Cricket is not just a sport for India, it is a religion. This statement has been ringing around the gullies and mohallas for almost a century. Children come out every evening not just with their bats and Cosco balls, but also with enthusiasm dripping from their tongues, talking of Sachin Tendulkar scores or Virat Kohli’s average. But, they barely know about the cricket and players from the pre-Independence era. They may know about how the freedom fighters forced the English to leave the country but most won’t know how the Indian cricketers fought against their English counterpart in the game of cricket, a sport that the latter created and boasts to have perfected.
Do the young millennials or even the kids of Generation Z know who scored the first century against England in Tests and how many have been scored before the year 1947? If they don’t, might as well have a look at this article where we tell about the cricketers who made India proud before it was an independent state.
Lala Amarnath aka Nanik Amarnath Bhardwaj
One of the most controversial Indian cricketers of all time, Lala Amarnath was the first Indian batsman to score a century in Test against England and that too in his fifth First-Class match. Amarnath scored the century on December 15, 1933, at Gymkhana Ground, Bombay (Mumbai).
Amarnath scored 118 runs batting for over 3 hours and hitting 21 boundaries as he came out to bat at No.3. Amarnath led India’s fightback in the second innings with skipper C.K. Nayudu but could not revive India from its downtrodden position and lost the Test. But Amarnath won many hearts, with women throwing their jewellery at the centurion and the crowd even chanted ‘God Save the King’.
Amarnath did not let his legacy die. His sons Surinder Amarnath and Mohinder Amarnath both played for India, with latter having had a fantastic record. Mohinder was also in India’s first World Cup winning team in 1983.
Vijay Merchant aka Vijaysingh Madhavji Merchant
The Indian batsman who was dubbed by West Indies’ George Headley as ‘the black Bradman’, Vijay Merchant was the second Indian batsman to score a century against England at their home ground on July 25, 1936. He scored 114 runs against England at the Old Trafford. (P.S.: the Wikipedia shows that Merchant scored 154 that day but it isn’t true) Merchant, accompanied by his fellow opener, saved the day for India as the match was declared a draw.
Merchant was called ‘the black Bradman’ for what he achieved at the First-Class level. He had a whopping average of 71.54 which is only second to that of Bradman. George Headley who gave him that name is the third batsman in the list with an average of 69.86.
Mushtaq Ali aka Syed Mushtaq Ali
Mushtaq Ali had a way with the bat. Had it not been for him, Vijay Merchant would have been the first to score a century against England at their home ground. Yes, you read that right! Mushtaq scored a century in the same match at Old Trafford as Merchant. He beat him to it in the second session of the last day when he scored 112, helping India save the Test. Mushtaq was one of the few Indian players of that time who relished fast bowling and pounced on them with every opportunity.
There is a T20 league trophy in India named in his honour, Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Though he played just 11 Tests, he was ‘the Errol Flynn of cricket’ as called by the Australian cricketer Keith Miller.