CK Nayudu: The Common Man Who Became the King of Cricket

The name CK Nayudu has often remained an answer to a trivia question for us Indians. “Who was the first cricket captain of India?”, “CK Nayudu!”, people often shout this name. But do you know how difficult was his path to become the captain of India?

Cottari Kanakaiya Nayudu, often known as CK, was born to a wealthy landlord in Nagpur. His father, spotting the talent in CK at a very young age, encouraged him to pursue his dream sport. CK was already drafted in his school team filled with teenagers at a young age of seven. CK continued playing for various local clubs with the utmost passion. Even when he pursued his studies in England, he’d often stun his English classmates in their local sport.

Upon returning, he was immediately called for a first-class debut for the Hindus against the Europeans. He was a tall man known for his massive sixes. Unlike today’s grounds which have a boundary rope at a distance of 60m, those days, the boundary ropes were nearly 90m long. So, hitting sixes was almost an achievement for the others. But for CK, it was a pretty easy job. He’d clear the 90m rope with ease sending the ball at least 10m away on the other side of the rope. He had already made it to the headlines scoring 11 sixes in a game for the local team against the MCC team from England.

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CK Nayudu with All India Cricket Team in England

Seeing this knock, the English captain Arthur Gilligan knew that India was ready to step into the field of international cricket. Before returning to England, Gilligan met Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, who used to administer cricket affairs for India and suggested forming a cricket body for India, which later came to be known as the BCCI. Gilligan also invited him for 26 first-class games in England which included a Test match, which was India’s first.

Cricket those days was never the same as today. In India, the game was funded by the kings, and the king who funded the most money was appointed the captain, and the second-highest funder was the vice-captain. So, cricket, at a higher level was limited to the royals only.

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh now set out to form a cricket team. And the first task was finding a captain. Immediate choices were Nawab of Pataudi Sr and Duleepsinghji both who declined to play for India as they played for England. Maharaja Bhupinder Singh and Maharaja of Vizianagaram, cricket’s highest patrons in India were now in a tug of war to captain India. Each of them was ready to sponsor the highest amount for the team and become the captain. Just before the tour, both of them realised that it would be difficult to govern their provinces if they would be on a tour for a period of 26 games, so, they dropped out of the team.

But they formed a team of 18 players of which, one was CK. Maharaja of Porbandar was chosen the captain and Maharaja of Limbdi, his deputy because they were the most affluent of the lot. Upon reaching England, the team was humiliated for being a team filled with wealthy people but not talented cricketers. Maharaja of Porbandar, the captain, chickened out in the last moment and announced the common man and the best batsman of the team, CK as the captain.

This team filled with kings and royals was now not willing to play under a common man. So, they formed a coup without CK knowing and dialed back to India to Maharaja Bhupinder Singh. Maharaja was so furious by the attitude of these people that he ordered them to either play under CK or simply retire from cricket. None dared to speak against him, and so, CK became India’s first captain at the age of 37.

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CK Nayudu with Douglas Jardine

While India as a team, wasn’t able to do much in this 26-game tour, CK scored 1618 runs and picked 65 wickets and was chosen as ‘The Cricketer of the Year’ by Wisden immediately in the next year. He was the common man who was the reason India got to play cricket on an international stage and one of the first hitters of cricket. He played his last Ranji Trophy at an age of 62 scoring 52 and 84 in his last two innings. He last played a cricket match at the age of 67 for charity. He has a career spanning 6 decades, and he was the man who proved cricket in India is not only limited to the kings and the royals.

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