How Mumbai shaped Douglas Jardine – the original Ben Stokes

Douglas Jardine and India captain CK Nayadu before the second Test match in January 1934
Douglas Jardine (left) and India captain CK Nayadu before the second Test match in January 1934 - Popperfoto/Getty Images

The ground staff at the Bombay Gymkhana are re-marking the five-a-side football pitches with whitewash and the cafe in the swiss chalet-style pavilion is doing a roaring trade.

The wicker chairs on the verandah overlooking the pitch are all taken and the ceiling fans are whirring hard to keep everyone cool, while waistcoated waiters take orders and pour drinks.

It is a scene that has changed little since 1933 when the club hosted India’s first Test match, the 90th anniversary of which was around six weeks ago. Then it was a club for the British. Clubhouse rules had to be relaxed to allow the India players to enter the pavilion.

Now it remains an exclusive haunt of the wealthy, a contrast to the scraggy Azad Maidan that is separated from the Gymkhana by a narrow path Mumbaikers use to cut through to the city. Descending the stairs from the verandah you pass a black and white photograph taken on December 15, 1933, the first day of the Test, of two men staring down at the camera. One is Douglas Jardine, the other CK Nayadu – the two captains cutting dashing figures of the age.

Jardine, with his hands behind his back, wears a white cravat with the George and Dragon crest on his blazer which is done up by three buttons. Nayudu looks like a film star with his neat moustache and pomaded hair. He is slightly less formal, posing with hand in pocket, his blazer unbuttoned. Another picture shows him walking out to bat with Lala Armanath followed by a pith-helmeted official. The young Armanath would make his name, and a small fortune, with a century in the match.

A short walk away, cutting across the Cross Maidan, is the Cricket Club of India, the Brabourne Stadium, founded by the Maharaja of Patiala in reaction to being told he could not sit in the pavilion of the Gymkhana. It hosted Test cricket until the early 1970s when a dispute led the BCCI to build the Wankhede Stadium, the modern home of IPL and international cricket.

Douglas Jardine and England are welcomed at the Parsee Gymkhana in Bombay, now Mumbai, in December 1933
Jardine front and centre as England are welcomed at the Parsee Gymkhana in Bombay, now Mumbai, in December 1933 - Popperfoto/Getty Images

Less than a mile apart, but separated by almost a century of progress and change, the three grounds tell the story of cricket’s evolution in India.

The Gymkhana is a protected building, so Jardine would recognise it from his time, along with the Bombay High Court just opposite, where his father, Malcolm, practised law at the turn of the 20th century.

Jardine’s tour to India was a year after Bodyline. He had to be persuaded to captain England again and part of his motivation was to see where he was born and the old family home. Malabar Hill, where the Jardines lived, is now home to modern skyscrapers, a place for the super rich of Mumbai. Many of the colonial buildings are long gone, the skyline dramatically changed.

Jardine gave many speeches on the tour, predicting India would one day be cricket’s major power. That is something Ben Stokes would recognise now.

Reading through the press reports of the match, some of the comments feel very familiar today. Jardine was a tactical master, totally committed to his team and their methods. He was not without vanity, obviously, and the tour would contain some tense moments when England bowled bumpers, but he was praised for fielding changes, rotation of his bowlers and for being a diplomat – not a natural strength of his – giving many speeches, recognising the importance of Anglo-Indian ties, although his relationship with governor general Lord Willingdon cooled when they rowed over the length of time a cricket pitch was to be rolled.

Stokes does not have to bother with that kind of diplomacy. He would also blanche at the itinerary: 50 matches in five-and-a-half months with a 14-man squad. This tour is five Tests in seven weeks with a chef, analyst and massage therapist tending to the players.

While Jardine relaxed by big-game hunting (his haul included a lion, tiger, panther, bear and stag), Stokes prefers taking pot shots on the golf course. The current England squad speak with awe and praise about Stokes’s management skills. In his excellent biography of Jardine, the Spartan Cricketer, Christopher Douglas quotes letters he received from some of the players on the 1933 tour. Kent wicketkeeper Hopper Levett said Jardine did not radiate “much cheerfulness and appeared to take an aggressive attitude towards the opposition”. By contrast, John Human, Middlesex batsman, described a “wonderful man and credit to Winchester College” who wrote to his parents when Human went down with malaria in Bombay. Human felt his standoffishness was because of an “inferiority complex to strangers”.

Douglas Jardine and England on their way to India aboard the SS Mooltan
Jardine (centre) with his England team on board the SS Mooltan, docked in Marseille on their voyage to India in 1933 - Popperfoto/Getty Images

The players lined up to praise his tactics, even with a severely weakened team. The tour featured four seam bowlers – Nobby Clark of Northants and Essex’s Stan Nichols, while India had Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh. There were more bruises than bodyline although leg theory was rarely deployed when it was, during the first Test, England were barracked, and again in Madras when India opener Naoomal Jeoomal missed a hook and was knocked out.

England won the first Test by nine wickets (and would take the series 3-0). The wire report states that most of the opening over by England consisted of “bumpers” and Jardine dropped a “sitter” of a catch. “The ground presented an animated appearance as members of all castes crowded in, struggling for vantage points. Improvised shelters against the sun, consisting of sheets of canvas spread over poles were filled to capacity, and as a background there were minarets of mosques, some of the finest examples of Indian architecture,” read a front page report in the Birmingham Daily Gazette.

Former England captain Arthur Gilligan, writing in Daily News, gave his verdict from reading wire copy, and an on-the-spot report by Jack Hobbs, who was working for the Daily Star. “The outstanding feature was the magnificent captaincy of DR Jardine who, as I suggested he would do, excelled in field placings and bowling changes. A study of the cables shows us that Jardine was plotting and scheming all the while.

“Naidu (sic) dismissal was the result of an astute piece of captaincy by Jardine. The skipper moved a man over from the leg side, leaving a gap in the field, and Naudi, trying to place the ball in that direction, missed it with fatal result (and was lbw).”

Douglas Jardine on a liner to Australia
Jardine, like Ben Stokes, was praised for his tactical acumen in the field - Getty Images/Topical Press Agency

A similar verdict has been written about Stokes many times, including on this tour. It was Lala Armanath (written as Amar Nath in the UK press) who became a hero for his 118, and a crowd of 50,000 were drawn to the Gymkhana on day three to see him make his century. He was garlanded at the end of the match as India cricket’s obsession with personal milestones began. The front page of the UK’s Daily Herald: “Hindu women took off diamond nose rings and ear rings and stripped themselves of bracelets and anklets to provide gifts for Amar Nath. Cheques, cash, jewellery, cups, medals and bats were showered on him. Several Hindu millionaires present insisted on the cricketer accepting cheques from them. A motor car was the gift of another millionaire. He had to engage several coolies to carry all his presents away to the hotel. Tonight Amar Nath is the most famous man in India. A week ago he was unknown outside local cricket circles.”

Cricket had the power to change lives then, and does now. Just ask Yahasvi Jaiswal, who began his cricket journey on the Azad Maidan, a short lofted drive from the Gymkhana.

One final word on Jardine. On his day off in Bombay he met with his old family servant and took him to visit his late wife’s grave. Moments later he dropped dead. Jardine rushing him to hospital in vain. It was a very different touring life then.

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