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The Rediff Special/K N Prabhu

Nehru leads a cricket team!

K N Prabhu is the doyen of Indian cricket writers. Of all the matches he has covered in 40 years, he says, nothing gave him greater pleasure than reporting the 'Test' between members of Parliament in September 1953. The game when Jawaharlal Nehru took time off from leading the nation to captain his team. This is Prabhu's dispatch on that memorable match:

The MP's 'Test' ended in a draw at the National Stadium on Sunday. We received a special dispensation from Cricket Headquarters in Wonderland to ignore the nominal first-innings lead which Dr Radhakrishnan's team had secured, and to concentrate on the prime minister instead.

We were pleased to comply with the order, and the prime minister did not disappoint us. On the contrary, he demonstrated his versatility, he fielded with zest in the close-in positions, where he took a remarkable catch; he found time for a broadcast on the good cause, before a pleasant, though brief, interlude at the wickets. And when the game was over, he held the ring and kept the bidding for the autographed bats alive and high.

There was no keeping Alice away from the stadium today. In fact, the whole of Wonderland was there. The Mad Hatter took over the score-board, which gibbered all the while. And the March Hare sang the song of the Hair shirt, while Barrow burrowed into his crease.

For when the game began, it was the same old Barrow theme -- "block, block, block, till the brain began to swim; block, block, block till the eyes grew heavy and dim." Alice felt that Barrow would eventually disappear, like the Cheshire Cat, leaving only his bat behind to do its worst.

The quick and summary dismissal of Khardekar and Dungarpur made the batting all the more doleful. Through the Looking Glass, Barrow's main strokes were clearly discernible -- the painful push and dreary dab. Even the fielders were clearly taken in, for once, when the batsman deviated from type and chose to cut, Ajit, at first slip, was so surprised that he let the catch run on to the boundary.

The Mad Hatter told us later that during this period it was Ramchandran who helped him run riot, not the score-board. The cut and pull are profitable strokes and Ramchandran employed them with pleasure on the poor stuff which Bhonsle and Ajit Singh served. When the total had passed 150, came relief at last. Barrow being lbw to Majithia, for 44, in an innings spread over three hours.

Every girl loves a hitter and Alice was delighted when Ramchandran completed a bright fifty. But she was in tears a while later, for her hero fell to a neat catch in the slips by Reddy, while trying to slash Ajit Singh.

Then Shah Nawaz and Malaviya, with Nayar running for him, hoisted the second century of the innings on the board. For once the Mad Hatter forgot his role and was claimed, but neither Majithia nor Krishna could worry the batsmen. Sow it the total at 231 for six the innings was declared.

Ajit Singh and Vishwanath Reddy came in with half an hour to go. The latter was in no mood to chance his luck in the queue for lunch. His response to his partner's call was a little too late for Nayar's fine return from point. But Krishna kept Ajit Singh company at the table.

It must have been a good lunch, for the comic spirits soon took over to the confusion of the batsmen. Ajit Singh strayed into forbidden territory and was promptly stumped. Majithia swayed and swaggered and cracked De Mello hard on the ankle. To our secret delight it fell to this same umpire to uphold Ramachandran's appeal for leg-before.

Then Krishna and Pawar made the boundary hum and the welkin ring. Nayar grassed a skier by Pawar and was secretly comforted by a turn at the crease. His approach to the wicket, however, is hardly as stern as his "handle bar" whiskers would have us believe. Pawar thought so too, hitting him for a six and two fours to reach his half century in a total of 150. Both batsmen were now filled to surfeit. So they retired to enable Nehru and Gopalan to complete the innings in the spirit in which it had begun.

Nehru's stance at the crease was above reproach and his offside efforts were commendable. But he was apt to run into trouble on the leg. His comrade, on the contrary, preferred the "down-to-earth" technique and the rustic swipe -- a gainful stroke under the circumstances. The crowd loved every minute of it.

Had Gopalan preferred to traffic with fortune there might have been many of these. But such pleasures are verboten in the Communist code and Nehru deigned to take advantage of a studied and deliberate courtesy. And so the innings was declared at 170 for 5.

Dr Radhakrishnan's team came in for their second knock to satisfy the Mad Hatter. That was probably the reason why Bhawani Singh and Patna left their wickets wide open to Majithia. Malaviya felt to a splendid catch by Nehru and Shah Nawaz gave Majithia his third wicket of the afternoon.

So Feroz Gandhi sauntered out and pondered over his guard, only to be swittled by the first ball he received. It took a long time to convince him that he was out. Alice spied De Mello searching his capacious pocket for the laws of cricket. But reason prevailed and with it Dungarpur and Ramchandran came home in time.

The Mad Hatter led the crazy rush to the pavilion, but Alice had him nicely under control when the speeches and the auction began. The first autographed bat went to the Rajmata of Tehri Garhwal for Rs 6,000, while the second fetched Rs 7,000 from Bawa Bachhittar Singh, who beat the Maharaja of Patiala in the bill. This display of generosity was a fitting climax to all that had gone before. Alice, on her part, did not forget to do her bit. She saw her companions home, down the key-hole.

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