Bombay Gymkhana : A sacred venue for Indian Cricket

Aditya Bhushan

The iconic Bombay Gymkhana with its lush green field

Browse through any literature on the history of Indian cricket and you will come across the mention of a ground named Bombay Gymkhana. Situated in the heart of Bombay (now Mumbai), much before the Brabourne and Wankhede came into existence, the Bombay Gymkhana was the stage of cricketing action not just for the city, but for the entire country.

Col. CK Nayudu’s 153 against the MCC at the Bombay Gymkhana

In the era of the Quadrangular and Pentangular tournaments in the 1920s, the Bombay Gymkhana was the cricketing hub and witnessed many remarkable performances by the early stars of Indian cricket.

None more significant than the knock by 31-year-old Col. CK Nayudu in 1926 scored while playing for the Hindus. It was the first time that an official team from England was on a cricket tour to India. The touring Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) team had arrived in Bombay after playing matches in Karachi, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Ajmer. 

And, at the Bombay Gymkhana, they were treated with disdain by CK (as he was called). Responding to the visitors' first innings score of 363, CK had come in at the fall of second wicket. By now, CK was known for his explosive batting and he set his intentions clear from the outset.

He eventually scored 153 runs with the help of 11 sixes and 13 fours in about two hours’ time in this drawn match. In recognition of this knock, CK was presented a silver bat (which currently resides in the Cricket Club of India). Probably for the first time, the Britishers were forced to acknowledge the performance of an Indian cricketer and this played a crucial role in paving India’s entry into the Test arena.

First Test match on Indian soil

So, it was not a surprise that when the first Test match was played on Indian soil in 1933, it involved both CK and the Bombay Gymkhana. Although, India lost this match by nine wickets to England, there were some good individual performances from the home team.

Lala Amarnath became the first Indian to score a Test century (118 in the second innings) and Mohammad Nissar took a five-wicket haul (5/90) in England’s first innings. Although captain CK wasn’t able to replicate his performance from seven years back against the MCC, he did score 67 and was involved in a 186-run third wicket partnership with Amarnath. 

Scoreboard of the First Test played on Indian soil in 1933 at the Bombay Gymkhana.

With the passage of time, the cricketing action moved to the nearby Brabourne stadium and other sports gained more prominence at the Gymkhana.

But even today, when one walks into the Bombay Gymkhana, the charm of the by-gone era can be felt. Among other things, one can find photos from the Test match at display, although it can surely do with some more cricket memorabilia. 

Venue of many firsts for me

My entry to the Bombay Gymkhana happened in 2012 courtesy my father’s corporate membership and, sitting in the verandah watching local cricket matches, I would visualize a CK or Lala hitting the English bowlers in style. At that point, I didn’t know, that in couple of years’ time it would be the venue of many firsts for me on a personal front. 

It was at this historic venue that I had my first rendezvous with my then to-be wife Akanksha. Sitting at the balcony without a cup of tea or coffee, we both were taking the initial steps in a partnership of lifetime.

I would duck under some of the tough questions like bouncers and she would just smile at it. Needless to say, my questions were hit out of the park with grace. I couldn’t have asked for a better setting for this. Then, to have the launch of my first book - A Colonel Destined to Lead on Col. CK Nayudu - at this place, where he had earned the respect for Indian cricket, was nothing short of a dream. 

But like it happened for cricket, my trips to the Bombay Gymkhana came to a halt post my father’s retirement (as it was a membership linked with his service). Nevertheless, every time I cross this iconic venue, it brings back loads of fond memories and maybe someday I will step into it its hallowed verandah again. 

Today as the Gymkhana celebrates its 145th anniversary, I would say that with the construction of the other stadiums in the city, Bombay Gymkhana may have lost its status at the premier cricket venue in the city. But no one can take its place away from the annals of Indian cricket. And as far as I am concerned, it will forever hold a special place in my heart.