Sunday, 17 July 2016

First ever Cricket Maidan (ground), & sports club 1792, Calcutta!!

British sailors playing early cricket matches in India..1700s
 68th Light Infantry team playing a cricket match in Calcutta on 15 January 1861 against the Calcutta Cricket Club. coloured print 
by P Carpentier.

 In the last three decades cricket  has become  the most popular sport in India and nowadays you can see kids playing cricket on the narrow streets and in open grounds even in villages, jerry-rigging  Causarina wood as stumps. Their enthusiasm was just amazing. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the game attracted mostly the elite and the forward communities. In those days people enjoyed the game, listening  to the radio commentary by excellent commentators on the cliff hanger matches between India and other teams like Australia, England and West Indies. The was no TV in those years. Mind you the players never wore the protective helmet as players do now, if the hard ball hit on the head if the batsman  made  a wrong hook shot from the incoming bouncer, traveling at high speed - more than 80 miles/hr, it would be a serious matter. The players had to have lots of guts and rely on their techniques and timing. As days go by, more and more kids in India have become passionate about cricket. Several months ago when I went to the saloon, the barber, while watching the cricket match on TV, was naming the field positions like gully, cover, silly mid-off, mid-on, so on  and so forth. Literally I was in a state of shock. Decades ago cricket awareness was poor among the people who never saw high schools. Ever since India won the 1983 Cricket World Cup, craze for cricket has been on the upward mobility.

 It was the English who popularized cricket  in India during the colonial days . According to the cricketing historian Cecil Headlam who was on a visit to India in 1903 during Delhi Durbar (the durbar was held to celebrate the succession of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra as Emperor and Empress of India), introduction of cricket was part of colonial mission to reach out to the people. Perhaps he might have meant through  cricket they could get closer to the elite to make a political mileage out of it.  Hunting  was a past time among the British and they conducted joint  hunting expeditions to the jungles to hunt tiger and other animals with the Indian rulers  and this gave the British an excellent opportunity to  have  close rapport with the powerful Indian people. Even though the schools run by christian missionaries helped  the Indians a lot, on the contrary, it did not help the missionaries to their satisfaction. because the native Indians were deeply religious and had hesitation to accept a new faith that was  altogether different to them. However, the British succeeded to a greater extent when they became  dominant merchants and administrators. They began to show interest in golf, tennis and, of course, cricket to spend their time and discus business. Lots of clubs sprang up later in Bengal and other places and under their aegis many sporting events were conducted.

It was in the year 1725,  first ever friendly match was played by the sailors  stationed at a seaport in Kutch. In 1792, the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club  and later in 1799 another cricket club at Srirangapatnam, now in Karnataka (after Tipu sultan was killed in the last Angelo Mysore war)  were formed by the British to spend their leisure time.  The interesting point is, it was the British Sailors  who evinced keen  interest in cricket and played early matches in India. Incidentally Calcutta Cricket & Football Club, founded in 1792, had the distinction of being  one of the oldest sports clubs in the world. As there was no proper spacious  ground to play cricket, the venue chosen was the esplanade, parallel with the river Hooghly, between Fort William and Government House. An excellent place to play cricket. In 1825, the Calcutta Cricket Club some how managed to get a piece of plot on the Maidan for their activities. Later in 1841 they shifted their venue to the eastern boundary of the Auckland Circus Gardens.
In this  new place the spectators and the contesting players had to sit under the hot sun to see the match unless  there were  big trees. To  erect a suitable pavilion for the spectators and players, approval was given  finally on 19 April, 1864. A nice pavilion measuring 125 ft by 25 ft was built with necessary facilities, using excellent Burma teak wood brought from Burma for this purpose.
This old vintage pavilion had to be demolished to make way for the construction  in 1970s of the Cricket Association of Bengal’s modern B.C. Roy Clubhouse.

The present day Calcutta Cricket & Football, over the centuries,  has under its wing several sporting clubs; mention may be made of Calcutta Cricket Club of 1792 , Ballygunge Cricket Club (1864-1950), Calcutta Football Club (1872-1877) and the revived Calcutta Football Club set up in 1884. They were  part of  Calcutta Cricket & Football Club, a historic sporting institution, a legacy left behind by the British who painstakingly built Calcutta as the second most important city next to London. At one time the British received a big chunk of revenue from Bengal in the formative years. The sports clubs not only provided recreation for the home-sick Europeans, but also social events where the people could socialize, have drinks and fun.