Basil Malcolm played his most crucial matches in Calcutta © Getty Images
Basil Malcolm played his most crucial matches in Calcutta © Getty Images (representational photo)

The Bengal Ranji Team is considered as one of the major teams to be part of the Indian domestic tournament. The team has had a long history of cricket, with their first most prestigious quest being the successful run in Ranji Trophy 1938-39 season. Basil William Malcolm, born July 14, 1912, was one of the most astounding cricketers that have made appearances for Bengal. He rose out of nowhere, won the semi-final and final in Bengal’s first Ranji Trophy triumph, and vanished into oblivion. But as curious as his sudden appearance for the club was how he disappeared soon after the victory. Paulami Chakraborty tries to look back at the life of the player.

1912. The Chinese Republic comes into existence. RMS Titanic, the wonder creation, finds its place underneath the North Atlantic. And far away from all that, Basil William Malcolm is born in Worthing, Sussex — the county that has been one of the cradles of cricket in her early days.

Malcolm went to Eastbourne College, which enhanced his chances of getting associated with the game. He grew up to a right-arm medium pacer who could be destructive with bat lower the order. Eastbourne College had a good reputation in cricket back then, and Malcolm fit in perfectly. His batting prowess was reflected in the debut match, as he scored 58 against Christ’s Hospital emerging as the highest scorer of the match. In the next match for his college against the same opponent he got 20, but compensated that by taking 4 wickets and contributing to Eastbourne’s victory.

In between, he also represented the Young Amateurs under Denis Moore, against an Andy Wilson-strong Young Professionals. Playing at No.3, he scored only 17 in the first innings of the 2-dayer but an all-rounder as he was, he left a mark with his couplet of wickets for just 16 runs in 7 overs. In the second innings, he scored 68, providing the ample push to Amateurs’ innings as it reached 248 by the end of their innings and again bagged a couple of wickets.

Among other significant appearances by Malcolm was against Lord’s Schools for The Rest. Though Lord’s put up 253 at the end of their innings, Malcolm impressed figures of 10.4-4-21-4. The Rest scored 81 for 2 at the end of Day 2 of the 2-dayer and it resulted in a draw, giving Malcolm no chance to bat. Among his teammates was Paul van der Gucht. They would rub shoulders later in his career.

Unfortunately, Google tells us little about Malcolm about his cricket career in the 1930s, and is often the case in such cases, Michael Jones provided his valuable inputs. Upon searching the Sussex birth records for the year 1912, one finds a Basil William Malcolm who, being born in Sussex, moved on to Teddington, Surrey during 1934. It was January, 1937 when he set sail for Bombay.

Basil of Bengal

Exactly what Basil Malcolm did in India is not very clear. What we do know, however, is that he was in Bengal some time in 1938, and the fact that he made his First-Class debut in 1938-39, that too in a Ranji Trophy semi-final, for the time.

The strong Bengal team led by captain Tom Longfield, who had picked up a 5-for in the last group match against a Central India, led by Vijay Hazare. One of the early heroes of Bengal cricket, Tom Longfield would go on to become the father-in-law of Ted Dexter.

Bengal reached the semi-final. The team already had players like Nirmal Chatterjee, Abdul Jabbar, Patrick Miller and van der Gucht (remember him?). A quality wicketkeeper who also opened batting, van der Gucht had even led Bengal in the unsuccessful Ranji Trophy final of 1936-37. He was enjoying a brilliant season, but Longfield decided to strengthen the side a bit more, playing Malcolm. Two old teammates, van der Gucht and Malcolm, were again set to play together.

Van der Gucht failed in the semi-final against Madras, thanks to Commandur Rangachari‘s bowling. Miller, Jabbar and Kartick Bose (uncle of Satyajit Ray, and later one of India’s most reputed coaches) played up to the expectation and Bengal were 205 for 5 when Malcolm took the crease.

The Bengal innings found acceleration. At stumps on Day One, they were 329 for 8 with Malcolm unbeaten at 118. The next day Malcolm took the score to 515, with excellent support from Kamal Bhattacharya and Tara Sankar Bhattacharjee. He remained unbeaten on 181 — the highest score by any batsman on his maiden appearance for Bengal when the article was written. It also remained the highest score by anyone on debut on Indian soil till 1967-68 (when Gundappa Viswanath scored 230).

Jitendra Banerjee and Bhattacharjee then took 4 wickets apiece to end Madras’ first innings at 114. Following on, the scenario did not improve for Madras. Bengal got a few early wickets before MJ Gopalan and Renshaw Nailer put up a stand. Longfield handed the ball to Malcolm, who dismissed their highest scorer Nailer for 31, and later took another couple of wickets, registering figures of 1.2-0-3-3.

Bengal were put up against Southern Punjab in the final. Winning the toss, Bengal put up 222 in their first innings guided by Kartick Bose’s 48. Malcolm did not do anything special, managing 30. For Southern Punjab, Lala Amarnath took 4 wickets.

In response, Southern Punjab captain Wazir Ali — the finest Indian batsman in their early days with the sole exception of CK Nayudu — scored 222, exactly the same number of runs Bengal had scored. alone scored the entire run Bengal had made, providing his team a 106-run lead. Bengal had to walk a good length to write their name on the trophy.

Miller did not disappoint Longfield, scoring a much-needed 85, while van der Gucht scored a good 65. Victory did not seem impossible, as they knew they still have Malcolm. Malcolm did not disappoint as well, scoring a 91 at No. 7. Jabbar, who was sent unusually low down the order, scored 58. Bengal gathered a stable 418, setting Southern Punjab 313.

It was time for skipper Longfield to take control. He bowled in tandem with Bhattacharya, and between them they bowled all but 11 overs of the Southern Punjab innings. Longfield took 4 for 48 and Bhattacharya 3 for 57 (Malcolm chipped in with a wicket as well), and Southern Punjab were bowled out for 134. Bengal lifted their first ever Ranji Trophy.

Wartime

Malcolm’s credentials remain in his ability to adapt to the changing circumstances and perform accordingly. Accustomed to playing in English conditions on green pitches against seam bowlers, it was not easy for him to get adjusted to unfamiliar terrain in a high-intensity match, and score 181 not out on First-Class debut.

The innings came against a team that boasted of successful spinners like Gopalaswami Parthasarathi and Ram Singh, while his second encounter was against Amir Elahi. Handling the pressure of two high-voltage matches, representing a state in a faraway land and emerging as the hero — Malcolm embodied all the qualities one could ask for.

While most of the team members were noted to play more significant matches afterwards, the hero of their victory, Malcolm disappeared totally. As researched by Jones, records show Major, RA, Basil William Malcolm (Burmah Shell Co) getting married to Mary Hayes back in his hometown in Worthing, Sussex in 1944. Further researches reveals the couple having a son on August 8, 1946.

Later that year, Malcolm played his third and final First-Class match for Sir Homi Mehta’s XI against Dr CR Pereira’s XI at Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai in the semi-final of the Bombay Festival tournament. He could not repeat his pre-War heroics for Bengal, and scored a mere 16 and 2, while his only over went wicketless.

Even then he finished with 320 career runs at 80 and 4 wickets at 7.75: not many men in the history of the sport have matched those numbers.

The Bombay Festival Tournament semi-final drew an abrupt end to a career, which, if nurtured properly, might have turned to a successful all-rounder’s. Malcolm travelled from New York to Southampton in 1947 while his second child, a girl, was born October 28, 1948.

He would return to India twice more, in 1952 and 1956 without any appearance in any cricket-related activity. Malcolm breathed his last in 1995 in Derbyshire, and questions as on why he did not become a big name despite having all the material within, were buried alongside to get a peaceful sleep.

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

(Paulami Chakraborty, a singer, dancer, artist, and photographer, loves the madness of cricket and writes about the game. She can be followed on Twitter at @Polotwitts)