Lieutenant Colonel Sir Vijayananda Gajapathi Raju, the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, arguably the worst and most undeserving Test cricketer ever, was born on December 28, 1905. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the most important character in Indian cricket in the 1930s.
Vizzy was the exact antitheses of Imran Khan: he could not bat, bowl, field or lead, and still ended up being the only cricketer to be knighted while still playing actively! Had Vizzy’s competence as a cricketer matched his wretched willingness to pull the threads of Indian cricket from the behind the backstage, he might have emerged as one of the greatest ever.
Had Vizzy been the elder son of Pusapati Vijayarama Gajapathi Raju, the ruler of Vizianagram, he would probably have ruled the princely state peacefully, and hence greats like CK Nayudu and Wazir Ali might have had extended careers, and Lala Amarnath would have had a non-controversial career. Instead, he was the second son, and did not inherit his father’s kingdom – and went on to pollute Indian cricket instead.
Route to captaincy
India had played four Tests in the early 1930s – all of them against England; as cricket slowly became popular and India wanted to compete with the rest of the world in terms of emerging as a force, the administrators realised that a national championship was extremely essential. The Maharaja of Patiala was willing to donate a £500 golden trophy named after KS Ranjitsinhji; the trophy was designed and, with the gesture, Patiala gained significant control over the Board.
Sensing he was losing control over the proceedings, Vizzy decided to step in. He had earlier been nominated as the deputy vice-captain for the 1932 tour of England, but had withdrawn. Now, he raised a point that Ranji had played his entire career in England, and had always called himself an English cricketer; on the other hand Lord Willingdon, the Viceroy of India, had spent considerably more time in India and had contributed more to Indian cricket, and hence the tournament should be named after him.
Vizzy had a trophy made of chiseled gold done in England, and convinced the Board to accept the Willingdon Trophy as the official trophy for the domestic championship. However, by the time this was announced, two Ranji Trophy matches had already been played.
In between all this, Patiala and Vizzy both had their teams playing in the Moin-ud-Dowla Cup. Very keen to outdo Patiala, Vizzy had recruited Learie Constantine – he had earlier recruited Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe for his own team that toured India and Ceylon. The two teams met in the final: Constantine bowled furiously fast, intimidating Patiala’s batsmen on a fast matting wicket, but Amarnath counterattacked, scored a hundred and Patiala’s side won the match.
Meanwhile, the domestic tournament continued (despite generally dismal turn-outs for the matches, in contrast to the immensely popular Bombay Quadrangular) amidst great confusion. It was still not known which trophy the teams were playing for – or even what the name of the tournament was. The final was eventually played at Bombay, who won the tournament, and were scheduled to collect the trophy from Delhi.
In a dramatic twist to the Patiala-Vizzy contest, Lord Willingdon was himself supposed to present the trophy to the champions. When he did present it, the trophy he handed out was the Ranji Trophy designed and sponsored by Patiala. This had probably something to do with the immense financial contributions of Patiala; the latter was also made President of the Cricket Club of India. He also nominated the Yuvraj of Patiala – a somewhat competent cricketer – as a potential candidate to lead India in the England tour of 1936 as a potential rival against Nayudu.
As President of CCI, Patiala sent Frank Tarrant to acquire an Australian team to tour India; the team Tarrant could manage was certainly not the best possible Australian side: it was mostly composed of cricketers on the wrong side of forty who had quit cricket in the 1920s.
However, immediately before the arrival of the Australians, Vizzy organized a Silver Jubilee Cricket Festival in honour of King George V: Vizzy had recruited a star-studded team (including Nayudu) that went past Patiala’s side to win the tournament. This time Willingdon presented the original Willingdon Trophy to none other than Vizzy himself. Winning the tournament helped Vizzy find a route in the Board, though in the process he had fallout with Nayudu.
The tournament was attended by the Nawab of Pataudi (sr) as well. Pataudi had played Tests for England, had scored an Ashes hundred on debut, and the selectors (including Patiala) immediately considered him as a more suitable candidate to lead India (along with the two existing candidates). Pataudi was nominated the captain for the 1936 tour. Nayudu had himself stood against Pataudi, and had lost the contest; the incident hurt Nayudu’s reputation badly.
However, it was then that the ill KS Duleepsinhji was replaced by Vizzy as a selector. Patiala’s Australians had already arrived in India, and Pataudi had declared himself unfit for the first unofficial Test. Pataudi, Vizzy and HD Kanga selected the Yuvraj of Patiala as the captain for the unofficial Test ahead of Nayudu.
This incident seemed bizarre, but Vizzy had actually played his cards well. Enraged by their hero Nayudu’s demotion, the crowd booed the Yuvraj, who simply succumbed to the pressure, and the Indians lost the match. The next tour match was against Vizzy’s XI, where Vizzy, playing himself, scored a 40, possibly the most important innings of his life and ensured a draw for his side.
Thus, the Yuvraj was virtually eliminated from the contention of vice-captaincy; Vizzy still had Nayudu to deal with. Nayudu had led the Central Indians quite successfully against the Australians. And with Pataudi withdrawing again, he was announced captain for the second unofficial Test at Calcutta. Before the Test, Nayudu had a tussle with Amar Singh who withdrew from the Test. And Australians beat the Indians by eight wickets.
Nayudu was replaced as captain by Wazir Ali for the third unofficial Test at Lahore. Nayudu refused to play under Wazir, withdrawing from the match. Wazir batted brilliantly and led the Indians to a victory. Vizzy ensured that Nayudu was dropped on disciplinary grounds for the last Test at Madras, which the Indians again won. Nayudu was totally out of contention now, and Vizzy captained Moin-ud-Dowla’s XI in a match against the Australians.
Pataudi eventually withdrew from the tour citing health grounds (though it is suspected that he did not want to get involved in the murky politics of Indian cricket). This left Vizzy as the only candidate in contention for the role of the captain; he went on to influence the committee sufficiently to outvote Nayudu 10-5.
In the Silver Jubilee Tournament Vizzy had included a seemingly non-contributor, Captain Jack Brittain-Jones, in the side. Brittain-Jones was now promoted as the manager for the touring Indian side, and Vizzy’s pet SM Hadi the treasurer. He nominated neither a vice-captain nor a selection committee. He reached England with two servants and 36 items of luggage, and along with Brittain-Jones, was to reign supreme during the tour.
The 1936 tour
Vizzy led India in all three Tests, scoring 33 runs from six innings; he batted at nine in five of the innings and did not bowl. In the tour matches he fared slightly better, averaging 16.25 on the tour. However, this average was bloated, since he often showered generous gifts on opposition bowlers, asking them to bowl leniently. Indeed, during a county match, he bribed the opposition captain with a gold watch; he was gifted a full-toss and a few long-hops, but fell shortly afterwards.
However, it was off the field that Vizzy’s actions drew more attention. He fulfilled what was probably his deepest ambition – obtaining a knighthood – during the tour. As Vizzy was being knighted on July 15, Nayudu was leading the Indians against Lancashire: the news had got out that Lancashire was chasing 199, and Vizzy cabled Mohammad Nissar to bowl only full-tosses. Nayudu, after watching Nissar bowl, replaced him, and in unison with Jehangir Khan, led India to one of their two victories on tour.
The team was now openly divided into supporters of Nayudu and Vizzy. Vizzy showered shameless favours on “his” men which included a sponsored trip to Paris; but more importantly, Baqa Jilani won his only Test cap because he had insulted Nayudu at the breakfast table before the third Test at The Oval.
Meanwhile, Amarnath, one of the best performers on the tour with 591 runs and 31 wickets from 11 matches, had a row with Vizzy during the Middlesex match. Amarnath took 6 for 29, but after a long row with Vizzy regarding field placements and threw the ball in disgust, but resumed his spell. Brittain-Jones tried to implicate charges of womanizing on Amarnath, but they did not turn out to be fruitful.
Amarnath, eager to reach the coveted “double”, waited to bat against Minor Counties as Vijay Merchant and Mushtaq Ali put on 215. However, Vizzy decided to push Amarnath down the order, promoting the likes of Amar Singh, CS Nayudu and Wazir above him. When Amarnath was finally sent in, a few minutes were left, and he came back fuming, swearing rather crudely in Punjabi.
Hadi raised the issue to Vizzy and Brittain-Jones, and soon the verdict was out: Amarnath had to return home immediately. On Amarnath’s request Nayudu, Wazir, Nissar and Cotah Ramaswamy requested Vizzy to withdraw the decision. Amarnath had to sign a letter of apology, but even that did not help. He was sent back.
The incident had happened before the first Test: the players now made a demand consisting of four points – there would be a vice-captain (Nayudu or Wazir); the team should be consulted regarding strategies; the seniors should be treated with respect; and the management should not be partial to any of the cricketers. Vizzy agreed to these under pressure, but seldom adhered to these, as demonstrated by the Jilani incident mentioned above.
The Beaumont Committee was set up to investigate the Amarnath issue back home under the Nawab of Bhopal; it had found Amarnath innocent, and he was all set to return to England just before the second Test; however, Vizzy had used his political power – including Willingdon – and the decision to send Amarnath to England again was cancelled.
Meanwhile, Merchant, generally not a member of any of the “camps”, had asked Vizzy to step down as captain; this infuriated Vizzy to a great extent. When Dattaram Hindlekar was injured before the second Test at Old Trafford, Mushtaq was promoted to open with Merchant. Before the second innings Vizzy instructed Mushtaq to run out Merchant. But Mushtaq informed Merchant about this, they had a good laugh, both scored hundreds in a famous 203-run opening partnership to secure India’s first draw ever.
The Beaumont Committee, however, came out with its report the next year: Vizzy’s captaincy was described as “disastrous”, mentioning that he did not understand field placements or bowling changes, often toyed with the batting order and was an awful selector, dropping good players and making dubious selections. Vizzy was sacked and dropped from the Indian side for good.
Vizzy made a comeback as a cricket administrator, serving the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as the President from 1954 to 1957. Ironically, as the Vice-President of BCCI, he played a pivotal role in bringing back Amarnath as the captain of the side. He promoted cricket in Uttar Pradesh, established Kanpur as a Test centre and – once again, ironically – asked Nayudu to lead Uttar Pradesh at the age of 61.
He also went on to become one of the most boring radio commentators (though he was invited by BBC for the 1959 India tour of England), droning on for hours at a stretch. He was so excruciatingly dull with the microphone that Rohan Kanhai, on being described how Vizzy had hunted tigers, famously replied: “Really? I thought you just left a transistor radio on when you were commentating and bored them to death.”
He passed away on the December 2, 1965.
(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)