Maharaja, Don and Little Master: When Indian cricketers wished an Australian would hit century against them

Sir Bradman scored his hundredth first-class century against India while leading an Australian Eleven in Sydney.

Cricket is a great bond between Australia and India – sort of a ‘national game’ (as opposed to the official Hockey and Aussie Rules) in both nations tied by the bond of the British Commonwealth.

The Foreign Minister of Australia, Mr. Alexander Downer with the Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh, New Delhi, 9 June 2005 (Wikimedia Commons)

In fact, speaking to the press in New Delhi on 8 June 2005, then Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer stated:

“I think Australia and India, which have a long historic relationship, can build on some of the history of our relationship. … We think that what we should do between us, between Australia and India, is to have a touring exhibition of Sir Donald Bradman’s memorabilia here in India. … this exhibition of Bradman memorabilia would go to major centres in India- New Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay, Chennai and so on.”

It is no wonder that any form of the match (Test, one Day, or T-20) between Australia and India is fraught with excitement and garners huge interest.

- Advertisement -

The Beginning: Maharaja of Patiala

It was in 1935-1936 when at the invitation of Maharaja of Patiala Sir Bhupinder Singh, a team of Australian cricket players first headed to India to play a four-match series.

The wealthy Maharaja of Patiala undertook sole financial responsibility for this tour by providing £10,000 – each team member receiving £300 and £3 spending money per week. 

Image source: Maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh (Wikimedia Commons)

The then Australian Board of Cricket for International Cricket agreed to allow players to join the cricket matches on two conditions. The first condition was that the words ‘Australia’ and ‘Test Match’ will not be used as this was not an official Australian XI. And the second condition was that all the players who will be playing in this tour must be retired.

Image source: Photograph of the Australian cricket team in India, 1935-36. Standing, left to right: umpire, Harry “Bull” Alexander, Hunter “Stork” Hendry, Jack Ellis, Louis Tarrant, Lisle Nagel, Frank Tarrant, Ron Morrisby, Frank Warne, umpire. Seated: Frank Bryant, Ron Oxenham, Tom Leather, Charlie McCartney, Maharajah of Patiala, Jack Ryder, Hammy Love, Fred Mair, Wendell Bill. Absent: Bert Ironmonger, Arthur Allsopp (Originally scanned from A History of Tasmanian Cricket by Roger Page, Government Printer, Hobart, 1958 / Available through Wikimedia commons)

The Australian cricket team, captained by veteran Jack Ryder, was described in the Sporting Globe as “veterans and colts as happy as schoolboys.”

Bernard Whimpress, who is an Adelaide-based Australian sports historian, recalls that in the 1935-36 series most of the players were in their late 40s. He observed:

“The team comprised of senior and retired players who faced a young Indian squad in India. They played 20 odd matches and 4 so-called unofficial test matches. India levelled that series and Australians were very impressed. So that was the first official contact where India and Australia came to play together.”

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Ryder’s impressions of this successful tour of India. Ryder said:

“The Australians had left a wonderful impression behind them of skill, sportsmanship and good companionship. Cricket in India was booming. It was played everywhere. The smallest crowd at the team’s matches was 5000 and at the big centers there were daily attendances of more than 20,000.”

- Advertisement -

Impressed with the performance and contest put up by the Indians, Ryder observed:

“India will one day emerge an international team of great repute.”

Indian team’s outstanding performance meant they levelled the series 2-2 with Australia. The key purpose of this Australian tour was in fact to help prepare the Indian Test team for its England tour. 

The Official Beginning: The Don

In 1947, when Australians were celebrating the 159th anniversary of ‘white settlement’, Britain’s Indian Empire came to an end. India gained independence from British colonial rule and Sir Raghunath Purushottam Paranjpye, the first High Commissioner of India to Australia, organised the hoisting of independent India’s flag in Canberra just seven hours after India was officially recognised as a nation.

Indian flag hoisting in Australia and Sir Paranjpye (Wikimedia Commons)

The Australian settler colonies – the white man’s club – and British India had a very different relationship with the British Empire. Given the maritime and trade links between Australia and India, this celebration to mark India’s independence in Canberra, Australia was a momentous occasion as it was for the first time that independent India’s tricolour was officially hoisted in a foreign land.

To mark this occasion, Sir Ragunath Paranjpye was joined by 350 guests which included members of the Indian community in traditional dresses along with Australian federal ministers and official representatives of other countries. After the flag hoisting ceremony, Sir Paranjype, Dr Evatt, and the High Commissioner of the United Kingdom (Mr Williams) drank a toast to “The New India.”

After gaining independence, the Indian cricket team led by Amarnath landed in Australia for a cricket series. Before this, no cricket team has ever toured in the shadow of such turbulent (partition) and momentous (independence) events at home.

Image source: First Indian Team in Australia 1947/48 – Published in The Yorker – Journal of the Melbourne Cricket Club Library, Issue 37, Summer 2007/08.

The Indian cricket team was in complete awe when they came to know that they will be playing against Sir Donald Bradman who was considered the greatest batsman ever to grace the game. Alf Batchelder in his book Only Yesterday: Don Bradman at the Melbourne Cricket Ground observed:

“For the Indian cricketers, the opportunity to play in Australia was “another dream come true. For long they had been eagerly looking forward to matching their skill against the great Don Bradman.”

Image source: Sir Donald Bradman (Wikimedia commons)

Indians considered Sir Bradman “the god of cricket” and some Indian cricketers even went to the extent of saying:

“It will be a matter of privilege to see Bradman score a century.”

On the other hand, Sir Bradman thought little about the Indian cricket team. In fact, all his life Sir Bradman had “declined” opportunities to undertake any extensive tour of India.

Whimpress believes this was because Sir Bradman was so far away from India. He observed:

“Don Bradman had never toured India. And some cricketers from the Indian team had said that they did like to see Bradman score centuries. Bradman scored six centuries during that tour. 4 in test matches and 2 in first-class matches. He was happy to shoot all the full toss balls for a six. It was a sight.”

Australia won the five-match series 4–0, with one match drawn. Overall, Sir Bradman scored 156 for South Australia, 172 for an Australian XI, 185 in the first Test, 132 and 127 not out in the third, 201 in the fourth, and 57 retired hurt in the fifth test match – scoring 715 runs at an average of 178.75. Sir Bradman scored his hundredth first-class century while leading an Australian Eleven in Sydney.

Image source: Australian Sid Barnes LBWs India’s Amarnath at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1948 (Wikimedia Commons)

After mesmerising cricket lovers against India, Sir Bradman at the age of 39 told local media in Melbourne:

“I have today advised my co-selectors that I am available for the Australian tour of England. At the same time I wish to say that the game against India will be my last first-class match in Australia, as I shall retire from cricket at the conclusion of the English tour.”

This was the only occasion that the Indian cricketers had the opportunity of playing against Sir Bradman. In his career, Sir Bradman in 52 tests managed to make 29 centuries and score just below 6,000 runs at an average of 99.94. In 1949, Sir Bradman was knighted and in 1970 was made a Companion of the Order of Australia.

The Beginning of Frenemy Rivalry: The Little Master

India’s search for a legend like Sir Bradman finally ended when Sachin Tendulkar, popularly known as ‘Little Master,’ arrived on the scene in 1989. Tendulkar scored 34357 runs from 664 international games and has scored a record 100 centuries across two formats (Tests and ODIs).

Sir Bradman once noted that Tendulkar played more like him than any other batsman. He told Indian media:

“I saw him playing on television and was struck by his technique, so I asked my wife to come look at him. Now I never saw myself play, but I felt that this player is playing with a style similar to mine, and she looked at the TV and said yes, there is a similarity between the two…his compactness, technique, stroke production – it all seemed to gel.”

Sachin Tendulkar met Sir Don Bradman during India’s tour of Australia in 1998 (Instagram Photo)

In 1998, Tendulkar met Sir Bradman to celebrate The Don’s 90th birthday in Adelaide. John Bradman, son of Sir Bradman, told Fairfax Media that he remembered the momentous occasion. He added:

“I remember Sachin asked my dad what he did to mentally prepare himself before he went to a Test match and went out to bat. And my dad said, ‘Well, I used to go into the office and work and when it was time to play I’d go down to the match, put my pants on and carry on’. Sachin couldn’t believe it. You could see the reverence in Sachin’s eyes when he spoke to him. It was a lovely occasion.”

Tendulkar too recalled the meeting with Sir Bradman. He told Indian media how tense he was before going to meet The Don for the first time ever. He observed:

“It was a big moment because I still remember from the hotel, Warnie was with me. Warnie was driving and he said ‘I am tensed, I am worried, what to talk to him about batting? You’re a batter, so you need to talk to him.’ “I said, ‘no, Aussie first’. I told him to start the conversation and I would follow up. So Shane Warne went inside and started talking a little bit.” 

In 2012, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard conferred the membership of the Order of Australia (AO) on Tendulkar, an award rarely given to non-Australian. And it is no surprise that in 2014, Little Master was inducted as a Bradman Foundation honouree at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).