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From playing Test cricket for India to ruling a state, Yadavindrasingh had done it all Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Yadavindrasingh, Yuvraj of Patiala, named Maharaja after his father’s demise, was born January 17, 1913. He played a solitary Test for India during the murky days of inter-empire struggles for supremacy in Indian cricket. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back a cricketer who became a king.

He was born Yadavindrasingh, and played cricket as the Yuvraj of Patiala. When he passed away, he was addressed as the extremely impressive Lieutenant-General His Highness Farzand-i-Khas-i-Daulat-i-Inglishia, Mansur-i-Zaman, Amir ul-Umara, Maharajadhiraja Raj Rajeshwar, 108 Sri Maharaja-i-Rajgan, Maharaja Sir Yadavindra Singh, Mahendra Bahadur, Yadu Vansha Vatans Bhatti Kul Bushan, Maharaja of Patiala, GCIE, GBE.

Yadavindrasingh’s life was fascinating. In the pre-Independence era, Indian cricket was marred by the tussle between the empires of Porbandar, Patiala, Vizianagram, among many; as a result the national side often consisted of members of the royalty, none of whom was as unworthy — as player or captain or administrator — as Vizzy.

Barring Vizzy, the scene was dominated by Bhupendrasingh Rajindersingh, Maharaja of Patiala; Natwarsinhji Bhavsinhji, Maharaja of Porbandar; KS Ghanshyamsinhji Daulatsinhji Jhala, Prince of Limbdi, usually referred to as KS Limbdi, brother-in-law of Porbandar, and nephew of KS Duleepsinhji.

It was during this era that Yadavindrasingh arrived on the forefront. With an imposing 6’5” frame, the Yuvraj was a powerful batsman who finished with 1,629 runs from 52 matches at 20.88 with seven hundreds. The numbers may seem insignificant, but it must be remembered that he had other (presumably more important) duties to attend, and his Ranji Trophy numbers read 781 runs at 31.24.

In The Magic of Indian Cricket: Cricket and Society in India, Mihir Bose wrote that the Yuvraj was “probably one of the finest cricketers to play for India — albeit in unofficial Tests — and he had some relish for the cricketing intrigues so intrinsically part of Indian cricket that he might well have been the captain of the ill-fated 1936 tour. A tall, hard-hitting batsman, the Yuvraj seemed to combine both the batting dash associated with cricketing princes…and the chivalry which is the hallmark of any prince.”

Unlike most other members of the royal families, he also accounted for 50 wickets at 30.74 (Ranji Trophy haul: 30 wickets at 28.50), and was a quality fielder given the era. He played a solitary Test; many agree he should have played more, had it not been for Vizzy.

Early days

Bhupendrasingh had been appointed Maharaja of Patiala in 1900. A remarkable ruler, he also toured England with the Indians in 1911, scoring 47 against Oxford University, Patiala scored 83 against England when they toured India in 1918-19. He had a humble career that spanned played 27 matches, from which he scored 643 runs at 17.37.

Of course, the Maharaja’s other claim to fame was his ten queens (four of them were rumoured to be sisters) and innumerable (350, as estimates say) concubines; in all he had, by an estimate, 88 children — of whom Yadavindrasingh was the second, and the heir-apparent. There are other colourful stories about the Maharaja, but this article does not involve shell-shocked dignitaries greeted by a naked king, and other similar tales.

Six years older to his brother Bhalindra Singh, Yadavindrasingh was nominated Yuvraj (crown prince) of Patiala at a very young age. Bhalindra was no mean cricketer; if anything, his numbers were better than his brothers: an all-rounder, he played 13 matches, scoring 392 runs at 21.77 and claiming 25 wickets at 27.

Yadavindrasingh did his schooling in England before going to Aitchison College, Lahore. Following a course at the Police Training School at Phillaur he served Patiala State Police, and went on to become Inspector-General. But more of that later.

The 1932 tour

The tussle began even before the formation of BCCI in 1928. Patiala was named captain and Limbdi vice-captain, but something had to be done about Vizzy as well (he had donated £40,000, after all!). Vizzy was thus named deputy vice-captain.

Good sense eventually prevailed, and Patiala backed out. Vizzy, too, opted out (he was not going to be led!). Porbandar was named captain (it must be remembered that he was Limbdi’s brother-in-law); Porbandar, who knew his on-field limitations too well, stood down to allow CK Nayudu to lead India.

Rise of the Yuvraj

Patiala arranged an ensemble set of tutors for the Yuvraj: Maurice Leyland, Abe Waddington, George Brown, Roy Kilner, and Frank Tarrant, among others. The Yuvraj, blessed with natural flair, made justice to his father’s investments, and stood head and shoulders above all “prince cricketers” of his era.

He had an unassuming start to his First-Class career, and as expected, missed out on the 1932 tour to England. He grew in stature with an innings of 49 for Punjab Governor’s XI against the touring MCC at Lahore, where he helped Nayudu put on 119. In the next two matches, both against MCC, he scored 66 for Southern Punjab at Amritsar (his father scored 22) and 37 for Patiala.

He played for, of all teams, Vizzy’s XI against MCC at Banaras. The hosts acquired a slender lead, and the Yuvraj handled Hedley Verity, Nobby Clark, and Stan Nichols with authority, top-scoring with 44 and helping Vizzy’s XI set 154. Ladha Ramji, Mohammad Nissar, and Nayudu routed MCC for 139. He was an automatic choice for the Chepauk Test — the third on Indian soil.

Test cricket

Fred Bakewell and Cyril Walters added 111 after Douglas Jardine chose to bat. The Yuvraj caught Charlie Barnett as England scored 335 in the absence of Nissar; Amar Singh claimed 7 for 86. India had no chance against the variations and guile of Verity, more so after Naoomal Jaoomal was hit on the head by Clark.

The Yuvraj joined another youngster, Vijay Merchant, with the score on 66 for 4 (and Naoomal Jaoomal ruled out). They added 33 before Merchant was bowled by Verity for 26. The Yuvraj followed the same way, for 24. They remained the highest scores for India as they were bowled out for 145, Verity being the wrecker-in-chief with 7 for 49.

Walters scored 102, enabling Jardine to set India an insurmountable 452. The Yuvraj walked out at 125 for 5 to join Merchant. The pair put up 84 in an hour before the Yuvraj was caught-behind off Verity — but not before he scored a dazzling 60. Wisden made a special note of his “cutting and driving”. In A History of Indian Cricket, Bose mentioned that the Yuvraj used “his reach and height to play the spinners”. Taking on a rampant Verity was no mean feat.

India lost the Test by 202 runs. Verity claimed 4 for 104 and finished with match figures of 11 for 153. The Yuvraj never played another Test.

Battle for supremacy

Vizzy had not forgotten the 1932 tour. The Bombay Pentangular, despite its immense popularity, was confined only to Bombay. Cricket needed to spread across the country. It had to go zonal. Patiala announced that he would donate a £500 gold trophy for the cause, named after KS Ranjitsinhji. The Ranji Trophy, as expected, helped Patiala grow in stature in BCCI.

Vizzy came up with a novel protest: Ranji, after all, he said, had never played competitive cricket in India, and was an English cricketer at heart. He insisted the tournament be named after Lord Willingdon, then Viceroy of India. So the Willingdon Trophy was made (of chiselled gold); unfortunately for Vizzy, the first season of Ranji Trophy was already underway.

In a keen effort to outdo each other, Patiala and Vizzy both had teams in Moin-ud-Dowlah Cup. Vizzy even recruited the services of Learie Constantine for his side, Freelooters. One must remember that he had earlier recruited Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe.

Things turned a bit dramatic when Freelooters met Retrievers, Patiala’s team, in the final; Constantine claimed 8 for 141, terrifying Patiala’s side with his ruthless pace, but Lala Amarnath and Wazir Ali guided them to a three-wicket victory.

There is a backdrop to the story. G Rajaraman wrote: “Legend has it that Lala Amarnath, who later went on to lead India, was offered 10,000 rupees — a princely sum then — not to stand between Freelooters and the Gold Cup… Amarnath apparently pointed out that the Maharaja of Alirajpur had not invited him to play for Freelooters and that he would not betray his captain, the Yuvraj of Patiala.”

Note: Do note that Rajaraman calls this a legend. There is no concrete proof to this, at least to my knowledge. There is a counter-legend as well: a few days before the match, Patiala had apparently “ensured” that some Freelooters players (Amar Singh, Ladha Ramji, and Sorabji Colah, among others) did not play the match. Once again, this is a legend.

Though domestic tournament continued alongside this, the players had no clue which trophy they were playing for, or even the name of the tournament. Bombay hosted the final, won the Trophy, and were supposed to collect the trophy from Delhi.

This was tricky, since Lord Willingdon himself was supposed to present the prize. The financial contributions of Patiala towards BCCI ensured that Willingdon presented Patiala’s Ranji Trophy. Patiala was also made President of Cricket Club of India (CCI). He also nominated his Yuvraj to lead India in England in 1936.

To consolidate his position, Patiala acquired an Australian team to tour India. Tarrant worked as his envoy, and the team he acquired was a group of international rejects and cricketers past their prime.

Now Vizzy came to the forefront. King George V landed in India before the Australians, and Vizzy organised a Silver Jubilee Cricket Festival in his honour: Vizzy led an ensemble XI (including Nayudu) that beat Patiala’s side and won the trophy. Willingdon ended up presenting the Willingdon Trophy — there was probably no other trophy available — to Vizzy (yes, things were queer). Vizzy had gnawed his way back.

There was a third candidate: The Nawab of Pataudi had played Tests for England, had scored an Ashes hundred on debut, and was present at the ground. The selectors considered him as a more suitable candidate to lead India. Even Patiala thought Pataudi was a more suitable candidate than his Yuvraj.

At this time, Duleep resigned from the Selection Committee owing to illness, and was replaced by Vizzy. By this time the Australians had arrived; Pataudi declared himself unfit for the first “Test” at Bombay Gymkhana. Pataudi, Vizzy and HD Kanga selected the Yuvraj as the captain.

This, as Bose wrote, was a “Vizzy masterstroke”. The Yuvraj had been chosen captain for Hindus over Nayudu the previous year, which had already taken a toll on his popularity in India’s cricket capital. The undercurrent was so bad that even Nayudu (who had no apparent animosity against the Yuvraj), pledged for public support for the Yuvraj, but it fell on deaf ears. The crowd saw him as an outsider, a replacement for Nayudu, their rightful leader.

The Yuvraj was booed in Bombay every time he picked up a ball while fielding; and though he counterattacked with an outrageous 40 (including 5 sixes and a four) in the first innings, the hosts slumped to a 9-wicket defeat. Somehow a rumour surfaced — without concrete proof (but then, when has a mob needed proof?) — that the Australians had bowled him full-tosses and half-volleys to make things easy for him.

[Note: While Nayudu was overlooked as captain of Hindus, so was DB Deodhar, who had led them the match before. This eventually led to Deodhar setting up base in Poona and forming the Maharashtra Ranji Trophy team.]

To make things worse for the Yuvraj, Vizzy turned up for the United Provinces against the tourists at Allahabad, and, for once, scored 40 in a total of 137. With Pataudi in the forefront, Nayudu being his only rival, and Vizzy arriving, the Yuvraj’s chances sunk. The Yuvraj played (under Nayudu) in the second “Test” at Eden Gardens, where India were bowled out for 48 and 127. The Yuvraj scored 32 in the second innings, but nobody seemed to care anymore.

Wazir Ali led India in the third “Test” at Lahore. Nayudu made the blunder of refusing to play under Wazir, who top-scored in each innings with 77 and 92, leading India to a 68-run victory. Nayudu’s chances sank further as Vizzy had him axed him for the fourth “Test” at Chepauk. Once again India won, this time thanks to Nissar and Amar Singh.

In the interim period, Vizzy led Nawab of Moin-ud-Dowlah’s XI against the tourists. He did not bat, bowl, or take a catch, but a hundred from Amarnath and Amar Singh’s 10 for 87 ensured the hosts won. Suddenly Vizzy rose to the forefront.

The Yuvraj was not in contention anymore. Pataudi declared himself unfit for the tour (some say he was too disgusted by the politics). It came down to a Vizzy vs Nayudu battle, and with out-of-field influence being the only criterion, Nayudu did not stand a chance. Vizzy won the elections 10-5 (Patiala voted for Nayudu) and was named captain for the 1936 tour to England. The Yuvraj scored a spectacular 102 not out for Southern Punjab against United Province in the interim period, but the battle had already moved outside the ground.

There was no vice-captain or selection committee: Captain Jack Brittain-Jones named Manager and pet SM Hadi, the Treasurer. He nominated neither a vice-captain nor a selection committee. The murkiest tour in the history of Indian cricket followed shortly.

Maharaja of Patiala

The Yuvraj, seemingly unfazed by his being axed, slammed 79 against North-West Frontier Province. When Lord Tennyson brought his men over, he top-scored with 41 not out as India slumped to 121 against Alf Gover.

Bhupendrasingh passed away on March 23, 1938 at a mere 46, which meant Yadavindrasingh was named Maharaja of Patiala. Unlike CB Fry, the mythical king of Albania, the Yuvraj was a Test-player-turned-king now.

Already married to Hem Prabha Devi of Saraikela, he now tied the knots with Mohinder Kaur, then only 16. The Yuvraj was 25. In the same year he was named President of British Indian Olympic Committee — a post he held till 1947. As if that was not enough, he hit 132 and 75 in consecutive innings in Ranji Trophy that winter.

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Greater responsibilities brought a premature end to Yadavindrasingh’s Test career. Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Priorities changed. The Yuvraj had stints at Malaya, Italy, and Burma during World War II, continued to play cricket, but it came down to ruling Patiala. He also served as Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes in 1943 and 1944.

[Note: Unlike most princely states, Patiala (5,942 sq km, 1.6 million people in 1931) was a substantial empire. Nawanagar (409 thousand people) was big, but neither Ranji nor Duleep played for India or became kings. Banswara (225 thousand) was big as well, but Hanumant Singh was not a king. Porbandar (116 thousand), Bilkha (45 thousand), Limbdi (40 thousand), Pataudi (19 thousand), and Vizianagram (population unknown, but a mere 21 sq km) are hardly worth a mention. Of course, this excludes Baroda.]

When India gained Independence, he persuaded several royal families to join the Indian Union. On May 5, 1948, Patiala joined the Indian Union, and Yadavindrasingh was named Rajpramukh (equivalent to a Governor) of the newly formed state Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU). At the same time, he played a crucial role in the rehabilitation of refugees from the newly formed Pakistan.

In between all this, he never stopped playing cricket. He took to bowling, and playing for Southern Punjab against Delhi at Patiala, he scored 34 and returned match figures of 7 for 63. He resumed after World War II, and almost immediately scored 72 not out and 52.

Yadavindrasingh served as President of British Indian Olympic Committee from 1938 to 1947, and played a stellar role in triggering the Asian Games. He was named President of BCCI; he founded the iconic Yadavindra Public School in Lal Bagh Palace (it now has a branch in Mohali); one of his lesser known hobbies culminated in him being appointed to the Chairman of Indian Horticulture Development Council; and yet, despite all that, he was not willing to stop.

Close shave with death

On March 29, 1949 Yadavindrasingh was flying with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, then Deputy Prime Minister of India. Authorities lost all contact with the aircraft, which had to make an emergency landing in Rajasthan, about 50 miles from Jaipur. It took them about two hours to reach Jaipur. Thankfully, all passengers escaped unscathed.

The next level

Yadavindrasingh moved on to bigger things with age: he was the Indian delegate in the United Nations General Assembly in 1956 and 1957, at UNESCO in 1958, and at Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) from 1959 to 1969.

Though he wanted to shoulder responsibilities, Yadavindrasingh grew more and more detached from the murk of Indian politics. He later confessed to his son Malvinder: “Politics is not my cup of tea. Bahut gandh ho gaya hai. Politiciana nu honour naam de cheese hi nahin pata.” (It is turning murky. The politicians do not care for honour anymore).

Amidst everything, he played his final First-Class match — at an age of 45 — for Past XI against Present XI at Kotla. He scored 23, but registered his best innings (5 for 131) and match figures (4 for 52): his wickets included those of Pankaj Roy, Nari Contractor, Chandrasekhar Gadkari, and Naren Tamhane.

Yadavindrasingh also served as Indian Ambassador to Italy in 1965 and 1966, and resigned to participate in the Assembly Elections of 1967. He won by a huge margin. Once he served his tenure, he served as Indian Ambassador to Netherlands from 1971. On one of his trips he died of a sudden heart failure at The Hague; he was only 61.

Legacy

He was survived by his daughters Heminder Kaur (who married Kunwar Natwar Singh, former External Forest Minister) and Rupinder Kaur and sons Captain Amarinder Singh and Malvinder Singh.

Amarinder succeeded Yadavindrasingh as the Maharaja of Patiala, and was the Chief Minister of Punjab from 2002 to 2007. Amarinder’s son Raninder also stood in Punjab Assembly Elections in 2012 (from Samana), is an outstanding shooter, and was named President of National Rifle Association of India (NRAI).

Malvinder later told Umesh Dewan of The Tribune: “My father donated Old Moti Bagh Palace building to National Institute of Sports, Pinjore Gardens, half of the properties at Chail, and the Yadavindra summer residence to the Indian Government.”

Unfortunately, the Government did not take these donations seriously as acres of space remain unexplored. A perfect example of this is the 28-acre palace in Himachal Yadavindrasingh had donated to the Punjab Government (Himachal was not a state then) as a holiday home for poor children.

The Himachal Pradesh Government had leased it to Baba Ramdev for his Patanjali Trust for 99 years for one rupee per year.  The foundation stone was laid on June 20, 2010. Thanks to fervent protests from Captain Amarinder, the Government reversed their decision in February 2013.

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