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How Mumbai shaped Douglas Jardine – the original Ben Stokes

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Published Time: 13.02.2024 - 12:40:12 Modified Time: 13.02.2024 - 12:40:12

Stokes does not share Jardine's love of big-game hunting or patrician air but both have been praised for tactical innovation in the field Getty Images/Popperfoto The ground staff at the Bombay Gymkhana are re-marking the five-a-side football pitches with whitewash and the cafe in the swiss chalet-style pavilion is doing a roaring trade

Stokes does not share Jardine's love of big-game hunting or patrician air but both have been praised for tactical innovation in the field

: Getty Images/Popperfoto

The ground staff at the Bombay Gymkhana are re-marking the five-a-side football pitches with whitewash and the cafe in the swiss chalet-style pavilion is doing a roaring trade.

The wicker chairs on the verandah overlooking the pitch are all taken and the ceiling fans are whirring hard to keep everyone cool, while waistcoated waiters take orders and pour drinks.

It is a scene that has changed little since 1933 when the club hosted India’s first Test match, the 90th anniversary of which was around six weeks ago. Then it was a club for the British. Clubhouse rules had to be relaxed to allow the India players to enter the pavilion.

Now it remains an exclusive haunt of the wealthy, a contrast to the scraggy Azad Maidan that is separated from the Gymkhana by a narrow path Mumbaikers use to cut through to the city. Descending the stairs from the verandah you pass a black and white photograph taken on December 15, 1933, the first day of the Test, of two men staring down at the camera. One is Douglas Jardine, the other CK Nayadu – the two captains cutting dashing figures of the age.

Jardine, with his hands behind his back, wears a white cravat with the George and Dragon crest on his blazer which is done up by three buttons. Nayudu looks like a film star with his neat moustache and pomaded hair. He is slightly less formal, posing with hand in pocket, his blazer unbuttoned. Another picture shows him walking out to bat with Lala Armanath followed by a pith-helmeted official. The young Armanath would make his name, and a small fortune, with a century in the match.

A short walk away, cutting across the Cross Maidan, is the Cricket Club of India, the Brabourne Stadium, founded by the Maharaja of Patiala in reaction to being told he could not sit in the pavilion of the Gymkhana. It hosted Test cricket until the early 1970s when a dispute led the BCCI to build the Wankhede Stadium, the modern home of IPL and international cricket.

Less than a mile apart, but separated by almost a century of progress and change, the three grounds tell the story of cricket’s evolution in India.

The Gymkhana is a building, so Jardine would recognise it from his time, along with the Bombay High Court just opposite, where his father, Malcolm, practised law at the turn of the 20th century.

Jardine’s tour to India was a year after Bodyline. He had to be persuaded to captain England again and part of his motivation was to see where he was born and the old family home. Malabar Hill, where the Jardines lived, is now home to modern skyscrapers, a place for the super rich of Mumbai. Many of the colonial buildings are long gone, the skyline dramatically changed.

Jardine gave many speeches on the tour, predicting India would one day be cricket’s major power. That is something Ben Stokes would recognise now.

Reading through the press reports of the match, some of the comments feel very familiar today. Jardine was a tactical master, totally committed to his team and their methods. He was not without vanity, obviously, and the tour would contain some tense moments when England bowled bumpers, but he was praised for fielding changes, rotation of his bowlers and for being a diplomat – not a natural strength of his – giving many speeches, recognising the importance of Anglo-Indian ties, although his relationship with governor general Lord Willingdon cooled when they rowed over the length of time a cricket pitch was to be rolled.

Stokes does not have to bother with that kind of diplomacy. He would also blanche at the itinerary: 50 matches in five-and-a-half months with a 14-man squad. This tour is five Tests in seven weeks with a chef, analyst and massage therapist tending to the players..

While Jardine relaxed by big-game hunting (his haul included a lion, tiger, panther, bear and stag), Stokes prefers taking pot shots on the golf course. The current England squad speak with awe and praise about Stokes’s management skills. In his excellent biography of Jardine, the Spartan Cricketer, Christopher Douglas quotes letters he received from some of the players on the 1933 tour. Kent wicketkeeper Hopper Levett said Jardine did not radiate “much cheerfulness and appeared to take an aggressive attitude towards the opposition”. By contrast, John Human, Middlesex batsman, described a “wonderful man and credit to Winchester College” who wrote to his parents when Human went down with malaria in Bombay. Human felt his standoffishness was because of an “inferiority complex to strangers”.

The players lined up to praise his tactics, even with a severely weakened team. The tour featured four seam bowlers – Nobby Clark of Northants and Essex’s Stan Nichols, while India had Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh. There were more bruises than bodyline although leg theory was rarely deployed. When it was during the first Test England were barracked, and again in Madras when India opener Naoomal Jeoomal missed a hook and was knocked out.

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