21 Nov 2023  |   04:54am IST

Nehru and Indian Cricket

The country with the wealthiest Cricket board narrowly missed out on winning their third world cup. The highly anticipated final between India and Australia which took place on Sunday saw some high-profile attendance in PM Narendra Modi and Australia Deputy PM Richard Marles. The match took place at the Narendra Modi Stadium, the largest stadium in the world, at Ahmedabad, which has a sitting capacity of staggering 1,32,000 spectators. 

The Chairman of Gujarat Rajya Hotel Federation Narendra Somani said that the hotel rooms which would usually charge Rs 20,000 soared upto Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000 ahead of the high-octane contest. Cricket is not merely a sport but also a huge economy with thousands of crores of rupees in turnover during IPL as well as World Cup. As per the reports, BCCI’s revenue for the year 2018-19 was Rs 14,490 crore which has increased in the last three years. India’s national cricket team is also ranked first in ICC rankings in all three formats of the cricket be it ODIs, Tests and T20s. 

However, the Indian cricket team owes its illustrious journey to the foresight of country’s first prime minister late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. One may wonder what is the connection between Indian cricket and Nehru. The relationship between Nehru and cricket is written in detail by BBC’s former sports editor Mihir Bose in his book titled ‘The Nine Waves: The Extraordinary Story of Indian Cricket.’ The book came to the limelight again ahead of the world cup final which was published in 2019. Bose has written about Indian cricket’s landmark events right from the team’s international debut in 1932 till Virat Kohli’s record-breaking innings. He has also analysed how Indian cricket strengthened its place in the international circuit through various historical events such as Mahatma Gandhi’s revolutionary civil obedience, Second World War and India’s independence from British rule. 

Bose then explores how Nehru saved Indian cricket which was in crisis post-Independence. Bose writes in his book that there was a risk of the Indian cricket team losing its membership of the world’s cricket governing body then known as Imperial Cricket Conference. It’s because of Nehru’s political decision that led to India being able to retain its ICC (International Cricket Council) membership. So, what was that political decision? Bose writes that although India achieved Independence in 1947, the country had still accepted the British system till the new Constitution came into existence which granted the country with republic status. Interestingly, Louis Mountbatton was India’s Governor General till 1948. Although the Congress party wanted India to become a republic and cut all its ties with the British Monarchy, the then British PM Clement Attlee and leader of Opposition Winston Churchill offered India to become part of the British Commonwealth. 

Nehru’s plan to make India part of the Commonwealth group drew strong objection from Congress including Sardar Patel. Nehru was criticised sharply by his fellow party members but in retrospect, his decision proved to be pivotal for Indian cricket. As per ICC’s rule 5, any country’s membership would be terminated if they are not part of the Commonwealth association. In the meeting of the Imperial Cricket Conference (ICC) held on July19, 1948 at Lord’s it was decided that India would remain a member of the association but on a temporary basis. The matter of India’s ICC membership came up for discussion again. When ICC held its meeting in 1950, newly independent India had accepted its own Constitution but had also remained a member of the Commonwealth. Relying on India’s Commonwealth membership, ICC then made the country its permanent member. In act, Nehru himself was a cricketer. He started playing cricket when he was studying at Harrow School in England from 1905 till 1907 and participated in multiple tournaments. His love for the game remained intact even after becoming India’s first prime minister. In 1953, a charity cricket match was played between Prime Minister’s XI and Vice President’s XI at Delhi and the funds collected was donated to flood affected people in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. This was the first time cricket was used for a noble cause of charity. 

Nehru not only led the Prime Minister’s XI team but also performed as the radio commentator of the match. Although the match ended up in a draw, BBC in its report praised Nehru, who was playing after 40 years, comparing him to a professional cricketer. In 1948, Nehru had raised funds by auctioning cricket bats and stored books during a test match played between West Indies and India. He had already used the gentleman’s game for charity and rehabilitation for the first time 70 years ago. 


Idhar Udhar