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Before you cheer for Indian cricket team this World Cup, thank Jawaharlal Nehru first

Despite Sardar Patel’s opposition, Nehru agreed with Churchill to keep India in the Commonwealth, a decision that would later impact Indian cricket.

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Jawaharlal Nehru’s role in Indian cricket has not received much attention from his various biographers but there is little doubt that it was a political decision he took that preserved India’s Test status. Unlike Gandhi, who had no interest in sport (once, when requested to help the hockey team, he asked, ‘Hockey, what is it?’), Nehru had played cricket at Harrow. He had not shown any great skill, but he clearly cared for the game. When the West Indies arrived he made sure the first Test was played in Delhi. It was the first representative match played in Delhi, and Nehru considered it important that free India’s first home Test series should start in the capital. Nehru knew the power of sport and did much to promote the Asian Games, whose inaugural edition in 1951 was also held in Delhi. One of my most vivid memories when growing up was to see every year a picture in the Times of India of Nehru padded up, playing in the annual parliamentary match. However, what we need to consider is the impact one of his political decisions had on Indian cricket.

When India became independent in 1947 it became a self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth, the first brown nation of the British empire to enjoy such a privilege. India accepted that the British monarch was still the king of India. The Indians saw dominion status in 1947 as a temporary measure until they could finalize their constitution, declare themselves a republic and leave the Commonwealth. A constituent assembly met in Delhi to frame the constitution.

But Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee began to pester the Indians to stay in the Commonwealth. Churchill suggested that even if India became a republic, in the style of republics in the Roman empire, India could remain a republic within the Commonwealth and still accept the king. The king seemed to like the idea and both he and Churchill thought of him becoming the president of India. Attlee, who wanted India’s constitution to have a specific role for the British king, wondered if a republic was really in the traditions of India and suggested a title might be found for the king from India’s heroic age. He talked about the royal family being of a universal nature, transcending creeds and races.

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Nehru found such ideas ‘juvenile’ but, maybe because he liked being described as the last English prime minister of India, or, maybe because he was in love with Edwina Mountbatten, he decided to overturn established Congress party policy. Overriding fierce opposition, led by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, from within his own cabinet, he agreed to keep India in the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was converted from its historic role as a white man’s club into one where other races could all aspire to equality. India would become a truly independent country with its own president, but it would also remain part of a wider club whose permanent president was the British monarch. Neither the new Commonwealth nor the British monarch had any power in India.

For Indian cricket this decision was to have far-reaching significance. On 19 July 1948, when the debate about the Commonwealth was at its height with very secret letters flying between Delhi and London, the Imperial Cricket Conference (ICC) met at Lord’s. At that conference, the first since India had become a self-governing dominion in 1947, the matter of India’s changed status came up. It was decided that India could remain a member of the ICC but only on a provisional basis. The matter would be looked at again after two years. It is clear that the ICC, unsure whether India would remain part of the British Commonwealth, was waiting for the politicians to decide.

At this meeting in 1948 the future tour programmes, extending up to 1952, did not list any visits to or by India. Indeed, the winter of 1951–52 was left blank and it was agreed Australia would tour England in 1952, that year being the end of the traditional four-year gap for Australian visits to England.

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On 26 January 1950, India finally became a republic, but remained part of this new British Commonwealth. The ICC met six months later, on 27 and 28 June 1950 at Lord’s and, reassured by this, made India a permanent member of the ICC. Rule 5 of the ICC very specifically stated that membership of ICC shall cease should the country concerned cease to be part of the British Commonwealth. Had Nehru not agreed to keep India in the Commonwealth, then Indian cricket would have failed the basic test of ICC membership. In that case it is almost certain that at its 1950 meeting the Indian board’s provisional status would not have been made permanent. India would have been cast out in the cricketing cold. The formal reason ICC gave for making India a permanent member was that the separation of Pakistan had not materially affected the standard of play in India. How it could have reached that decision is hard to see. There had been no cricket contact between England and India since 1946. Since 1947 India had been thrashed in Australia, lost at home to the West Indies and also lost to a side put together by a retired English wicketkeeper. This was the ICC using cricket talk to camouflage what was a naked political decision.

This is further borne out by the dramatic change to the tour programme that the ICC made in that June 1950 meeting. It was decided that the MCC would tour India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the winter of 1951–52 and India would visit England in 1952, in back-to-back Test series. The Australian visit was pushed to 1953, making the gap five years—the longest between Australian tours to the UK.

Nehru’s decision could not have come at a more crucial time. In 1950, India qualified to play for the football World Cup for the first and only time. But there were many problems, including foreign exchange, transport—the tournament was held in Brazil—and also the Indian insistence that they play in bare feet. FIFA refused to sanction this and India, in a decision that was to haunt its football, withdrew.

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At this point, it’s interesting to do a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that on 26 January 1950, India on becoming a republic, leaves the Commonwealth. Six months later the ICC meets and downgrades India from provisional member to non-member. However, even as the ICC comes to this decision, Indian footballers, playing with boots, are taking part in football’s first World Cup since World War II — the ICC meeting took place in the middle of the World Cup in Brazil. And building on the impression they had created in the 1948 Olympic football tournament, they make a mark on the biggest world stage for team sports. Indian cricket, on the other hand, cut off from the world, withers.

We need to appreciate how fragile Indian cricket was throughout much of the 1950s and how much stronger Indian football was. In 1950, Indian cricket had achieved nothing on the world stage. It had yet to win a Test. Nor through the 1950s did India do much in cricket, and for most of the decade Indian cricket struggled to attract worthwhile opposition. For some seasons they had to make do with playing unofficial ‘Tests’ against so-called Commonwealth sides composed of players from many lands organized by George Duckworth. The decade ended with a series of mind-numbing defeats at home and abroad.

In football, on the other hand, India won the Asian Games gold in 1951, again in 1962, and came fourth in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Had football grabbed its chance, and Nehru followed settled Congress party policy and left the Commonwealth, who is to say that today football, rather than cricket, would not be the main sport of India?

This excerpt from The Nine Waves by Mihir Bose has been published with permission from Aleph Book Company.

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  1. Oh, so Nehru is the culprit for India being a good for nothing country in sports, except for being decent in cricket. Bloody hell!! it is not even an Olympic sport.
    If you are done sucking up to the Gandhis, can we please focus on decent NEWS.

  2. The writer seems to be mad after Nehru and nothing else. Cricket was neither started by Nehru nor made popular by him. The first team which led to England was by father of late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi.

  3. Stupid sikular librandu isi china agent , for mere cricket you are trying to make hero a stupid who gave our land in kashmir arunachal to Pakistan and china for his fake self praising cheap politics 🥵😡

  4. 1. Thank You Mr. Nehru for creating a brigade of Dynasty Ass licking writers (including the one who wrote the above non sense piece of crap).
    2. Thank you Mr. Nehru for creating a class of ruling elites who believe that only Cattle travel in Economy Class (Mr. Sha(s)hi Tharoor).
    3. Thank You Mr. Nehru for establishing a line of brainless sycophants like Mani Shankar Ayer, who believe that India is personal property of this Fake Gandhi Family.
    4. Thank You Mr Nehru for sending you dirty undergarments to Paris for washing, while rest of the India didn’t have clothes.
    5. Thank You Mr. Nehru for creating elite institutions like IITs and IIMs, at a time when only 2% of Indian Population was literate.
    6. Thank You Mr. Nehru for declaring an exported game like Hockey as our National Game, only because in those years India was winning medals in Olympic. While as the same time Indian Football team had to play barefoot.
    7. Thank You Mr. Nehru for giving preference to China over India like a true Comrade at every International platform.
    8. Thank You Mr. Nehru for surrendering one third of Kashmir to China and thank you for shamelessly defending it in Parliament.
    9. Thank You Mr. Nehru for Creating two constitutions for a Single Nation. Also Shame on Ambedkar who refused to draft separate constitution for Kashmir.
    10. Thank you Mr. Nehru for believing that partition is temporary but seat of PM is permanent. While Partition was permanent, you did everything to make your PMship permanent.
    11. Thank you Mr. Nehru for creating a Brand of History. This is probably the only example in the history when history has been branded after a politician.
    12. Also thanks to Nehruvian Historians, who made their version of history the only acceptable version of History in India.

    Mr. Nehru, people used to believe that ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’ (hope you remember your daughter). However, I along with Mr Ramchandra Guha, Bipan Chandra and Mihir Bose believe that India is nothing in front of Nehru. Nehru was the one who created the idea of India. Also what kind of Bullshit name this India is? In fact I propose that India should be renamed as Nehruvistan. While India sounds like a communal place filled with poverty and misery, Nehruvistan feels like royalty.

  5. While I hold Mr. Nehru is high regard for his alleged role in India’s freedom struggle, I owe absolutely no debt to his descendants in the Nehru-Gandhi family. To draw an analogy, this article asks us to worship the descendants of God as God himself, regardless of the fact that the descendants are a incarnation of the devil and are worse than humans.

  6. Shekhar Gupta editor Print needs to realize beyond any reasonable doubt that social media has exposed him fully regarding his agenda oriented journalism. Seems he is available for a price to do anything disregarding national interest. To read more about his complicity in Kathua Rape case
    अमेरिका का NGO| कठुआ कांड| हिन्दुओं को बदनाम करने की साजिश! 11 JUL 2018

  7. Print goes beyond limit to appease their illcapable political masters. If you have the guts, print an article titled “before you talk of Kashmir, find out what Nehru did to it” or “what Nehru did to Sardar Patel and Subhash Chandra Bose”

  8. Oh plzz!. Another useless article. What next?. How we should be thankful of nehru for cloths, food and a life. After all we are all just snake charmers right.

  9. Yeah. So true. People like Tendulkar and Kohli should build a Nehru Mandir at their house. Hadn’t it been for Chacha Nehru, they would be unemployed or maybe working somewhere at a meagre salary since they aren’t even properly educated.
    Thank you Chacha for giving us such gems. I’m so proud of you.

  10. What you are reporting is not a news for public consumption but by glorifying Nehru you are paying back what you get.

  11. I am soo thankful for Nehru… he created oxygen for us and carbon dioxide for plants… such a great human being or is he just a man, i feel like we should build a temple, light candles there and do namaz… Jai Nehru, Jai Congress 🙏🏻🙏🏻

  12. Cricket was invented by British .Before you cheer for world cup thank the British first. Thank them that we were ruled by them. Thank them for jallianwala bagh too that they came in our country and murdered us…. I read somewhere that stupidity has no boundary. This article proves it. Nehru Ji did a lot for Science in our country but this article is too much durbari chaplusi…I thought I was reading the satire site faking news 🙂

  13. Oh really? We couldn’t have played cricket without being in the common-wealth? If this had been a serious examination of Nehru’s foreign policy choices (Common-wealth, NAM), there would have been something to talk about. But this is fluff season, I guess.

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