Lord Mountbatten at the historic Press Conference in Delhi, June 1947 © Getty Images Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is standing next to Mountbatten Front, from left: VP Menon, Eric Mieville, Lord Ismay, George Abell, Ian Scott
Lord Mountbatten at the historic Press Conference in Delhi, June 1947 © Getty Images
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is standing next to Mountbatten
Front, from left: VP Menon, Eric Mieville, Lord Ismay, George Abell, Ian Scott

It is widely known that cricket was first played in India in 1721. Our story begins in Colonial, undivided India, with John Laird Mair Lawrence, later the 1st Baron Lawrence, and more commonly referred to as Sir John Lawrence, and his elder brother Henry, making the journey to India in 1830 to take up positions in the British Indian Civil Service.

John served initially as an assistant Judge, Magistrate and Tax Collector. His services during the First Sikh War (1845-46) and during the great Mutiny of 1857 resulted in his being awarded a Baronetcy as Knight Grand Cross of the Bath. While on a home visit in 1863, John was sent back to India as Viceroy upon the sudden and unexpected demise of Lord Elgin. His tenure as Viceroy was to last from 1864 to 1869.

Lahore having always enjoyed the accolade of being the cultural capital of North-West India, and later, of Pakistan, and  himself being a man of refined and aesthetic tastes, John Lawrence hit upon the idea of laying out extensive Botanical Gardens in Lahore on the lines of the Kew Gardens of London during his tenure as the Viceroy. The original layout had incorporated 176 acres, and had included a zoo in addition to the Botanical Gardens, together with appropriate roadways to facilitate approach to these places of interest. There used to be a statue of Lawrence on the premises of what came to be known as the Lawrence Gardens, but that was later shifted to Foyle and Londonderry College in Northern Ireland, where the young Lawrence had gone to school.

One of the chief attractions of Lawrence Gardens was the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Club, founded in 1880, the second oldest in the South-East Asian subcontinent, and nestling cosily within the confines of the Gardens. The wicket at LGCC has been very thoughtfully laid out in a North-South orientation to obviate any difficulty that batsmen may have in sighting the ball against the backdrop of the morning or evening sun.

Casual cricket began at LGCC from 1880. A turf wicket was laid out in 1882, using earth imported from Worcestershire. The Maharajas of Patiala and of Jammu & Kashmir were regular visitors to LGCC with their respective teams to play against the host club in the early 1900s. In 1911, a match was played on this ground between a British Army XI and a World XI, the latter winning the game by 61 runs. The victorious team had included several players from Gloucestershire and Lancashire, whilst the Army XI had been mainly drawn from representatives from the following Regiments: the 87th Punjab, the 17th Lancasters, the 15th Sikh, and the King’s.

The pavilion used to contain a central high-ceilinged hall that was used as a Museum, and was reputed to be a treasure trove of cricketing memorabilia, recalling great past deeds for or against the Club. Former Pakistan captain Fazal Mahmood was fond of saying that LGCC has always been sacrosanct in Pakistani cricket circles, and was “the most prestigious in the province. Every cricketer dreamt of playing there”.

First class cricket began at the LGCC grounds with the Lahore Tournament of 1922-23, when a match between the Muslims and the Sikhs was played at this venue, with the Muslims winning by an innings and 74 runs. After Partition, Lawrence Gardens was metamorphosed as the Bagh-e-Jinnah. We shall visit this venue again later in the narrative.

At the turn of the 19th century, George Foster Abell, Justice of the Peace and Director of Lloyd’s Bank, was to be found residing at the Foxcote Manor, Andoversford, Gloucestershire, one of the stately homesteads of England. Abell and his wife Jessie Elizabeth, nee Brackenbury, had raised a family of four children, comprising two sons, the elder being born on June 22, 1904, and the younger seeing the light of day two years later, and two daughters.

George Abell Jr’s biographers seem to be somewhat at odds amongst themselves regarding his place of birth. ESPNCricinfo has him being born at Worcester. His profile in The Peerage, giving details of the genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe, mentions the Gloucestershire habitation of his father at the time of his birth.

The Dictionary of National Biography (1901 – 1990) expresses the view that Abell was born at Sanderstead, Surrey. The whole paradox leaves the seeker after the truth rather bewildered on the issue, particularly given the fact that he was to later make his first class debut for Worcestershire, rather than for Surrey or Gloucestershire.

The eldest child, the elder son, was named George Edmond Brackenbury, and was educated at Marlborough College, going on to become a Senior Prefect. Going up to Oxford, Abell studied at Corpus Christi College, where he obtained a First Class in Classical Honour Moderations (1925), and a Second Class in Literae Humaniores (1927). He was a triple Blue for rugby, cricket, and hockey, and captained the Oxford rugby XV in 1926.

His cricket profile shows Abell representing Marlborough College in 9 Second-Class games between 1921 and 1923, and playing against such opposition as Rugby School (3 games at Lord’s), Winchester College, Cheltenham College, and Wellington College, generally as a right-hand batsman and wicketkeeper.

Abell’s first documented cricket match during his tenure at Oxford appears to be a Freshmen’s Match between two teams called CH Knott’s XI and TB Raike’s XI (though each team had, in point of fact, comprised 13 players) in 1924. Representing Knott’s XI, Abell had scored 23 and made a stumping.

Abell had just about celebrated his 19th birthday and had barely finished his school career when he made his First-Class debut playing for Worcestershire against Essex at Worcester in 1923. Indeed, his profile shows that Abell had last represented Marlborough College earlier that month.

Johnny Douglas, having won the toss for Essex, opted to bat first, and the visitors scored a healthy 407 well before stumps on first day. Worcestershire responded with 263. Abell, not having been able to put his name on the scorecard while keeping wickets, was dismissed for 1. Essex then declared on 279 for 8. Set 423 to win, Worcestershire were dismissed for 319. This time Abell was left stranded on 6.

Abell represented Oxford in First-Class cricket from 1924 to 1927, playing a total of 24 matches for them and scoring 418 runs with a highest of 50 and an average of 17.41. He held 27 catches for his university team and completed 10 stumpings.

His career for Worcestershire lasted from 1923 to 1939 and entailed 34 matches, during which he scored 1,290 runs with a highest of 131 and an average of 25.29. He had 2 centuries and 3 fifties for his county, and held 41 catches as a wicketkeeper, adding 13 stumpings to his tally of dismissals.

Having completed his studies at Oxford, Abell joined the Indian Civil Service in 1928, being posted initially as a District Officer in the Punjab, and being instrumental in quelling a riot in Dera Ghazi Khan Jail almost single-handedly by walking right into the middle of the fracas while the jailers and warders thought it prudent to take refuge on the roof. Recognising the young man’s sterling qualities, the Governor of Punjab appointed Abell as his private secretary in 1941.

In 1943, Abell was promoted to the post of Deputy Secretary to the Viceroy, the 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow. Two years later he was the Private Secretary to the then Viceroy, Viscount Wavell. Abell continued in the capacity of Private Secretary to Viceroy Louis Mountbatten till the sun set on the British Empire in India.

When Mountbatten later became the Governor-General of India, Abell continued to serve as his Private Secretary. He was reportedly one of the members of the brains trust behind the draft of the Partition Plan of undivided India, along with General Ismay, and Christopher Beaumont, private Secretary to Cyril Radcliffe, Joint Chairman of the Boundary Commission. In this privileged capacity, Abell was privy to many undisclosed secrets of a traumatic period of the history of the Indian subcontinent.

Back in England, Abell joined the Bank of England in 1948, and served as a Director of the Bank from 1952 to 1964. During this time,one of his major contributions in the Human Resources Development of the Bank was to do away with the dichotomy between female and male staff members, integrating both genders into a unified workforce of the Bank.

Abell also served as Civil Service Commissioner from 1964 to 1967; Chairman of the Rhodes Trustees, affiliated to Oxford University, from 1969 to 1974 (having previously served as a trustee from 1949); Chairman of the Governing Body of his old alma mater, Marlborough College, from 1974 to 1977; and President of the Council of Reading University from 1970 to 1974.

Honours came thick and fast for Abell. He was appointed OBE (1943), CIE (1946), and KCIE (1947). He received an honorary LLD from Aberdeen University in 1947, and became an honorary fellow of Corpus Christi College in 1971. During his Civil Service days in India, despite his ever-increasing load of responsibilities as a career diplomat, however, he found the time to play cricket.

While on civil service duty in India, Abell lost no time in pursuing his love for cricket, and played his initial First-Class match on Indian soil for the Europeans against the Muslims in the final of the Lahore Tournament of 1928-29, at Lawrence Gardens.

The Muslims won rather easily by an innings and 74 runs, with Abell scoring 8 in a first-innings total of only 105. Boosted by centuries from Ferozuddin (140*) and S Wazir Ali (153*), the Muslims declared at 389 for 2. Abell then top-scored with 56 in total of 210. Jahangir Khan, with 6 for 49 and 4 for 48, was easily the pick of the bowlers for the Muslims.

It was the Lawrence Gardens ground again on February 1, 1930, and this time Abell was leading the Punjab Governor’s XI against the Muslims. The Governor’s XI lost their second wicket at 14 when skipper-wicketkeeper Abell joined Vishwanath Hoon at the crease. The pair added 124 before Hoon (53) was out. Wickets fell at regular intervals from one end, and it was left to the skipper (92) to play the definitive innings in a total of 225. Jahangir, the perpetual thorn in the flesh of all opposition, captured 4 for 68.

The Muslims were then reduced to 18 for 4 and later 79 for 5 before Wazir Ali (181) and Fida Hussain (88) added 224. The lead swelled to 123. Once again Abell found himself at the crease early, at 12 for 2; once again he had a stand with Hoon (37), this time adding 79. The total reached 192 for 6 before time ran out on the drawn game. The Punjab skipper not only covered himself with glory with the bat with his scores of 92 and 116, but also behind the stumps, with 2 catches and 2 stumpings.

This was Abell’s second First-Class century, after his 124 for Worcestershire against Sussex at Hove in 1925, during his undergraduate days at Oxford. Worcestershire had won the game by 221 runs. Abell had contributed behind the stumps as well by holding 4 catches in the second innings. The 30-year old District Officer’s magnum opus with the bat was to follow at the end of 1934.

In The Shorter Wisden India Almanack 2014, Saurabh Somani, in describing a Cricket Control Board meeting held at Shimla in 1934, quotes Anthony de Mello as saying; “It was with something like trepidation that I submitted my proposal for a trophy to the august gathering … Even I was not prepared for the events that followed. The late Maharajah of Patiala [Bhupinder Singh] jumped up when I was scarcely halfway through my proposal. The pine-scented air seemed to be immediately electrified. In deep tones, charged with emotion, His Highness claimed the honour and privilege of perpetuating the name of the great Ranji, who had prematurely departed this life only the year before.”

Despite the earnest plea of the Patiala of naming the award for the proposed new domestic First-Class tournament of India after Ranji, the issue was to prove to be a rather more complicated affair. In a shameless attempt to curry favour with the then British Viceroy of India, Vizzy was vehemently in favour of naming the cup the Willingdon Trophy, after Lord Willingdon, a former Eton and Cambridge alumnus who had played 40 First-Class matches in all. Fortunately, better sense prevailed and the tournament was named after Ranji.

In the inaugural season of 1934-35, a total of 13 Ranji Trophy matches were played all over undivided India, 2 of these in what is now Pakistan: between Sind and Western India at Karachi Gymkhana, and between Northern India and the Army was played at Lawrence Gardens Ground, Lahore.

Richard Bamfield won the toss for the Army in the latter, the fourth Ranji Trophy match of all. The Army batted first and scored runs at a fair clip considering that their total of 203 came in 62.3 overs. The main scorers were Ferozuddin (31), St Leger Morris (44), and Chris Hodgson (33). For Northern India, Mubarak Ali and Khadim Hussain captured 3 wickets each.

The first day ended with Northern India on 72 for 1 after Amir Elahi had been dismissed for 30. At the crease were wicketkeeper Abell (24) and Ahmed Raza (9). Abell went into lunch on the second day at 128, having added 104 to his overnight score.

From the fact that the second wicket stand between Abell and Ahmed ‘Aghajan’ Raza, begun on the first day at the total of 53 for 1, was to realise 304, it may be safe to assume that it was Raza who had accompanied Abell back to the pavilion at the interval, although his individual score at that point is not mentioned. Perhaps a little introduction to this Aghajan may be in order here.

Born on August 20, 1910, Agha Ahmed Raza Khan, more popularly known as Aghajan, appears to have been a member of the Burki clan that was to produce 40 First-Class cricketers in all. Three of Aghajan’s four sisters were to become the proud mothers of Test captains of Pakistan: eldest sister Iqbal Bano, married to army officer Wajid Ali Khan Burki, was the mother of Oxford Blue Javed Burki; Mubarak, married to Jahangir (the cricketer, mentioned above), was the mother of Majid Khan, her second son; and Shaukat, married to the civil servant Ikramullah Khan, was the mother of Imran Khan.

Aficionados of the history of Indian cricket will be aware that the first individual century in the history of Ranji Trophy cricket had been scored in the third match of all when Syed Mohammad Hadi (132 not out for Hyderabad against Madras). The next two individual centuries were scored in the match at the Lawrence Gardens, with Aghajan being dismissed for 101. George Abell was to produce the first double century in the history of the tournament (210); he was to become the first to score a double century on Ranji Trophy debut, becoming also the first wicketkeeper to do so.

Given below is the chart of the 9 batsmen to have scored double centuries on Ranji Trophy debut till 2017-18:

Runs Batsman For Against Venue Season
210 George Abell Northern India Army Lahore 1934-35
205 Budhi Kunderan Railways Jammu & Kashmir Delhi 1959-60
230 Gundappa Viswanath Mysore Andhra Vijayawada 1967-68
260 Amol Muzumdar Bombay Haryana Faridabad 1993-94
209* Anshuman Pandey Madhya Pradesh Uttar Pradesh Bhilai 1995-96
201* Manpreet Juneja Gujarat Tamil Nadu Ahmedabad 2011-12
213 Jiwanjot Singh Punjab Hyderabad Mohali 2012-13
200* Vijay Zol Maharashtra Tripura Pune 2013-14
202 Abhishek Gupta Punjab Himachal Pradesh Dharamsala 2017-18

Note: Of the above, three have been wicketkeepers: Abell, Kunderan, and Gupta

Charles Kindersley, skipper of Northern India, declared at 459 for 7. That ended the action on the second day. For the Army, Robert Osborne-Smith had figures of 4 for 134. The Army were dismissed for 204, with Morris (86) again top scoring. Amir Elahi picked up 4 for 86 to ensure a facile victory for Northern India by an innings and 52 runs.

Abell played 75 matches in all in his First-Class cricket career from 1923 to 1941-42, scoring a total of 2,674 runs at 24.75, with his 210 as his highest. He had 4 centuries and 8 fifties and held 97 catches, adding 35 stumpings to his wicketkeeping statistics. He was seen in a captaincy role in 10 of these games.

The Private Secretary of the Governor of Punjab played his last First-Class game for Northern India in a Ranji Trophy clash against Southern Punjab at the ground of the prestigious Aitchison College of Lahore in 1941-42, leading his team to victory by 74 runs. His personal contributions in the game included scores of 11 and 2, a stumping, and 2 catches behind the wickets.

The remaining part of the saga of Abell is soon told. The 24-year old novice in the Indian Civil Service married Susan Norman-Butler, daughter of Arthur Francis Norman-Butler, Inspector of Schools, in 1928. The couple was to raise a family comprising two sons and a daughter.

Knight Commander, Order of the British Empire, Sir George Edmond Brackenbury Abell passed away on January 11, 1989, aged about 84 years, at Ramsbury, Wiltshire, carrying to his gravemany of the murky details of the secret shenanigans associated with the gory tale of the Partition of India.