Rise and fall of the sport in Lucknow

Arpit Saxena

The dates were approaching so there was beginning of the prayers and chanting in every nook and corner of the country. It was not the board exams of the kids, neither the festivities nor the epidemics; it was the Cricket World Cup that has the power to encapsulate the people from different religion, caste and culture into a single entity. The two-time winner of the Cricket World Cup, the Indian cricket team have been showing a fabulous performance, which not only raised high hopes among the cricket lovers but also made them sure to witness another victory in the row. There was a time when Lucknow used to witness its very own Cricket tournament, known as the “Sheeshmahal Cricket Tournament”. Nawab Askari Hasan took the plunge, to lay the first stone for the very same in 1951. That was the time when it was the easiest possible way to enter the Test Cricket. Playing for the tournament was a chance of glorifying and shining one’s career at that time, for even the well-known players of the state. The tournament punched the clock continuously 52 years in a row, and came to a halt only in 2002, when Nawab Askari’s health ran down. As soon as his unhealthy condition showed some improvement, the tournament again took place in 2005. It was 15th March 2007 when Nawab Askari passed away, marking the downfall of the tournament. Even after the death of Nawab Askari, tournament took place for a few years but gradually it faded away not only from its existence but also even from the memories of the people who were once fond of it. On 15th march on the occasion of death anniversary of Nawab Askari’s, team Observer took the responsibility to meet the near and dear ones of the legendary and to share a few memories down the lane.

“By its nature cricket is considered to be a contribution of the Britishers but to the extent it had gained popularity in our country is hard to find in any other part of the world”, says by former Ranji player, Neeru Kapoor. He also says that cricket stars are not less than the politicians and the film stars in terms of popularity and fame. The sports lovers of the city have always been crazy over cricket.

How cricket flourished in Lucknow

During the early days cricket clubs were very popular in the city. The clubs were never that so grand but being a part of them has always been a matter of pride. Not only this, the players were even ready to pay any amount of money to just be a part of the most crowd-pleasing clubs.

The story of Sheeshmahal Cricket Tournament

Late Nawab Askari Hasan, it’s not just a name he was a legendary person in the history of Lucknow, without which the history of Lucknow cricket will always be incomplete. It was him who gave new heights to the “Sheeshmahal Cricket Tournament” to encourage cricket in 1951. The success attained by the tournament was well pictured as in 60’s when Sri Lankan and UAE’s team used to visit the city just to participate in the tournament. A new milestone was achieved in 1965 when the Prime Minister’s clubhouse team came here and achieved the tag of the champions after showing their commendable performance. The incidence is traced back to the time when the former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri’s son Sunil Shashtri was the captain of the team. Other renowned personalities among the team members were Chandu Borde and Saleem Durani. Suraiya Askari, wife of Late Askari Hasan herself a volleyball player says that, “Hasan sahab was himself a great player. Although he never played any Ranji match but maintained to be one of the selected candidates for years to go. It was his passion toward the sports that led to the continuous 52 years of execution of the Sheeshmahal Cricket Tournament”.

Dilip Kumar’s talent on field

It was in 1971 that during the Sheeshmahal Cricket Tournament a match was organized in KD Singh Babu Stadium for the purpose of fund raising for former cricketer Mushtaq Ali. It was solely due to efforts of Askari Hasan that almost all the test cricketers of the country took part in it. The legendry superstar Dilip Kumar not only expressed his wish to witness the match but also to be a part of it as one of its players. “It was for the very first time that audience got a chance to witness the brilliant performance of the superstar as a batsman and not as an actor”, says Suraiya. Bapu Nadkarni, Dilip Sardesai, Saleem Durani, Abid Ali and Nari Contractor were among the other eminent players whose performances were relished by the audiences.

Encouraging of women cricketers

Nawab Askari was very impartial and broad-minded person. He always used to encourage the girls to show equal participation in sports. It was his efforts that he was successful in organizing cricket coaching for girls in the Colvin college ground in 1978. Hardships and adversity were destined to come in the course, but it was by no mean that he let them outdistance his efforts. The mere presence of Nawab Pataudi was fair enough to attract number of girls toward the cricket coaching. Later on a number of girls from the very same coaching even made their place in the national team.

K.D. Singh Babu – The cricket lover

Very few people know that bhism pitamaah of Indian hockey K.D. Singh Babu was also very fond of cricket and was a great player. Suraiya Askari says that he used to play cricket with Babu Askari Sahab and the very unique thing about him was that he uses his hockey stick for batting instead of bat and In-spite of this it was quite tough for bowlers to get him bowled out.

Talented players of Lucknow

In addition to talent of national players like Kapil dev, Mohinder Amarnath, Bishan Singh Bedi, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Harbhajan Singh, V. V. S. Laxman, Suresh Raina, Virendra Sehwag, Manoj Prabhakar, Nayan Mongiya, Ajay Jadeja, Nilesh Kulkarni, Dinesh Kartik etc. the talent of our state players like Rohit Chaturvedi, Saleem Usmaani, Khalid Yusuf, Taki Hasan, Kareem Chisti, Allen Mishra, Shanbhu Puri, Ahmed Mohsin, Neeru Kapoor, Dinesh Nautiyal, Naresh Vig, Jasbeer Singh, Alok Puri, Pradeep Shukla, Ashok Banbi, Gyanendra Pandey, Yusuf Ali Khan, Paul Shefhard, Sahanbaaz Batiyaar, Ratnesh Mishra, Majhar Ali Ansari, Alok Sharma, Vishwajeet Sinha were also witnessed here.

Popular cricket clubs

During those days there were many cricket clubs in Lucknow city but only some of them have become popular like DYA, Morning Star, MLCC, Standard, Unity, Dilkusha in-spite of these popular clubs the University team was also very famous at that time.

Changes that came in the nature of game

Former Ranji player and member of selection board Neeru Kapoor points that players feels proud to be a member of any cricket club. For this they didn’t even refrained from funding the club, but after 1975 the time had changed Lucknow was not even found untouched from this. Due to change in the time and nature of cricket many small clubs, which could not keep pace with the changing time, were vanished and the game came under the desperate need of money for which they need the sponsors. After the changed in the nature of game many new strokes were invented for which our players couldn’t imagine, since the match was in the first 5 days the temperament of players was very cool if there is any pique or misunderstanding that take place during match then it gets end up as the day end but now a days the players get entangled for such small things, the battle during game takes the form of hostility. He also told that many times he recognize the players during the evening walking in Hazratganj. At that time it was not very easy to click picture with them, so therefore they show the same pride by taking autograph.

Some memorable moments

1. India-Pakistan match in Lucknow: People always had interest in match between India and Pakistan but may be very less people known that these both archrivals had a clashed on the land of Lucknow. On 26th October 1952 this match was played on jute matting on Lucknow University ground (Navda ground, Located near the Gomti). In first inning of this match Indian team was not able to withstand and make more than 106 runs in front of Pakistan’s deadly bowling by Fazal Mehmood and Mehmood Hasan and in answer to this Pakistan made a huge score of 331 with the help of Nazar Mohammad’s unbeaten inning of 124 runs. But in the second innings India fought hard in which Lala Amarnath had played an unbeaten inning of 61 runs, but then also in front of Fazal Mehmood’s blistering bowling (42 runs and 7 wickets) Indian lions proved to be piled on 182 and finally at the end Pakistan had won this match by 43 runs.

2. In 1989 at K.D. Singh Babu Stadium a memorable match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka during MRF World Series (Nehru cup) was held, in this thrilling match Pakistan team with 6 runs beat Sri Lankan team and at the end Imran khan was selected as man of the match.

3. In 1993-94 when Sri Lankan team came to India then also Lucknow got the advantage of hosting and Nayan Mongiya the Integral part of Indian cricket team got his first debut from this match. In this match India beats Sri Lanka from one inning and 119 runs and for the outstanding performance Anil Kumble was selected as man of the match.

Writer is a student; reading and writing short stories are his interest.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 2 Issue 20, 5th November 2015)

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