Clayton Murzello: Club class of a different kind

Updated: Jul 05, 2018, 04:52 IST | Clayton Murzello

The 'stars' used to be in England, honouring their club commitments as overseas pros and it was only towards the fag end of the monsoon league that they returned for their respective 'A' division Mumbai clubs

Clayton Murzello: Club class of a different kind
S Madan Lal was summoned from the Central Lancashire league to join the Kapil Dev-led team for the 1986 Leeds Test which India won. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloIn another era, the Dr HD Kanga League kicked off this time of the year without many of the Mumbai team's regulars. The 'stars' used to be in England, honouring their club commitments as overseas pros and it was only towards the fag end of the monsoon league that they returned for their respective 'A' division Mumbai clubs.

Their fine English league performances on the greens of Old Blighty used to get some space in newspapers and Sportsweek magazine. Several cricketers sent their UK newspaper clippings to their family members who, in turn, used to contact the newspapers here.

Shrikant Wagh, who claimed 10 wickets in an innings for Stokesley in the North Yorkshire and South Durham League last week, did not have to post clippings to his family to publicise his achievement. But the Vidarbha all-rounder's feat — that helped his side beat Middlesbrough by 135 runs — brought back some memories of Indians lighting up the leagues.

The runs, wickets and wins provided some level of tune-up for the season and of course, the money wasn't bad either. Overall, it was an experience of a lifetime and there were friendships made for life, too.

In 1985, Shishir Hattangadi, the former Mumbai opening batsman, accompanied his Mumbai colleague Raju Kulkarni to the UK where they were given a caravan to live in. This was the year when fast bowler Kulkarni played for Brechin Club. In a vital fixture, he hit an opposition batsman on the head.

The batsman had negotiated Kulkarni for a while and hits to the hand and chest did not chip away at his determination. When one of Kulkarni's deliveries landed on his head, the fielding side rushed to check on his condition. A lady ran on to the pitch and the players thought she was there to provide the injured some aid. But she ran past the batsman and stopped where Kulkarni was standing and said, "I have been watching you for a while and you were trying to injure my husband." The livid wife threatened to beat up Kulkarni. An acquaintance of Sandeep Patil — a keen cameraman — was at the match and he recorded the incident that was not only reported in the local newspapers but also aired on BBC.

"Although this was league cricket, the club members expected you to perform well and also mingle with the community after a game. At first, I used to finish a game and head to my flat, but then I was told by my club president that I must have a drink with the members. After all, they were contributing to my fees," said Hattangadi, who was Forfarshire Club's professional for a few years. The all-rounders, according to Hattangadi, were invariably part of the Lancashire league. This particular league is referred to every time the 1952 India v England Lord's Test is brought up in discussions. Vinoo Mankad was playing for Haslingden Club in this league when his services were sought by the Indian team that was hit by injuries to NR Chowdhury and Dattu Phadkar.

In November the previous year, with a league contract on the cards, Mankad wanted an assurance from the Indian cricket control board over his selection, else he would sign a lucrative £1200 contract with Haslingden. Mankad, the quintessential professional, was only being fair. The Board believed an assurance would set a poor precedent so Mankad was not included in the original tour party and off he went to Lancashire.

When Mankad was needed, the Indian board and team manager Pankaj Gupta in particular, tried to convince Haslingden to release Mankad. It was not easy and there were compensations involved.

An English industrialist, Sir Herbert Merritt, offered to pay the £300 compensation to the club and finally, Mankad was released. That Lord's Test is now known as Mankad's Test where he scored 72 and 184 and claimed five wickets in England's first innings like the boy on the burning deck.

The Lancashire league was also spoken of when fast bowler Chetan Sharma's back injury ruled him out of the second Test at Leeds in 1986. S Madan Lal, who was playing in the Central Lancashire league, was called to be skipper Kapil Dev's new ball partner at Leeds. Interestingly, Manoj Prabhakar was the reserve pacer in the team but he didn't figure in the captain's plans. Also, Pradeep Sunderam, the Rajasthan fast bowler, was a standby for the England tour. Sunderam was playing league cricket in England but he was told they couldn't find him. Obviously, he found that hard to believe.

Mumbai club cricketer Mobin Shaikh didn't have to be a first-class player to get an opportunity to play in the Bradford League. Before his first game of the 1990 summer, he was introduced to some supporters as the man from Mumbai. In response, they admitted that they knew only two aspects about his city —Sunil Gavaskar and the Kanga League. It's Kanga League time again. But it's not going to be the same as in previous years. The 'stars' have either retired or find it unsafe to play.

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