Hyderabad: Before the Lal Bahadur stadium was constructed, the main centre for cricket in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad was the Gymkhana Ground which then lay opposite to the Percy’s Hotel. Later Plaza theatre also came up beside it. Both these structures have long been demolished. But some veteran cricket lovers have maintained records of the matches that were played on the Gymkhana Ground. The world’s most famous names of the 1930s played on this ground.
The Gymkhana Ground has a long and illustrious history behind it which is not known to sports fans. It used to host the Pentangular cricket tournaments of the 1920s. British army teams used to play regularly on the main pitch which was then located opposite the site of the present day Tivoli theatre. During important cricket matches, the British army units as well as several Nawabs used to pitch their tents outside the playing area and entertain their guests lavishly. In a book the former manager of the Indian team, P.R. Man Singh, has described the festive atmosphere that existed during these matches.
In January 1938 the illustrious Lord Tennyson led his team comprising several well known players from England against Nawab Moin ud Dowla’s team in a three-day match at the Gymkhana Ground. The cricket playing Lord Tennyson (Lionel Tennyson) was the grandson of the famous Alfred Lord Tennyson, poet laureate of the United Kingdom.
Lionel established himself as a good cricketer. He was named Wisden’s Cricketer Of The Year in 1918. During the First World War he served with the Rifle Brigade in France. He was wounded on three occasions and his two younger brothers were killed in the war.
His cricket career was just as action packed as his life off the field. He was involved in one of the most astonishing first class matches ever played in England. In 1922, he was the captain of the Hampshire team when it played against Warwickshire. The latter team batted first and scored 223. In reply Hampshire was bundled out for only 15. But after being asked to follow on, Hampshire put up a huge score of 521 and went on to win the match by 155 runs.
Lionel Tennyson led Hampshire for 14 years and scored a double century for Hampshire against West Indies. He played 9 Tests for England and captained the team in three Tests after the exit of Johnny Douglas. In the winter of 1937-38 Lionel Tennyson led a team of English cricketers to India and played 15 first class matches.
One of these matches was played at the Gymkhana Ground against the team of Nawab Moin ud Dowla. The visiting side had, besides Lionel Tennyson as captain, Bill Edrich who went on to play 39 Tests for England and was one of the finest batters of the side, fast bowler Alf Gover who later became a very famous coach; Ian Peebles who was one of the best leg spin bowlers of those days and other talented players.
On the other side was a team handpicked by Nawab Moin ud Dowla. The Nawab was a great sports lover and had in depth knowledge of cricket. The leading players on his side were Lala Amarnath and the two brothers from Hyderabad namely S.M. Hadi and S.M. Hussain. Also fast bowler Sahabuddin who played an important role in this match.
Batting first, the visiting team was bowled out for a modest total of 148 in 31.5 overs. Only opener Jim Parks (42) and Jas Langridge (44) put up some resistance but the rest crumpled against the hostile pace attack of Sahabuddin (4 for 64) and Mohammmed Lateef (5 for 30).
In reply, the Nawab’s team piled up 317. Lala Amarnath smashed his way to a solid 121 before he was caught by Langridge off the bowling of fast bowling all rounder Stan Worthington. Syed Mohammad Hussain who was captain of the home team came up with a well made 53.
In the second outing, the Englishmen were all out for 293. Sahabudin and Lateef again bowled well to take three wickets each. So, needing 125 to win, the Nawab’s men coasted to an easy 6 wicket victory helped mainly by a breezy 47 scored by opener and wicket keeper Dattaram Hindlekar. The last mentioned player played four Tests and 96 first class matches before he passed away at the age of 40 for want of timely medical treatment. His was a tragic tale of financial need in the days when cricket players did not earn the huge amounts that they do nowadays. However, that was how the third international match to be played in Secunderabad, came to an end.