Bonds of cricket remained unbreakable amidst Partition holocaust

C K Nayudu accompanied Fazal Mahmood to the new border dripping with blood to protect him from rioters. He even used his powerful bat to fend off the rampaging crowd.

The years 1946 and 1947 were a tumultuous period in the history of India. Even before India was partitioned, political and communal forces were at work, stirring up bigotry and suspicion in the minds of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Rumours flew thick and fast often triggering violence. But in the midst of all this tension and strife, cricket remained an oasis of peace. Cricketers belonging to all communities continued to play and practice together with the same objective – that of representing India and achieving victory in the international arena.

In 1946, between May and September, the Indian cricket team went on a tour of England. This was a historic occasion in many ways. Not only was it the first cricket Test series after the Second World War, it was also the last time that a team from undivided India played in a cricket series. After this series, India and Pakistan became two different teams.

Even as the series was in progress in England, back home in India, Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave a call for Direct Action Day on 16th August, 1946. Although he called for a peaceful hartal or strike, under the already vitiated atmosphere, the situation quickly degenerated into a large-scale communal flare up. Widespread violence erupted in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata) and the day also marked the start of what later came to be known as The Week of Long Knives.

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From Calcutta the violence spread to other regions of India. Noakhali in the province of Bengal (now in Bangladesh) was among the worst hit. Then Bihar went up in flames. Patna and Bhagalpur saw excessive rioting and looting. Next it was the turn of Garhmukteshwar in Uttar Pradesh and then far off Rawalpindi, Punjab and the North West Frontier region. According to independent estimates, the final death toll went into tens of thousands.

But while all of India was in the throes of communal agony, the cricketers who were representing the country in England continued to play together and fight shoulder to shoulder on the cricket field irrespective of their religion. It was as if cricket was a cementing bond that could join people together regardless of the fractures elsewhere.

The Indian team in 1946 was led by Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, (father of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi who captained India later). The team had an interesting mix of players from all regions of India. There was Hazare, Merchant, Rusi Modi and Hindlekar (all Bombay), Mushtaq Ali, Sarwate, C.S. Nayudu (Holkar), Shinde and Sohoni (Maharashtra), fast bowler Shute Banerjee (Bengal and Bihar), Gul Mohammed and Nimbalkar (Baroda), Mankad (Gujarat) and Lala Amarnath and Abdul Hafeez Kardar (both from Lahore).

Interestingly, Abdul Hafeez Kardar and Gul Mohammed later settled in Pakistan and represented Pakistan after the country formed its separate cricket board in 1949. So they have the distinction of having played for both countries, India and Pakistan. So did Amir Elahi but he was not in the list for the 1946 tour.

Kardar became the first captain of Pakistan. He was the scion of a well to do family of Lahore, studied at Oxford University and became a very reliable left handed batsman and left arm spinner. He scored 6832 runs and took 344 wickets in first class cricket. He played for Pakistan between 1948 and 1952 and led the team to several notable victories. After his cricket career he went into politics and also served as the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board from 1972 to 1977.

But there was a very important player who was missing from that squad of 1946. That man was Fazal Mahmood. He too was born in Lahore and was just two years younger than Kardar. Fazal was an extremely talented fast medium bowler who was a worthy successor to India’s great fast bowlers Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh.

Having missed the 1946 tour, he was determined to be selected for India’s first ever tour of Australia in 1948. British journalist Peter Oborne has written in his book Wounded Tiger that despite the carnage brewing elsewhere, cricket matches were like an advertisement for warm inter communal relations.

Among the famous players there was Ghulam Ahmed, a Muslim from Hyderabad, Lala Amarnath, a Hindu who had been raised in Lahore and K. Rai Singh, a Sikh from Punjab. All these men knew each other well and were part of a cricket culture that had spread to all parts of India. All of them wanted to do their best against Sir Don Bradman’s Australians.

Finally the day came when Fazal was selected in the Indian team and he was thrilled. “I rushed to the telegraph office to send a telegram to my parents that I had been selected,” wrote Fazal in his book later. But fate was to deny Fazal a chance yet again. The BCCI had scheduled a training camp for the selected players at Pune starting on 15th August 1947. Little did the BCCI know that India would become an independent nation on that very day. Fazal made a long journey from Lahore to India. He flew from Karachi to Bombay and from there to Pune by train.

In the meantime, the Boundary Commission under the chairmanship of Cyril Radcliffe was hurriedly drawing a boundary splitting the then existing India into two separate nations. On 9th July, 1947, Radcliffe submitted the map showing where the border lay. Fazal’s hometown of Lahore came within the region of Pakistan. Fazal was in a dilemma. Should he now continue to represent India?

But Fazal’s immediate worry was to return to Pakistan. The camp had not taken place due to bad weather and Fazal had waited about a month in India. His letters to his family had not been received and they were extremely worried about his safety. At great risk he set off by train for Bombay.

But this time accompanying him was the tall and sturdy C.K. Nayudu who felt it was his duty to provide safe passage to a fellow cricketer. Nayudu was a well known personality and commanded respect from all quarters. So neither he nor his companion was harmed. But on one occasion Nayudu was compelled to use his cricket bat against an unruly mob which was hunting for Muslims on the train. After receiving a few hard blows from Nayudu they backed off. Nayudu was then the world record holder for six hitting so one can imagine that his blows must have been very powerful.

Eventually as it turned out, Fazal did not play for India on that 1948 tour. Without Fazal, the Indian attack was toothless. The Australians compiled huge scores in every match. Bradman alone aggregated 715 runs. Surely it would have made a difference if Fazal had played. But then often humans are at the mercy of fate and this was one such case.

However, later Fazal succeeded Kardar as captain of Pakistan. After cricket he became a police officer and rose to the rank of DIG. Due to his handsome looks, he was even offered film roles but he turned them down. He passed away due to a heart attack in 2005.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects

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