Many years ago my great uncle relayed to me a story of his youth when he visited India.
A test series was to be played…Australia against India in the sub continent.
It was the first time my uncle had travelled abroad to watch a test match. He was rowed ashore in Bombay and the game began the next day. India won the toss and decided to bat.
Their opener was Mahatma Kote who was a splendid batsman.
The first four balls were thrashed away for fours. The fifth ball of the over reared up and struck the batsman on the head. There were no body protectors then, not even helmets. The ball hit his turbhan, and unsighted, coverered, he stepped back into his wicket. He was given out.
But after consultation with the rule book, and much ernest discussions with the third umpire (a policeman from Karachi with a Kodak), the decision was confirmed. It was the only time my uncle had seen on the scorecard…out-blinded by turbhan.
The other Indian opener was Abdu Dulali. His father was an Italian who married an Indian princess. He always dabbed at the ball but never ran between the wickets. His record was amazing.
In one innings he opened in the morning and was still there the next morning when the groundsmen came out roll the pitch. Because of his prevalence to push the ball away he was nicknamed the Dulali Tap. He was known to throw himself down on the ground when a bumper was bowled. This was put down to his Italian heritage,and all too soon, soccer players soon began to copy his diving.
The Aussie bowlers were rightly feared for their pace and accuracy. But the change of food effected their stamina. Typhoon Jones started the campaign well, taking three wickets in the first hour .
However, as the day continued, his having to bowl whilst holding up his trousers effected his pace. He was called Typhoon not because of his power, but because he insisted on eating curry at every meal.
By the second day his wind cleared most of the stands except for the most committed of fans. The best Aussie bowler was W.H. Smith. He was so fast he started his run up in the members bar. Across the bar down the stand steps, bounding over the outfield…he was a blur as reached the wicket.
With eyes closed he launched the ball with deadly speed at the crouching batsman. Unfortunately, into his second over, the umpire noticed the batsman had the top button on his sari undone. He raised his arm shoulder high to stop the bowler. Smithy ploughed into the upraised arm…and quickly lost his four front teeth.
From that day on he was always known as Lisping Smith.
The Indian team complained about the Ozzie bowlers. They said they smoked between deliveries and drank beer between overs…AND THIS IS HOW…they got the name, Demon Bowlers.
The Indians declared early on the second day ,and the visiters took to the field.
Two fingers O’Reilly received the first ball and stroked the ball away for a single. The effect of the curried breakfast was quickly evident as with a wave to the umpire, he passed the far wicket and went straight to the kasi in the stands.
The first five balls brought four runs, but each time he diverted to the stands for a comfort break. The first over-took a record one hour and ten minutes to be completed.
The day dragged on and by tea six wickets had fallen .
Our best all rounder was Ritchie ‘Lionel ‘ Bellow. He was called Lionel because of his elegant style with the bat, but he also liked to sing in the toilet.
Most doors had no locks, so players on the toilet stuck out a leg to close the door. Lionel liked to sing in the toilet, to show it was occupied. He sang popular songs of the day but his favourite was ‘take me back to dear old blighty ‘, with a tear in his eye and a peg on his nose. A good singer but slightly nasal.
The power house middle order batsman was ‘Mad Dog ‘ Ponsonby Neesom .
He loved to throw the bat at the ball, but after a dubious decision, he threw the bat at the umpire. Thats where he got the name ‘Mad Dog ‘.
The seventh batsman was the wicketkeeper. After waiting fifteen minutes, a runner was sent to find out where the keeper was hiding. Laying flat out in the gentlemens cloakroom, he was revived. Many said it was the grog, but he was adamant he was overcome by toxic fumes in the bog.
Reilly was called two fingers because of the sign lanaguage he used to order a drink. It got him arrested in Jaipur. After he had fifteen whisky slingers, a sober tea merchant accused him of trying to blind him when ordering another round.
The final score was two wins three draws…with ten abandoned…unable to start due to failing to field more than three fit players.
The Indian players were good sportsmen and wished the visiters a safe journey home…once they had left hospital .
It was the media reports afterwards when the team returned home that caused the problems. Reports of attempted poisoning were denied by the whole team, although the wicketkeeper did say he attempted to add flavour to the curry with vegemite.
The captain of the Aussie team did contact the Pommie captain, as they would be the next team due to play in Delhi. His advice was to not drink the water but take every chance to eat the local curries.
My uncle told me of how he read in the papers of the Poms being called the windies, long before the West Indies played down under .
After being released from jail, my great uncle returned to Perth, full of praise for the heroic performance of the team. He said it was the best test series he had ever seen . Why you ask was he in jail ? , he instigated the first time a chicken was tossed in the air when a player scored a duck. There were no ducks in Calcutta , so he chose a chicken. Unfortunately it was cooked and fell and hit long stop in the lower regions.
He was arrested and charged with foul play .
Happy year of the dragon…why don’t the Chinese play cricket?