There was never one like Duleepsinhji @ Getty Images
There was never one like Duleepsinhji @ Getty Images

December 3, 1928. India was buzzing with excitement, for Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji, no less, was set to grace the Bombay Quadrangular for the first time. In the first match, against Parsees, Duleep played a stroke, the kind of which India had never seen before. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the first recorded instance of a shot that went on to redefine batting, especially in the limited-overs era, decades after the prince executed it at Bombay Gymkhana.

Mushtaq Mohammad was, without doubt, an underrated genius. Unfortunately, for some mysterious reason, his achievements and contributions to cricket are seldom acknowledged. For example, who remembers his 121, 5 for 28, 56, and 3 for 69 in the same Test — as captain — to pull off a win against Clive Lloyd’s men at their den? If put in proper perspective, the Test should go down as Mushtaq’s Test in history, but few remember it.

His stint for Northamptonshire, however, made sure he had made a name for himself in English domestic circuit. A street-fighter and innovator to the core, Mushtaq improvised, attempting and even pulling off strokes the Englishmen were yet to see.

The reverse-sweep, for example, was one of them. Mushtaq later told Aditya Iyer of The Indian Express: “I was up against a Middlesex club with the great Fred Titmus in it. We were chasing a rather large target and Freddie, a giant of an off-spinner, was bowling. I couldn’t get a run. I looked around and realised that the only gap was at third man. My shot was pre-meditated, but it connected and went for four; but Titmus appealed! … He went wild and pulled his hair out. This was 1964, you see. The umpire told Freddie, ‘You got a ball in your hand, he has a bat. He can do whatever he wants with it’. And there, the reverse hit was invented.”

Javed Miandad was a later exponent, but purists often scoffed at it, more so after Mike Gatting’s folly in World Cup final 1987. Warwickshire coach Bob Woolmer made it popular by ‘acknowledging’ it (how many coaches would have encouraged their teams to play something as outrageous, back in the 1990s?); captain Dermot Reeve responded instantly.

Andy Flower became a master of the stroke, perhaps better than anyone in history; Craig McMillan and Kevin Pietersen came along with their switch-hits, that remains controversial till date; and AB de Villiers made a mockery of the stroke.

In the 2010s, with the advent of T20 cricket, innovation in strokeplay reached a level has reached a level where the reverse-sweep has become commonplace. Nobody is likely to do a Titmus anymore.

But when did it all start? Was it really Mushtaq?

Duleep arrives in India

Duleepsinhji was, according to some, a more prolific and attractive batsman than his illustrious uncle, KS Ranjitsinhji. Pulmonary tuberculosis curtailed his career to 12 Tests, but he scored 995 runs at an outstanding 58.52; he also emulated his uncle by scoring a hundred on Ashes debut.

When Duleep came to India to play the Bombay Quadrangular, the summer of 1930 was well over a year away. Indians had heard of him; they knew he was special; and they knew few could emulate him in grace or run-scoring.

The very idea of British bowlers — one must remember this was pre-Independence — being dominated by one of them was a thing of dreams. Thus, when Duleep came to India, there was already a murmur in the media. It was, after all, the maestro’s first match on Indian soil.

Playing for the Hindus was LP Jai, probably the most attractive Indian batsman of the era. Once news got out that Palwankar Vithal had won the toss and decided to bat, people poured into the ground to watch the two masters at work together.

They did not have to wait. Jai joined Duleep at 12 for 2. They added 111, Duleep scoring 84 and Jai, 76. Dr DB Deodhar (48) and Vithal (35) contributed as well, the other seven batsmen scored 12 between them, and Hindus were bowled out for 260 by Hormasji Vajifdar, Pheroze Palia, and SM Palsetia.

The Parsees, 44 for 1 overnight on Day One, batted through the next day, finishing on 334 for 7. They extended the lead to 136 the third morning, with Rustomji Jamshedji, Sorabji Colah, Vajifdar, Bahadur Kapadia, and Palia all getting runs.

The shot

Hindus needed an early declaration. Vithal held Janardan Navle back, sending in Deodhar with KG Pardeshi. The pair added 146 in quick time. Duleep went out after that, followed by CK Nayudu, and Jai; Duleep and Jai got together at 163 for 3.

Both batsmen knew they had to accelerate. As Jai exploded, unleashing one booming drive after another, Duleep played some exquisite strokes, the kind of which had never been seen in India.

Duleep placed the ball, running hard as fielders were sent off in leather hunt. When fielders were brought in, Duleep lofted the ball over the infield. This approach to quick scoring remains the backbone of batsmanship in contemporary cricket.

Then it happened, leaving Jai awestruck: “He and his genius came out with a stroke which was never seen in the annals of Indian cricket. Without changing the grip of the bat, he tried to hit the wide ball backwards towards the third man with his bat turned around and facing the wicket-keeper. There was an appeal for unfair play but the umpire ruled it out.”

Indeed, that sounds like a reverse-sweep.

But was Duleep the first?

Let us look back at a quote by Gilbert Jessop on Tim O’Brien — one that predates Duleep’s effort by three decades: “He must have thought that the circumstances prevailing called for drastic action no matter how unorthodox, and it was pretty unorthodox when eventually it did come; for upon the arrival of the next wide ball, Tim turned and hit it left-handed past the heads of the waiting fieldsmen.”

Jessop played that match, for Gloucestershire against Middlesex at Clifton. O’Brien’s ploy was a response to negative bowling tactics by William Woof. However, this sounds more like a switch-hit; or was it a reverse-sweep? You decide.

But was O’Brien the first? We will find out…

What followed?

- Vithal set the Parsees a target of 124. They finished on 87 for 2, with Colah putting up a masterclass of 68 not out. They lifted the title, defeating Europeans by 134 runs, with SN Gandhi scoring 113 and Jamshedji claiming 10 for 82.

- Duleep played only one more First-Class match on Indian soil, in 1931-32, for Viceroy’s XI against Roshanara Club. He fell for 6 in the first innings but carved out 173 in the second.

Postscript

Simon Briggs wrote a piece titled Batting Innovation: Different Strokes for Different Times in the Wisden 2003. He wrote: “With respect to Duleepsinhji, the reverse sweep is basically a creature of the last two decades. Having successfully percolated down to club level, it can now claim to be the most important batting innovation since the arrival of helmets.”

Duleep might have been the first executor; Mushtaq, the first to popularise it; but it was really limited-overs cricket that made sure reverse-sweep to net-practice sessions.

Brief scores:

Hindus 260 (KS Duleepsinhji 84, LP Jai 76, DB Deodhar 48; Hormasji Vajifdar 3 for 69, SM Palsetia 5 for 38) and 259 for 7 decl. (KG Pardeshi 57, DB Deodhar 83, LP Jai 46; Nariman Marshall 3 for 74) lost to Parsees 396 (Rustomji Jamshedji 43, Sorabji Colah 98, Hormasji Vajifdar 56, Bahadur Kapadia 59, Pheroze Palia 69; Ladha Ramji 4 for 92, MA Deshmukh 3 for 90) and 87 for 2 (Sorabji Colah 68*) on first-innings lead.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)