Devdas Gandhi spent a night at jail — just to watch Don Bradman bat! Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Devdas Gandhi spent a night at jail — just to watch Don Bradman bat! Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

With Don Bradman’s Invincibles touring England, Devdas (sometimes spelled Devadas) Gandhi, son of Mohandas (aka Mahatma), was determined to watch the great man in action. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the unusual habitat chosen by Gandhi jr for the purpose on June 10, 1948.

It had not been a year since India had become an independent nation. The Indian Constitution would not be written for another two-and-a-half years. Mahatma Gandhi, the face of India during her freedom struggle, had been assassinated less than five months back.

Gandhi had four sons, of whom Devdas was the youngest. The 48-year old Devdas had merely heard of Don Bradman when the legend had announced that it would be his last tour to England. An ardent cricket lover, Devdas became Managing Editor of Hindustan Times; during his tenure the newspaper sponsored the scorecard at Feroz Shah Kotla.

But this was big. It was probably his last chance to watch The Don in action. He was in England to attend a meeting with Reuters. As Ramachandra Guha wrote in Rediff, when a colleague asked Devdas what he would like to do once he was through with business, the response was curt and prompt: “See Bradman bat.”

After steamrolling several county sides on their way, Australia reached Nottingham for the first Test. Tickets were in high demand, and poor Devdas could not acquire one. Guha wrote in Wisden: “Tickets for the Trent Bridge Test were sold out, but with the help of the grey eminences of Fleet Street a complimentary pass was procured.”

So Devdas reached Nottingham, but there was another problem, and a bigger one to boot: the city was abuzz with excitement and anticipation; hundreds swarmed into the city, occupying all available accommodation in the city. Our hero could not find a hotel.

While all this was happening, England were bowled out for 165 by Keith Miller and Bill Johnston despite an early injury to Ray Lindwall. In fact, at one stage they were 74 for 8, before Jim Laker showed great application to score 63 and add 89 with Alec Bedser. Sid Barnes and Arthur Morris were at the wicket at stumps, and had reduced the lead by 17.

Searching frantically for a place, Gandhi jr eventually convinced the warden and acquired a bed in the Nottingham County Jail (how? One wonders). It was ironic, for Mahatma Gandhi, across several ‘stints,’ spent a sum of over six years in British prisons. He affectionately referred to British jails as “His Majesty’s Hotel.”

Devdas himself was arrested during the Salt March. He was back again, this time deliberately, to watch the man who had tormented the British for two decades. It was fitting, ironic, and poetic at the same time.

He breakfasted with convicts next morning, and joined thousands of others through the gates of Trent Bridge. It was worth it. Laker bowled Morris shortly after lunch, bringing Bradman to the crease. Barnes hung in, but when Laker dismissed him and Miller falling in quick succession, the score read 121 for 3.

A phase of attrition followed, where Bradman went without a boundary for 83 minutes. Bill Brown hit a single boundary in an hour. But as the day went on, the English bowlers tired — and Bradman took control, with Lindsay Hassett for company.

There were no more hiccups: Australia reached 293 for 4 by stumps with Bradman on 130 (which also meant he was on 998 in the season) and Hassett on 41. The lead had extended to 128.

Bradman duly brought up his 1,000 before Alec Bedser had him caught by Len Hutton at the leg-trap set by Bedser (as per Bill O’Reilly’s advice) — but not before he had amassed 138. Hassett scored 137 as well, and Australia acquired a 344-run lead.

England were reduced to 39 for 2 by Miller and Johnston (between them they accounted for 16 wickets in the Test), but Denis Compton, with 184, ensured England saved the ignominy of innings defeat. Australia needed 98, and they lost two wickets in the chase. One of these was Bradman’s: once again caught in the leg-trap by Hutton off Bedser for a duck.

Devdas was not there to witness the duck. In fact, having had his fill of Bradman, he took the train back to London after the second day’s play, and did not get to see the rest of the Test. He missed some spectacular performances, but it did not matter anymore to him. He had seen what he had wanted to.

Brief scores:

England 165 (Jim Laker 63; Bill Johnston 5 for 36) and 441 (Len Hutton 74, Denis Compton 184, Godfrey Evans 50; Keith Miller 4 for 125, Bill Johnston 4 for 147) lost to Australia 509 (Sid Barnes 62, Don Bradman 138, Lindsay Hassett 137; Jim Laker 4 for 138) and 98 for 2 (Sid Barnes 64*) by 8 wickets.

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