontinent, cricket entrenched itself further. Matches between the Army and officials of East India Trading company were common. The establishment of the Calcutta Cricket Club in 1792 was a reflection of the game’s enormous popularity in this part of the world. Five years later, Mumbai recorded its first cricket match.
The Parsi community of Bombay took the lead and formed a cricket club in 1848 on Esplanade Maidan. The Parsi community was highly passionate about cricket and they were hungry for success. The Parsi community’s first tour to England was dull and gave it a more experimental status, but their second tour was a highly improved one.
Six foot tall pace bowler Mehellasa Pavri, a doctor by profession, was a sensation during those days. In the late 1880s and 90s, the touring English sides were given a run for their money by the Parsi teams and Pavri’s round-arm fast and accurate pace bowling was instrumental behind this. Bombay embraced cricket cordially and cricket started to become a part and parcel of the Bombay community.
In the course of time, the hey days of Parsi cricket started to dwindle. The competitiveness had sapped away and thus, when the MCC touring team reached Bombay towards the end of November 1926, very few were expecting the local boys to do well. As because before reaching Bombay, the MCC tourists had beaten teams from Sind, Rajputana and Punjab and thus, landed in Mumbai as undefeated. Captained by Arthur Gilligan, the MCC tourists included players like Maurice Tate, Andrew Sandham, George Geary and the future England captain Bob Wyatt. Surely, this MCC team was expected to steamroll the local side.
The MCC team’s first opposition were the Hindus. Famous Indian historian Ramachandra Guha in his article ‘First action hero’ had written: “In its pre-match report, a nationalist paper, newly started, captured the feelings of its likely readers: ‘The tents are pitched and the field set for the reception of the MCC on Monday next and thousands are in their throes of anticipation. India expects Bombay to do its duty – to check the victorious career of the visitors’. Thus far only the Parsis had defeated visiting teams – Vernon’s side in 1889-90, Lord Hawke’s three years later, the Oxford Authentics in 1902-03. ‘Those were the Palmy days of Parsi cricket,’ commented the paper, ‘but now we depend on the Hindus to resist the invaders’.”
Almost twenty-five thousand people had turned out to enjoy the action at the Bombay Gymkhana. The Hindus led by Vithal Palwankar had done pretty well by bowling out the visitors for 363 on day one. MCC’s Guy Earle smashed a swashbuckling 130 which included eight sixes.
The Hindus’ start was a nervy one. The Bombay Gymkhana track still had enough life in it for the pace bowlers and the English pacers utilized it by dismissing one of the Hindu openers. At the end of the first day, the Hindus were 16 for 1 with Janardan Navle and L P Jai at the crease.