The Hindu : Life & Style / Metroplus : Madras Miscellany: Madras's first ‘Big Match'.
Madras’s first ‘Big Match’, its first cricket ‘Test’ of sorts, if you will, was played 150 years ago this year. This match, played in 1862 in Guindy, became an annual home-and-away fixture that was played till at least 1895. There are no details of that first match except that it resulted in a win for Madras.
The earliest records of cricket being played in Madras date to 1792. Those early matches were played on The Island ground. Later, there were matches played on the Esplanade. And then there came a third ground, ‘Guindy’. This was probably the area opposite the Assembly Rooms, adjoining the Racecourse. Chepauk came into the picture only in 1865 when the ground was granted to the Madras Cricket Club that had been founded in 1846.
The first detailed report of a match that I’ve come across was the Madras-Bangalore match of 1875 that was played at Chepauk. In the two-day, two-innings match, Bangalore triumphed by eight wickets after, in the first innings, its “last wicket fell one run only ahead of Madras”. There was one noteworthy name on each side and they both played notable roles in the match — and elsewhere. George Gough Arbuthnot top-scored with 29 not out in Madras’s first innings’ total of 96. Arbuthnot, by then knighted, was responsible for the Arbuthnot Crash of 1906 and went to jail for a year, probably the only knight to spend time in an Indian prison.
An even better performance in the match was by Captain John Pennycuick of the Royal Engineers, who had moved on to Bangalore after he was instrumental in ensuring that the Madras Cricket Club had taken the Chepauk ground into its custody. Pennycuick opened both Bangalore innings, scoring 19 and 18, and was responsible for bowling out Madras for low scores in both innings, taking four wickets in the first innings and five in the second to be, by far, the most successful bowler in the match.
Pennycuick’s is a name very much in the news these days for his engineering accomplishments, but he seems to have made as much of a name for himself in South India away from work. Exploring the Kodaikanal Club recently, as it gets ready to celebrate its 125th birthday, I found that Pennycuick, a Lt. Colonel by then, was one of the seven founder Members of the Club. He was in charge of the P.W.D. office in Madura at the time.
Going through that first score sheet a curious fact stuck out. All the players had a military rank or a Mr. preceding their names. Except an E. Spencer who did not bat in the Madras first innings and an E.J. Firth who batted for him in the second innings, a common enough practice in more gentlemanly times. Once upon a time, there was a practice, following The Times, London’s lead, for amateurs (the Gentlemen) to have their names prefixed with Mr. with the Players (the professionals) not enjoying the same privilege. But this 1875 match was long before the age of the professional in India. So under the British caste system of the times, what were Spencer and Firth? Chepauk ground staff? I make life interesting for myself with such speculation.