1936 England tour – Amarnath -Vizzy Fracas


The ongoing controversy between England fast bowler Jimmy Anderson and India spinner Ravindra Jadeja has stifled a hornet’s nest. Tours in England seem to have a penchant for such controversies that keep the paparazzi busy. In 1936 the great Lala Amarnath was sent back for ‘indiscipline’, in 1974 tour there were so many dissensions in the team that two of the senior players got into fist cuffs in front of everybody. It took us back to 1996 with the hot headed Navjyot Singh Sidhu walking out of the tour because he thought the then captain was abusing him time and again. And now, Jimmy Anderson allegedly pushing Jadeja when they were returning to the pavilion therefore there is no dearth in controversies in cricket and the best thing is that they be settled amicably except the one which happened in 1936. The second tour of all India Test team’ to England after India was baptised into Test cricket in 1932. India was still a colony of England and whatever happened should be seen in that context.
I am at present in the middle of reading the voluminous book ‘A History of Indian Cricket’ by the eminent author Mihir Bose. I had already read ‘Lala Amarnath – Life and Time’ a biography written by his youngest son Rajinder Amarnath. The episode in England happened in a match against minor counties on June 17, 1936 at Lord’s stadium.
Before narrating the sordid saga, I would like to lay out the background of this tour. As India was a colony of the British Raj, it was natural that Englishmen would have the last say. At that time there were no selection committees in place but the BCCI members would themselves select the captain and the team by votes. The game was sponsored by the kings and princes of various princely states prevailing at that time. In the fore front was the Maharaja Bhupindersingh of Patiala, then the prince of Vizianagaram Vijay Anand Gajapati Raju or known as ‘Vizzy’. Then there were the other princes but they always were on the background and did not dabble in the affairs of the BCCI. Patiala too old to play and hence withdrew. Iftikar Pataudi, father of Nawab of Pataudi declined to Indian team captaincy and the natural choice should have been the mercurial C.K.Nayudu. However the wily fox that he was, Vizzy manipulated the committee and had himself named captain defeating the commoner C.K.Nayudu by 10 votes to 5.
Vizzy was an excellent administrator. There is not an iota of doubt that he has served Indian cricket well as a promoter by organising international tours with his own money by inviting current Australian and England players to play in India or alongside then in the various tournaments in India. But his ambition of becoming an excellent player propelled him to manipulate the BCCI in his favour as captain or else he would not have earned a place in the team. He showered expensive gifts upon the Englishmen who mattered in cricket -in this case Lord Willingdon, Viceroy of India, who was interested in the administration in cricket. He even influenced the wife of the viceroy Lady Willingdon to have the National Tournament in her name and the blue print of the trophy chiselled in gold was ordered from England. But Maharaja of Patiala saw to it that better sense prevailed and he donated the trophy which is today known as the ‘Ranji Trophy’. Vizzy managed to get officer on special duty to the Viceroy, Major Brittain – Jones to be the manager for the tour finalising complete control over the touring team. Needless to say, Vizzy failed with the bat and captained the side without any knowledge of the field placements and without taking the bowlers into confidence. He used to present the opposite captains with golden watches to bowl full tosses to him but still his highest score was 19. He shrewdly divided the players by putting them against each other by rumour mongering and creating camps like ‘Patiala player’ which he included his arch rival C.K.Nayudu. He even offered Mushtaq Ali a gold watch to get Vijay Merchant run out as ‘Vijaybhai,’ an industrialist himself, had a mind of his own. The genial Mushtaq did no such thing.
Nanik Amarnath Bharadwaj or ‘Lala’ Amarnath was at that time an outspoken, impetuous youth, a lad born in Kapurthala, Punjab but brought up in Lahore where his cricketing initiations started. He was known and respected for his excellent cricketing abilities as an all rounder. He had already proved his mettle as the first Indian to score a Test century which he accomplished in 1933 at Bombay Gymkhana. In England, he was burning to prove himself in the temple of cricket and was successful as the highest run scorer and second highest wicket taker. But Vizzy had already placed him in ‘Patiala camp’ and lost no time to slight the youngster.
The three day match started with the great Mushtaq Ali (135) and Vijay Merchant(95) sharing a 203 run partnership in reply to Minor counties’ score of 286. Amarnath was to go in next and was padded up for close to one and a half day, but Vizzy told him that he was not going but to remain padded up. Vizzy sent C.S.Nayudu, a bowler, Wazir Ali before him and he was sent at number 7. Amarnath played out the remaining time and at the end of the days play came in to the dressing room and flung his bat in his kit, did the same with his gloves and pads. He was clearly frustrated for this slight and now he was venting his anger. While doing so he muttered in Punjabi“XXX XXX, aasi bari cricket khel li char saal tonh, asi koi bevkoof nahi haan, saano saab pata hai” (I have played enough cricket in the last four years and I am no fool, I know what is transpiring). This was in full view of other players and the altercations were distinctly heard in the member’s room just below the Lords dressing room. Vizzy turned and asked if he was speaking to him to whom Amarnath replied “I am not speaking to anyone in particular nor do I want to speak to anybody”.
What the young Amarnath did was clearly a breach of discipline and needed a reprimand but what followed was bizarre. Vizzy took this opportunity and with consultations with Major Brittan Jones, the manager, ordered Amarnath to pack his bags and catch the next boat, train, or ship to India. This decision had no sanction of the BCCI. Amarnath and the team were shattered. The seniors in the team represented the case to Vizzy for reconsideration and after much coaxing and pleading Vizzy relented and asked Amarnath to write a letter of apology which Amarnath did. But the plot thickened. Lord Willingdon, the Viceroy of India was present in the member’s room and though he feigned ignorance and through the OSD Brittain Jones saw to it that the Amarnath was sent back. His plot was sinister. It had political overtures. He wanted to show the world that if the cricket team could not stay together what would the country do after it was given independence? This was pertaining to the freedom movement which was gathering steam and had the Raj frustrated.
The move backfired. Amarnath got a rousing reception at Bombay where he landed and there was a hue and cry against the decision, not only in the press in India but also in England. Their view was that Amarnath, who was now a national hero, had to punished but deporting was a capital punishment not commensurate the indiscipline. BCCI President at that time Maharaja of Bhopal and the members decided to send Amarnath back. All arrangements were made to fly Amarnath back to England for the rest of the tour but the cable from the highest government office in London to the BCCI put paid of all the hopes of Amarnath going back. The Viceroy was at it again. Vizzy was used like a pawn.
After the tour, the inquiry committee called the Beaumont Committee was commissioned by the BCCI. Vizzy fared poorly in the post-tour enquiry especially in his treatment of Amarnath. In January 1937, the Beaumont Committee report described his captaincy as disastrous. It stated that “he did not understand field placing or bowling changes and never maintained any regular batting order.” On team selection, the report stated that the good players remained idle for weeks together. The report found Amarnath not guilty of any of the charges alleged by Vizzy and Major Jones, and completely exonerated him.
Vizzy never played another cricket match for India again. But ironically, had a hand in bringing back Amarnath as captain of India in 1952 when he was the BCCI President.


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