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Naoomal Jaoomal: The man who opened batting in India’s first ever Test

Naoomal Jaoomal
This picture of Naoomal Jaoomal was scanned from ‘First All India Cricket Tour of England 1932′, published by Hills & Lacy Ltd., 1932

The spectacularly named Naoomal Jaoomal was born on April 17, 1904. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the career of the man who had opened batting for India in their inaugural Test.

Growing up among quiz books with names of Indian cricketers of yesteryear, we often came across certain exotic ones like Motganhalli Laxminarsu Jaisimha, Commandur Rajagopalachari Rangachari, and Coimbatarao Doraikannu Gopinath (we had not been introduced to Sri Lankan full names at that age).

The one that had captured the imagination of this columnist the most, however, was the wonderfully alliterative Naoomal Jaoomal (sometimes referred to as Jeoomal; and sometimes as Jaoomal Naoomal; Jeoomal Naoomal was yet another variation) Makhija.

Naoomal was a wonderful all-rounder born at the wrong era. He had earned a reputation as a wary grafter (though he exploded if he wanted to: according to Wisden he had once hit the first ball of a Ranji Trophy match from Mohammad Nissar for a six); with a 5’9” frame, he was a canny leg-spinner and an outstanding fielder who manned cover-point; to complete the entire “set”, Naoomal was also a reserve wicket-keeper.

Having started his career well before the nascent days of Indian Test cricket, Naoomal played 84 First-Class matches, finishing with a tally of 4,140 runs at 32.59 with seven hundreds and 108 wickets at 27.54 with six five-fors. Three of these matches were Tests — which were among the first four ever played by the country.

Early days

Naoomal was the son of the head clerk of the Karachi branch of a company based out of Bombay. He was a matriculate by qualification, and made his First-Class debut against Arthur Gilligan’s touring Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1926-27 for Hindus and The Rest at Karachi, scoring 16. In his next match, he top-scored with 83 against an attack consisting of Gilligan, Maurice Tate, Ewart Astill, and George Geary.

He was snapped up by Vizzy for when his team toured Ceylon in 1930-31. The tour allowed Naoomal to bat alongside the likes of Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. In the second match of the tour, against Dr J Rockwood’s Ceylon XI at Colombo, Naoomal scored 91 not out as time ran out.

Naoomal’s name came up among the list of probables for India’s maiden tour of England. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands, performing brilliantly in both trial matches. In the first, for Possibles against Probables at Lahore, he won the match almost single-handedly, top-scoring in each innings with 57 and an unbeaten hundred; he also picked up the wickets of Sorabji Colah, Feroze Khan, and Amar Singh in the first innings.

In the next one, again at Lahore, he picked up five for 33 for Rest of India against “India”; he also scored 49 in the first innings, and was selected for the tour of England.

Test debut

Naoomal started on a high, top-scoring with 64 against Sussex at Hove. He kept on delivering with both bat and ball, conjuring five for 87 for Worcestershire at New Road, top-scoring with 164 not out against Middlesex at Lord’s, and scoring 101 out of a team score of 205 against Derbyshire at Ilkeston. Between all this he also played the first ever Test for India at Lord’s.

What followed is a part of Indian folklore: bowling with fire, Nissar clean bowled Sutcliffe and Percy Holmes, fresh from their 555-run world record opening stand. Lall Singh ran out Frank Woolley brilliantly to reduce the hosts to 19 for three; Douglas Jardine (79) and Les Ames (65) fought hard, but with Amar Singh, CK Nayudu, and Jahangir Khan all bowling brilliantly, England were bowled out for 259. Nissar finished with five for 93. Naoomal’s three overs went wicket-less.

Naoomal did not have the privilege of facing the first ball for India (that honour went to Janardan Navle) but he did stride out to the centre with the wicket-keeper. They added 39 for the opening stand before Bill Bowes ran through Navle’s defence, but Naoomal carried on in the company of Wazir Ali.

Jardine rotated his bowlers, and it took the leg-breaks of Walter Robins to trap Naoomal leg-before: he had scored 33. His score turned out to be the second-best of the innings (next to Nayudu’s 40) as Bowes and Bill Voce earned a 70-run lead for the hosts.

This time it was Jahangir Khan’s turn to rise to the forefront: he finished with four for 60, but Jardine (85 not out) and Eddie Paynter (54) settled things in England’s favour with an 89-run fifth-wicket stand. Naoomal picked up his maiden Test wicket when he had Freddie Brown caught by Colah.

Jardine set India 346, and once again the openers were off to a 41-run stand: however, immediately after Robins had snared Navle, Naoomal was bowled by Brown for 25. India were reduced to 108 for seven, and it took a belligerent 51 from Amar Singh to help them reach 187. The Indians lost the Test, but were far from humiliated.

Naoomal scored 1,297 runs on the tour at 30.88, finishing next to only Nayudu’s 1,618. He also ended up taking 17 wickets at 35.35; his strike rate of 54.8 was next to only that of Nissar’s 44.95.

He missed out on the India’s first ever home game at Bombay, but was brought back for the next one at Eden Gardens. After England piled up 403 (four men, including Hedley Verity, registered fifties) Naoomal was out off Stan Nichols for two. India reached 247 and had to follow-on, but this time our hero came to the rescue.

Dominating a partnership with Mushtaq Ali was never an easy thing to do, but Naoomal did exactly that: Mushtaq eventually fell for 18 in an opening stand of 57, and Wazir Ali fell for a duck. Naoomal had played away a formidable attack consisting of Nobby Clark, Nichols, Verity, and James Langridge.

Jardine tossed the ball to Leslie Townsend, who eventually had Naoomal caught-behind for 43. Nayudu and Dilawar Hussain also batted grittily. Wisden wrote: “Perhaps Naoomal (Jaoomal) played the best innings but the stand between CK Nayudu and (Dilawar) Hussain, which realised 52, really saved India.” England had to chase down 82 in 30 minutes, and Bryan Valentine fell prey to Naoomal’s wiles as he ended up being stumped.

After putting up a fight in the first Test and drawing the second, the steam went out of the Indians in the third Test at Chepauk. An opening stand of 111 helped England reach 335 despite Amar Singh’s seven for 86. Then Nichols bounced, Naoomal hooked, and the ball left a deep gash just over his left eye.

Naoomal had to be taken off in a stretcher. The bowler was booed and thrown pebbles at, and shouts of “Bodyline” could be heard from the crowd. Verity ran through the Indian line-up with seven for 49 and four for 104; India lost by 202 runs; Naoomal did not bat in the second innings, and neither did he play another Test.

Ranji Trophy

Naoomal played in the first Ranji Trophy, making his debut for Sind against Western India. He scored 63 and 43 and returned figures of five for 78 and three for 52, but his efforts turned out to be a lone hand: Western India won by four wickets, and Sind were knocked out.

He continued to play Ranji Trophy and the Bombay Pentangular (First-Class cricket opportunities in India were limited in those days). After Merchant had scored a classic 120 to take Bombay to 366 at Karachi, Naoomal helped Sind overhaul them with an emphatic 149. The real performance, however, was still to come.

That epic against Nawanagar

The strong Nawanagar line-up boasted of Shute Banerjee, a young Vinoo Mankad, and the domestic champion Mubarak Ali; Banerjee and Mubarak reduced Sind to 15 for four before Naoomal finally found some support in Jacob Harris, but at 63 for six the situation looked really precarious for Sind.

There was support from SM Bhicaji and Khadim Hussain lower down the order, but none of them reached the forties. Sind were bowled out for 326, leaving Naoomal stranded on a career-best 270-minute 203 that included 30 boundaries. Sind’s total still remains the lowest Ranji Trophy score (where a side has been bowled out) to have included a double-hundred.

[Note: There have been two Ranji Trophy scores lower than Sind’s 326 that have included a double-hundred, but in none of the cases the side had been bowled out. Hrishikesh Kanitkar scored an unbeaten 207 out of Maharashtra’s 325 for four against Services at Aurangabad in 2003-04; and more recently, Cheteshwar Pujara scored 203 not out in Saurashtra’s 303 for four against Madhya Pradesh at Rajkot in 2012-13.]

Sind’s 326 was also the lowest all-out total to have included a double-hundred at that time. Since then there have been five lowest First-Class totals. The lowest among these is 282 by Namibia against Kenya in the ICC Intercontinental Cup match at Sharjah, where Gerrie Snyman scored a 201-ball 230.

Unfortunately, Sind were knocked out in the semifinal despite securing a 142-run lead after being bowled out for 23 against Southern Punjab at Patiala as Lala Amarnath (four for two) and Nissar (six for 17) bowled unchanged for 14 overs. With 418 runs at 104.50 Naoomal topped the runs chart for that season’s Ranji Trophy.

Leading Central Club of India against Central Provinces and Berar, Naoomal picked up a career-best haul of five for 18 before scoring an emphatic unbeaten 88. He finished the season with 566 runs at 80.85 and 15 wickets at 22.93.

Final days

Naoomal continued to play First-Class cricket till he was 40. In a Relief Fund match the season prior to that, Naoomal was good enough to finish with four for 76 and three for 35 against a line-up that boasted of DB Deodhar, the Merchant brothers (Vijay and Uday), Amarnath, Chandu Sarwate, KR Meherhomji, and KC Ibrahim.

Naoomal led Sind towards the end of his First-Class career. In his last match, a Ranji Trophy encounter against Bombay at Karachi, Naoomal scored a duck and snared Khandu Rangnekar. Bombay, however, secured the crucial first-innings lead, knocking Sind out of the tournament.

Post-retirement

Naoomal Jaoomal ran a sports goods and stationary shop after he quit First-Class cricket. He also umpired in First-Class matches (mostly in the Quaid-e-Azam tournament). His Hari Naoomal went on to play for Karachi University and Karachi Greens.

When The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had invited the participants of the members of the first Test during the Jubilee Test at Bombay, Naoomal Jaoomal was the oldest member present as Cota (or Cotar, or Cotah) Ramaswami, the seniormost cricketer, was absent.

He passed away at Bombay on July 28, 1980 (though some sources, including Wisden, cite the death of his death as July 18). He was 76 years 102 days old.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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