Mumbai’s Illustrious Cricketing History

Mumbai’s Illustrious Cricketing History
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After the First War of Independence had been fought and crushed brutally in 1857, India remained under British colonial rule. It was the year 1890. An ex-Test cricketer from England, Colonel George Robert Canning Harris, was named the bustling Bombay Presidency Governor. Lord Harris stayed on for five years till 1895. During this time, he played an integral part in introducing Mumbai to one of its eternal loves—cricket.

Mumbai—Cradle of Indian Cricket

As the Governor and ex-cricketer for the Queen’s team, Lord Harris was deeply involved in the Presidency cricket matches that pitted veteran European cricket players against the fledgling Indian cricket team full of locals who Harris thought had ‘talent.’

Held between 1892 and 1907, these Presidency matches inducted the locals into the gentleman’s game, a sport that Mumbai (then Bombay) locals turned out to be exceptionally good at.

Known as the cradle of Indian cricket, Mumbai has stayed true to its name. Over the preceding century, Mumbai has been home to more than 75 cricketers who went on to play internationally. Of these, an outstanding 69 share over 77,469 runs and 1,413 wickets between them.

The history of cricket in Mumbai stretches back to before the locals even knew what cricket was. The Azad Maidan was first used to play cricket by the Englishmen stationed in the Bombay Presidency. Azad Maidan, Oval Maidan, and Cross Maidan were all a part of the sprawling space known as the Esplanade during the 1800s.

The Parsi Present

It was the Parsi community that got the ball rolling. Having immigrated from Iran, the Parsi community was no stranger to assimilation. In his paper “Cricket and Politics of Colonial India,” historian Ramchandra Guha wrote of how Parsi boys started “imitating white soldiers… using hats as wickets, umbrellas as bats, and old leather, stuffed with rags and sewn up, as balls.” For the Parsis, cricket was not an alien game, considering they already played the Persian sport of gooye-i-baazi played with a stick and a ball.

Introduction of Cricketing Clubs

The Parsis founded the very first cricketing club called the Oriental Cricket Club in 1848. In the decade that followed, several other Parsi cricket clubs were established. As people of all religious communities began to participate in inter-club tournaments, it is understandable that it rubbed the imperial power the wrong way. Told not to use the Esplanade to play cricket, the local players had to appeal to the Governor to ask the Bombay Gymkhana’s all-white polo team not to ruin the parade ground.

By the 1870s, only the Young Zoroastrians Club was still in existence and continues to remain to this day. Today, the team is a part of the Mumbai Kanga League’s Plate division, with the honorary joint secretary of MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) Nitin Dalal at its helm.

After the Parsis, the Hindu community took an interest in cricket, but caste segregation never allowed Hindu clubs to reach the desired level of excellence. The Muslim community of Bombay entered the fray only in 1883 when the Mohammedan Cricket Club was founded. Lord Harris sanctioned the illustrious row of gymkhanas at Marine Drive. By 1900, there was a Parsee Gymkhana, Islam Gymkhana, and the P.J. Hindu Gymkhana (then the Hindu Cricket Club) right opposite the sea face.

Coming Together for Cricket

Mumbai’s tryst with cricket has been a lifelong love affair. The Bombay Gymkhana holds the honour of hosting the first Test match played on Indian soil in December 1933, where Punjab’s Lala Amarnath made a name for himself as the first Test century-scoring Indian. The Pentagular Trophy tournaments made way for the Ranji Trophy premier domestic matches in 1946.

In the 82-year-long history of Ranji, Mumbai has won more titles than the rest of India put together. Azad Maidan was also immortalised when Shardashram Vidyamandir’s Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli carved out a record-breaking 664/not out partnership while playing for the Harris Shield 1988.

From the Brabourne stadium in 1937 to the much-loved cricketing ground Wankhede in 1974, the local hub for cricket might have shifted, but cricket has continued to play a leading role in the hearts of Mumbai locals. Mumbai’s robust cricketing culture that started from the Maidans has given birth to internationally-renowned players without letting go of its domestic tournament roots.

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