19th-century cricket in India, published in The Graphic, 1878 © Getty Images (representational image)
19th-century cricket in India, published in The Graphic, 1878 © Getty Images (representational image)

The accounts of Clement Downing, an East India Company mariner, were published in 1737. Downing and some others had been “playing at Cricket” at Cambay in 1721, which is generally accepted as the oldest known instance of the sport being played in India.

Cricket spread slowly in the country. Calcutta Cricket Club definitely played a match in 1792. By the end of the 18th century Bombay had taken to the sport. In 1804 Robert Vanisttart scored the first hundred on Indian soil. Inter-city matches began half a century later.

The Parsees, the first Indians to take to cricket seriously, toured England in 1886 and 1888. GF Vernon brought his team to India in 1888-89. In 1892-93 the Parsees beat the Europeans to win the first ever Presidency Cup (later the Bombay Pentangular). And KS Ranjitsinhji made his First-Class debut in 1893.

But what about cricket books?

Calcutta Cricket Club Scores 1844-54, the first known book of scores outside the British Isles, was published in 1854. In 1867 a Hindi coaching book was published in Agra. An Urdu translation came out the next year. And in 1889 a Marathi coaching book was published in Baroda. JM Framjee Patel’s famous Stray Thoughts on Indian Cricket was published in 1905.

In between all this, a curious book titled Cricket Guide intended for the use of Young Players, containing a Short but Comprehensive Account of the Game, embracing all the important Rules and Directions Nicely arranged in Due Succession, was published in 1891 in Lucknow. We will refer to this as Cricket Guide for the sake of the readers.

EV Lucas, in a 1922 essay titled Another Young Cricketers’ Tutor, hailed Mohammad Abdullah Khan, the author of the book, as the Indian Nyren. The obvious reference was to John Nyren and his The Young Cricketer’s Tutor.

Andrew Lang, on the other hand, was not as kind in The Times: “‘I mean,’ says our Eastern author, ‘to entertain my readers with these few pages that will decidedly be of great use and benefit to them.’ Mohammad is entirely successful in his project of entertaining us.”

Perhaps Lang’s review had to do with the fact that Mohammad assumes that the average young Indian boy “aspires every breath of National Congress”. But then, some excerpts will show that the book did provide some unusual instructions.

It is best to leave it to the reader to decide, though I will provide my own inputs.

Principles

“Even those who are very good and noble turn so rash and inconsiderate at certain moments that their brains lose the balance and begin to take fallacious fancies.”

This is an excerpt from Mohammad’s book, but it could have been from a religious scripture. However, this is just the beginning.

Role of an umpire: 1

“Devout lovers of the duty [of umpiring] call ‘last but one’ at the fourth ball, a very common practice, although by mistake prevailing.”

The overs were of five balls each. One can assume that the call was for the umpire’s own sake as much as it was for the bowler’s and fielding captain’s.

Role of an umpire: 2

“Each and every one of the umpires must avoid using insulting terms, or playing on bets, with any one of the fielders, in his capacity of being an umpire.”

Was it a common practice for Indian umpires to abuse cricketers verbally? What a refreshing revenge in reverse timeline would that have been!

Oh, and did the umpires also bet on matches, even with participating cricketers? Would that not have been too blatant?

Roles towards the umpire

“The fielders must take special care not to exchange jokes with one another or try funny tricks that do secretly divide their attention and produce a horrible defect in their fielding … [The bowler] must never be wishing to pick up any quarrel with the umpire of the opposite party.”

Why am I getting the feeling that Mr Mohammad was probably a very, very strict headmaster?

The most bizarre rule?

“During one and the same over the bowler is allowed to change his ends as often as he may desire, but cannot possibly bowl two overs in succession.”

Till 1889, a bowler was allowed to bowl consecutive overs twice in an innings. However, Mohammad seems to have taken things a bit further.

Also note the “as often as he may desire” part. Does this mean that he could bowl the five balls from alternate ends? Wouldn’t that have meant switching ends four times in an over, at different batsmen, with the field and umpires changing every time?

“The bowler is allowed to make the batsman stand in any direction he may choose from the wicket he is bowling from.”

You get the drift, but the sentence could probably have been framed better. There was a chance of this being misinterpreted, intentionally or otherwise. What if the bowler wanted the batsman to face the wicketkeeper?

Mandatory trial balls

“Two trial balls are only allowed in every match to each party.”

This is still a common practice in Indian gully cricket. Trial balls used to be in vogue in serious cricket, too, even in Tests: Warwick Armstrong once bowled them for 19 minutes to keep a debutant Frank Woolley waiting.

Mohammad’s rule is no-nonsense. There is an upper limit of two, though it is unclear whether he means the team or the batsman when he says “the party”.

As an epitome of incompetence with bat, however, I sincerely hope Mohammad meant per batsman.

“Grave demeanour and humble mind”

“I would like this man [the wicketkeeper] to be of a grave demeanour and humble mind, say the Captain of the Club, whose duties are to guide the fielders, order the change of their places if necessary guard himself well against the furious attacks of the sweeping balls.”

Glovework (and, of late, batting) are obviously basic qualities. Wicketkeepers also make excellent vice-captains. But why does he need to be humble? It is obviously a virtue, but still…

The grave demeanour will also take care of the shabaash-shabaash. Sigh.

He should also stand “with the stumps under his arms”. Again, this can be misinterpreted.

A point to prove

“He [the point fielder] must be a very smart and very clever man, of a quick sight and slender form. His place is in front of the popping-crease, about seven yards from the striker. He must take special care to protect his own person in case when fast bowling is raging through the field. Pay great attention to the game, my dear pointer, or suppose yourself already hurt.”

Seven yards? That is probably more of a silly point, but why should he take ‘special care’ when a fast bowler was bowling? Weren’t they more at risk when a spinner was on? Or was there a chance of the fast man bowling wide enough to decapitate a fielder?

No send-offs, please!

“The fielders must never sting the player with taunts, if they turn him out, for this often results in something disagreeable to the human mind.”

This should probably be made a compulsory read for some cricketers we have seen.

The follow-on

If a side A scores 100 and B 20, then, “A may not intentionally take the bat, but nurse the idea of giving a dam and over defeat B by allowing him to play the second innings as well, in order to make up and realise his score to the best of his exertions and endeavours.”

I needed some time to decipher this, but I guess the idea is clear.

Run outs

“If one of the strikers is ‘run out’, then the remaining one must not leave his wicket, unless next player comes in, and even then both the parties must agree to the proposal of the striker leaving his position to complete his innings.”

Dear reader, please explain this to me if you can figure out what this means.

Be dignified after the match…

“Behave like gentlemen after the game is over; avoid clapping and laughing in faces of the persons you have defeated … If you are the Captain of your team and the fielders of the opposite party clap your welcome, you are required simply to turn or raise your night cap a little, and this is sufficient to prove your easy turn of disposition as well as to furnish the return of their compliments.”

All that is very admirable, but did Indian cricketers of the era take field in nightcaps?

… but always keep evidence

“If you have any book to be signed by the captain of the opposite side, confessing his defeat by so many runs, please do it like men.”

Did losing Indian captains of the era lie about results? Also, why was asking for a confession “like men” anyway? They were not confessing themselves — they were merely demanding…