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11 religion-based trivia in Indian Test cricket

In 1946, Vijay Hazare became the first Christian to debut for India © Getty Images
In 1946, Vijay Hazare became the first Christian to make his debut for India © Getty Images

As two Christians, Varun Aaron and Stuart Binny, took field at The Oval on August 15, 2014, Abhishek Mukherjee looks at some of the religion-based trivia in Indian Test cricket.

Despite the religious wars and riots across her history, India continues to remain a secular nation. As a result Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsees, Sikhs, and representatives of have co-existed, and have gone on to represent the country at the highest level.

In the dark days of the 1940s, when World War II traumatised the world and religious riots had left India burning, the Bombay Pentangular — a tournament involving Hindus, Parsees, Muslims, Europeans, and The Rest — formed what can perhaps be called the strongest bonding between the religions.

Unfortunately, a wrong message was sent across, and there were calls to bring the tournament to a halt because of its religious base. It was ironic, since there had been no instances of major violence across around the tournament. Mahatma Gandhi (himself a keen and competent was perhaps the strongest voice in the movement. He issued a statement in 1940, requesting the “sporting public of Bombay to revise their sporting code and to erase from it communal matches”.

[Note: The Bombay Pentangular had originally started as the Presidency Match between Europeans and Parsees, the first match being played in 1892-93. As the Hindus came to the fray, and the Bombay Triangular started from 1907-08, which became Quadrangular in 1912-13 with the Muslims joining as well. The Rest, joining in 1937-38, finally made it a Pentangular.

Here, then, is a list of religion-related trivia in Indian Test cricket.

1. The first Test

India’s first Test — against England at Lord’s in 1932 — was as secular a team as they made: it consisted of four Hindus (CK Nayudu, Janardan Navle, Naoomal Jaoomal, and Amar Singh), four Muslims (Wazir Ali, Nazir Ali, Jahangir Khan, and Mohammad Nissar), two Parsees (Sorabji Colah and Phiroze Palia), and a Sikh (Lall Singh).

[Note: Though Lall Singh turned up for the Hindus in Bombay Quadrangular in 1934-35 and 1935-36, it had to do with the fact that The Rest were not a team at that point of time.]

2. Only Hindus and Muslims

India played their third Test at Eden Gardens in 1933-34; it was also the first time that they had fielded a team comprising of only Hindus (seven: CK Nayudu, Jaoomal, Lala Amarnath, Vijay Merchant, CS Nayudu, Amar Singh, and MJ Gopalan) and Muslims (four: Dilawar Hussain, Wazir Ali, Mushtaq Ali, and Nissar).

3. Six Muslims in a Test

The only instance of six Muslims playing for India in a single Test was in 1936 at The Oval when Mushtaq, Wazir Ali, Dilawar, Nissar, Jahangir, and (thanks to the choicest of words aimed at CK Nayudu on the morning of the Test) Baqa Jilani.

4. The first Christian

At Lord’s in 1946, Vijay Hazare became the first Christian to make his debut for India. Once again the team represented four religions: Hindus (Merchant, Vinoo Mankad, Amarnath, Dattaram Hindlekar, CS Nayudu, and Sadu Shinde), three Muslims (Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, Gul Mohammad, and Abdul Hafeez Kardar), a Parsee (Rusi Modi) and a Christian (Hazare).

5. The only conversion

Amritsar Govindsingh Kripal Singh, perhaps the most successful cricketer from the famous Singh clan of Madras cricket, was the first known Test cricketer to have changed his religion during his international career. Interestingly, he did not change his initials, adopted the name Arnold George, and continued to remain AG Kripal Singh.

[Note: It is not known exactly when Kripal changed his religion, so he has to be left out of a few lists mentioned in this article.]

6. Five religions represented in same Test

The first instance of five religions being represented in a Test happened at Brabourne Stadium in 1961-62 against England. The line-up included Hindus (ML Jaisimha, Vijay Manjrekar, Budhi Kunderan, Ramakant Desai, Vasant Ranjane, and VV Kumar), a Parsee (Nari Contractor), a Sikh (Milkha Singh), a Christian (Chandu Borde), and a Muslim (Salim Durani). The 11th man in the line-up was Kripal, whose religion at that time was unknown, but it would not have affected the record.

Bishan Bedi’s debut — against West Indies at Eden Gardens — witnessed an encore: barring the lone Sikh (Bedi), the side featured six Hindus (Jaisimha, Kunderan, Hanumant Singh, Venkataraman Subramanya, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar), two Muslims (Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and Abbas Ali Baig), a Parsee (Rusi Surti) and a Christian (Borde). There were a few such occurrences till Borde’s final Test — against Australia at Brabourne Stadium in 1969-70.

7. Three Sikhs in the same Test

Balwinder Sandhu made his debut at Hyderabad (Sind) in 1982-83 — the Test famous for the 451-run stand between Mudassar Nazar and Javed Miandad, and Imran Khan’s famous spell of five for three — making it the first instance of two Sikhs playing for India (the other being Maninder Singh).

Sandhu’s last Test (against West Indies at Ahmedabad in 1983-84) also saw Navjot Sidhu making his Test debut, thus creating the first instance of three Sikhs playing for India in the same Test. It is to be noted that Gursharan Singh, another Sikh, was the 12th man in the Test and became the first ever substitute fielder to take four catches in a Test.

When Harbhajan Singh made his Test debut against Australia at Bangalore in 1997-98, he joined Sidhu and Harvinder Singh (who is a Sikh) to make it the second and last occasion when three Sikhs took field for India.

[Note: It is to be noted that the brothers Milkha and Kripal Singh played together at Brabourne Stadium against England in 1961-62. However, it is not known whether Kripal, born a Sikh, had converted to Christianity before or after the Test; so Sandhu and Maninder were probably the first.]

8. Two Christians in the same Test

The 2014 Test at The Oval featured Stuart Binny and Varun Aaron — thus making it the first occasion when India has fielded two Christians in a Test.

[Note: Once again, we are ignoring the instances of Borde and Kripal turning out for India in the same Test.]

9. Four Parsees in the same Test

Surti made his Test debut against Pakistan at Brabourne Stadium in 1960-61 to join Contractor and Polly Umrigar. This was the first instance of three Parsees playing in the same Test (the trio have played several Tests together). Surti was dropped later, but Farokh Engineer kept the Parsee balance going.

Contractor, Umrigar, Surti, and Engineer all played at Queen’s Park Oval and Sabina Park during the 1961-62 tour of West Indies before Contractor had the fateful injury. It also turned out to be Umrigar’s last series. Despite their immense contribution to Indian cricket, the Parsees never had more than four representatives in the Indian Test team.

10. The first Jain?

No Buddhist has played Tests for India, but there has been at least one Jain in the form of Dilip Doshi. Though he played alongside Syed Kirmani and had a small overlap with both Maninder Singh and Roger Binny, at no point of time did representatives from five religions take field during Doshi’s career.

11. The first all-Hindu team

There is perhaps no bigger evidence of the secularism in India than the fact that the first all-Hindu Test team took field as late as the Edgbaston Test of 1979. With both Kirmani and Bedi dropped, India fielded Venkataraghavan, Sunil Gavaskar, Chetan Chauhan, Dilip Vengsarkar, Gundappa Viswanath, Anshuman Gaekwad, Mohinder Amarnath, Kapil Dev, Karsan Ghavri, Bharath Reddy, and Chandrasekhar.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)

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