In a match between the Commonwealth XI and Bombay Governor’s XI that came to an end exactly 62 years ago, a venerable man in his seventies made his First-Class debut. Arunabha Sengupta recounts the curious tale of the oldest First-Class cricketer in the history of the game.
Raja Maharaj Singh hailed from the Kapurthala royal family. Born in 1878, he was 70 by the time he became the first Indian Governor of Bombay.
Educated at Harrow and Balliol College, Oxford, he was called to Bar by the Middle Temple in 1902. Knighted in 1933, his career was a glittering journey as a top brass in the government, including a short term as the Prime Minister of Kashmir. The honour of being appointed the first Governor of Bombay post independence might have been the final feather in his royal cap.
However, he achieved something even more remarkable after that.
Perhaps he was influenced by his British education – which may have made him aware that he was stepping into illustrious shoes. The famous Britons who had acted as Governor Generals of the Presidency of Bombay included Lord Harris, the second ever captain of the English Test cricket team, and Lord Willingdon, an excellent cricketer who turned out several times for Sussex.
So, when the strong Commonwealth XI toured India and Ceylon in 1950-51, Maharaj Singh accepted the role of the captain of the Bombay Governor’s XI in late November, 1950.
Captained by Les Ames, the Commonwealth XI comprised of players of the quality of Eddie Paynter, Jim Laker, Derek Shackleton, George Emmett, George Tribe, Jack Ikin, Dick Spooner and Sonny Ramadhin.
The Bombay Governor’s XI also contained several current and future Test stars in Rusi Modi, Madhusudan Rege, Commandur Rangachari, Chandrasekhar Gadkari, Vijay Rajindernath, Ghulam Ahmed and the Yuvraj (by then Maharaja) of Patiala.
And at the age of 72, debutant Maharaj Singh walked out to toss with Ames at the Brabourne Stadium.
Bombay Governor’s XI batted first, and on the first afternoon, with the score on 162 for seven, Maharaj walked out to bat for the first time in First-Class cricket. He was by far the oldest player to play at this level, and by even more substantial distance the oldest debutant ever.
The venerable batsman got off the mark by edging Jim Laker for three. He managed another single before he was caught by Emmett at slip off Laker. The 44-year difference between the ages of the batsman and bowler involved in a dismissal is perhaps another unbreakable record set by the brave man on that day.
Maharaj took no further part in the game. The Maharaja of Patiala led the side while the scoreboard showed absent ill against the name of the Governor in the second innings. Commonwealth XI won by an innings and 173 runs.
During Mahraj Singh’s tenure as the Governor of Bombay till 1952, Rusi Modi served as his aide-de-camp.
Eight and a half years after his First-class debut, Maharaj Singh passed away in Lucknow. He was eighty.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)