View Full Version : External item: Daily Star: Beginning of Cricket in Dhaka

February 18, 2006, 08:20 AM
Did anyone see the article in the Literature page of today's (Saturday 18th Feb) Daily Star?

February 18, 2006, 09:06 AM
can you give the web link?

February 18, 2006, 09:15 AM

The Beginning of Cricket in Dhaka
Muntasir Mamun (translated by Asrar Chowdhury)

In the context of cricket, the words "back stop," "batter," "baji," "dour," et cetera, may sound unusually uncommon to present-day readers. But the "Bangal" journalists of the nineteenth century would use these very terms when they discussed cricket. The wicketkeeper was known as "back stop" in those days, "innings" was known as "baji," and a "run" was a "dour." "Batter" was batsman, but this word was in currency in the English newspapers. It can be said that in the context of journalism, the Bengali journalists wanted to use Bangla words as much as possible.

When did cricket start in Dhaka? It hasn't been possible to find out. However, this much has been possible to know: That cricket was enormously popular in Dhaka. And what about football? What was the state of football then? I've gone through published newspapers and books of the nineteenth century, but have failed to notice any information on football. This is an astonishing matter. Can we then conclude that football was either not popular or not in vogue? The topic is debatable, but it could be said that football was also in vogue, but not that much; it was not popular.

Cricket was popular. There's news about cricket in newspapers and periodicals, i.e., the game was played regularly, even in rural areas and villages. Dinesh Chandra Sen wrote in his autobiography that "We used to play cricket in the open grounds near the market." The period then was the decade of the seventies of the nineteenth century. The venue was a village in Manikganj.

I couldn't find any precise information on when cricket first started in Dhaka. It would be possible to find this out if one could collect all the newspapers published in Dhaka during the nineteenth century, but they are now a rarity. The current essay has been written based on the news published in selected newspapers of Dhaka of that period. It should be mentioned that no complete file of any newspaper could be retrieved. Therefore, many aspects have to be implicitly assumed.

The oldest recorded news of Dhaka's cricket is from the year 1858. According to the news in an English weekly, a cricket match was played between "Dhaka Station" and "Her Majesty's 54th Regiment" on 20th January. "Dhaka Station" comprised of the English civilian officials of the government. Maybe other Englishmen from other professions living in Dhaka were also included in the team. The "Regiment" team included English soldiers who had been drafted into service during or after the Dhaka revolt (1857). "Dhaka Station" did not have eleven players, and a few members of the "Regiment" played on behalf of the Station. "Dhaka Station" scored 48 and 92 in the first and second innings respectively. "Regiment" scored 108 and 80 in the first and second innings respectively.

It's worth mentioning that Dhaka in those days was covered by jungles. Two years prior to the match (1856) a newspaper reported that a tiger had been killed in the lands to the west of the Race Course. In that same year, we find news of a match in Sylhet. Following is the original English report: "Perhaps the most interesting event ever recorded in the cricketing annals of Eastern Bengal was the grand single wicket match between 'Service' and 'non- Service' on the 24th instant on the parade ground of the humidly picturesque station of Sylhet."

In Charles Stuart's memoirs, we find indications that the practice of cricket was uninterrupted in Dhaka. Charles Stuart was the Joint Magistrate of Dhaka in 1866-67. He noted that there was a cricket field in Dhaka, and that New Year's Day would be celebrated by playing cricket on that field. The English employees played polo on that field for a few days, but they did not play again for fear of the field being ruined.

We receive news about cricket after the lapse of a full decade. A single match was played between Eastern Bengal and Calcutta (Kolkata). Most probably, the Eastern Bengal, or East Bengal, team was comprised of whites from Dhaka and other places. There could have been one or two non-whites in this team. The Calcutta team was composed of residents from Calcutta. East Bengal was defeated comprehensively by Calcutta. Calcutta scored 317 against East Bengal's 170.

At the same time, we find news of another match between 'Station' and 'Outsiders.' The Station team comprised of Dhaka players; most probably players outside Dhaka comprised the 'Outsiders.' Station won the match. A notable part of the match was a feast.

The original words of the paper ran thus, "At about 2. p.m. numbers of ladies and gentlemen sat down and did ample justice to a sumptuous tiffin provided by our former commissioner after which the cricket was resumed and continued until sunset."

In another newspaper of 1876 we find the first indication of local players. The playing field was "Old Lines," or what we know today as Purana Paltan. The match was played between the 'Europeans' and the 'Natives.' Eleven players played in the first team and 16 in the second. The match started at 3:00 in the afternoon. The Europeans won the toss, elected to bat and scored 130 runs. The Englishmen took the game seriously. In the words of the newspaper, "England expected every man to do his duty, and nobly did those who had the least pretension to the name of Englishman respond to their country's call." A Mr. Loyal played extraordinarily in that match. I'm reproducing a piece from the commentary of the game to give an idea of sports journalism in those daysa description of how Mr. Loyal had to terminate his innings: "A cautious fieldsman standing almost under his very nose, and who had escaped the batter's observation in the heat of excitement, bided his time, and the best player of the day was destined to fall an easy prey to a miserable catch right onto his opponent's hand."

The 'natives' scored 69 runs in total. Their batsmen failed to cope with the speed of the ball. The paper went on further to comment, "Poor fellows! They were always wrong, expecting the slow for the quick and vice versa." In this match we find a 'native' by the name of Bashanta Kumar.

From these reports, I'm assuming that cricket started in Dhaka in the '50s of the previous century (i.e. 1850s). Most probably the officers and soldiers who came to this city to quell the 1857 rebellion, as well as those who came afterwards, started the game of cricket. The game was also played at other stations. However, it was pure entertainment, simply to while away the time. Cricket was an excuse to get together with neighbours, to spend a holiday by having splendid midday feasts and playing. By the 1870s, many of the 'natives' had picked up the game and then 'natives' and the 'English' played between themselves or together in a single team.

Formal cricket started in Dhaka when the Dhaka College Club was formed in Dhaka College. It's not known when this club was formed. I'm assuming that the teachers and the students of the college formed the team in the 1880s. Besides playing cricket regularly in Dhaka, they used to travel to various places to play matches, and the club gained name and fame as a first class cricket team throughout both Bengals.

According to a newspaper from 1883, this club defeated the students of Krishnanagar College. "In that match, his Excellency, Lieutenant-Governor Bahadur was present in the field and not only did he give words of encouragement, but also some financial reward to the winners."

According to a newspaper of 1887 a cricket match was played between Dhaka College and Jagannath College. "In that match, Dhaka College made 98 dours and Jagannath College made 21 dours. So Dhaka College was the decisive winner."

In that same year1887a serious controversy arose regarding a cricket match between Presidency College and Dhaka College. There are indications that newspapers of both Bengals wrote about this cricket match. The match was played at Eden Gardens. In a pre-match news item it was written that, "His Excellency Lieutenant- Governor et al and other important members of royalty would be present at the cricket match." And "the principal of Dhaka College, Major Booth, Professor Major Tepar and Babu Sardaranjan in conjunction with the playing students have started for Calcutta." Sardaranjan was the captain of the team.

Dhaka won the match. Some Calcutta newspapers, in critiquing the match, opined that actually Dhaka had lost. How could the newspapers of Dhaka swallow this? A newspaper of Dhaka subsequently published a long commentary on this issue. At one stage, the author commented, "The views of three of my colleague are totally baseless. On the second day, the players of Presidency started to bat where they left off the previous day. But Row and Wheeler (the captain of Presidency) and a few other players agreed unanimously that no matter how well they played on the second day, it would be impossible for Presidency to overcome the loss of the previous day. At that point Sarda Babu asked Mr. Row, 'Do you then agree that the match between Dhaka College and Presidency College is decided in favour of Dhaka on the basis of the previous day's performance?' Mr Row accepted the argument.

"Sarda Babu restated, 'In that case, we have accomplished what we set out to achieve from Dhaka, and it therefore makes no sense to play.' After that, both teams decided to play a scratch match between themselves."

Translation of 'Dhaka-i Cricket-er Shuru' published in Muntasir Mamoon's Dhaka-r Tukitaki; Dhaka: Pearl Publications; April 2000. Muntasir Mamun is professor of history at Dhaka University.
Asrar Chowdhury teaches economics at Jahangirnagar University.

Source: Daily Star 18th February