by Abhishek Mukherjee
A lot has been written about Vizzy's batting abilities, or lack thereof. It is time to throw some light on yet another monarch of Indian cricket – one who captained India on their first Test tour.
Had he not fallen ill, India would probably have been led by the Maharaja of Patiala on that tour.
However, once Patiala opted out, they appointed a replacement monarch in Lieutenant-Colonel Maharaja Rana Shri Sir Natwarsinhji Bhavsinhji Sahib Bahadur, KCSI, the Maharaja of Porbandar.
KS Ghanshyamji Daulatsinhji Jhala of Limbdi, brother-in-law of Porbandar, was named vice-captain.
The Maharaja of Vizianagaram was named *deputy vice-captain*. Obviously Vizzy opted out, only to return with a vengeance four years later.
But this is about Porbandar, whose on-field achievements made Vizzy look like Steven Smith.
Thankfully, Porbandar was aware of his limitations, and played in only 4 of the 26 First-Class matches, happily allowing CK Nayudu to lead. In all he played 7 matches out of 37.
Porbandar batted 7 times on this tour. The sequence makes remarkable reading: 0, 2, 0, 2, 2, 2, 0. I have no clue what to make of this delightfully binary yet annoyingly asymmetric sequence.
In First-Class matches he got 0, 2, 0. EW Swanton later recalled that these two runs (against Glamorgan at Cardiff) came from a leg-glance.
They said he collected more Rolls-Royces (three) than runs on that tour.
He obviously did not bowl or keep wickets. He was a king, after all. To be fair, however, he did not bat a lot either (3 innings in 4 matches, so there was no Gulbadin Naibish "my team my batting" concept).
His average of 1.14 (0.67 in First-Class matches) is a record for a touring captain in England who neither bowled nor kept wickets.
However, he managed to intrigue a nine-year-old Alan Gibson, no less, who watched the entire match from their balcony that overlooked the ground at Leyton, where the Indians were playing Essex.
Gibson had even invested twopence in a scorecard, where the Indian team list was headed by *HH Porbandar. That HH stood for His Highness was not apparently obvious to the boy, who considered Harry, Herbert, Horace...
Alas, *HH Porbandar did not bat in the match.
Compared to this tour, his First-Class career at home was excellent. He played twice, just before and after the tour, scoring 22, 7, 0, and 11 – an almost Bradmanesque sequence.
Interestingly, the two matches were
- for Roshanara Club against Viceroy's XI
- for Viceroy's XI against Roshanara Club
So there was some symmetry, after all.
Wisden's tour report was no-nonsense: "For reasons apart from cricket the necessity existed of having a person of distinction and importance in India at the head of affairs, and it was almost entirely because of this that Porbandar led the team. No injustice is being done to him, therefore, by saying that admirably fitted as he was in many respects for the task, his abilities as a cricketer were not commensurate with the position he occupied."
There was some truth in this second part, for at least once did he bring his man-management skills to the fore hours before perhaps the most important moment in Indian cricket.
You see, there was a reason for members of the royal family calling shots in cricket. The Indians were not used to a commoner leading them in cricket. One must remember here that the squad represented four major religions, and several cricketers of the squad were barely acquainted with some of the others.
To add to this, Nayudu was famously authoritarian, perhaps a bit too much for the comfort of some. he was perhaps too strict, too intense, replicating his role of the colonel on the field as well. There was no question of relaxing.
On four o'clock in the morning of June 25, 1932 – the day India played her first Test – some members of the squad woke up Porbandar, refusing to play under Nayudu. Wazir Ali's name came up as replacement.
Some reports vaguely suggest that he was down with malaria, though how he caught a tropical disease mid-tour in England is not very clear. Perhaps he did.
But he would have nothing of it. Nayudu had been chosen to lead – and lead he would.
And lead he did.
The Maharaja's cricket career might have been way, way below par, but it is only fair we acknowledge what he did that day.
The Maharaja of Porbandar died on October 4, 1979.