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When Cricket & Politics Meet - The first cricket test on Indian soil

It was the winter of 1933. Two leaders were guiding their troops across the length and breadth of Undivided India – one through the palaces, clubs, hunting grounds and cricket fields of the princely states and the Raj; the other through the cities, towns and villages of a country divided by religion and caste, seeking to stand on its own two feet as a nation.

On the one hand, Douglas Jardine, vilified by the Australians for his Bodyline tactics in the last Ashes series that had almost severed their ties with the mother country, was on his last tour as Captain of England. Fittingly enough, this tour was to the land of his birth. He was leading the MCC team (which would, as tradition demanded, be called ‘England’ for the test matches and ‘MCC’ for all others) for what would be India’s first home Test Series after the debut tour of the British Isles the previous summer.

On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign for freedom was at a crossroads. In 1932, campaigners like B.R. Ambedkar were fighting for the cause of the lower castes. The Raj, finding it well-suited to their longstanding policy of ‘Divide and Rule’ (adopted from Julius Caesar’s Divide et impera), announced the ‘Communal Award’ that provided a separate electorate process for the Dalits. Vehemently opposed to this, Gandhi, who was in jail for his Swaraj (Self Rule) movement, went on a fast unto death.

In September that year, the Poona Pact was signed between Madan Mohan Malviya, B.R. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi. The pact agreed to collapse the electoral process for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes within the overall electoral process and reserve about 19% of the legislature seats for these classes. In 1933, a few months after being released from jail, Gandhi, in sympathy with the winds of change, paused his Civil Disobedience campaign and threw his considerable clout behind the movement for social reform.

The timing of the cricket tour was, thus, truly fortuitous.

That winter, the virtual paths of Jardine and Gandhi would cross time and again. Cricket, as the unifier of the country’s masses across communal divides, would compete with the newly-energised campaign for social reform against ‘untouchability’ for the attention of the urban high-caste Hindu populace. A heady mix of politics and cricket would engage a fascinated nation for the better part of four months. It would be a winter to remember.

About the Writer

Anindya Dutta is a cricket columnist in major newspapers and sports journals worldwide. He is also author of two books Spell-binding Spells and A Gentleman’s Game. His third book on cricket is slated to be released in 2019. By profession an international banker, he lives in Singapore.@Cric_Writer

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