No Picnic

Published: 2023
Pages: 232
Author: Lonsdale, Jeremy
Publisher: ACS
Rating: 4 stars

The second outing for the ACS  Cricket Tours series is very different from the first. To begin with it covers a trip from England rather than to England, and perhaps more significantly this tour signalled the start of a cricketing relationship that is now second only in importance in England to that with Australia. There had been trips to India by English teams before Arthur Gilligan’s side visited under the auspices of the MCC in 1926/27, but they had been private affairs and the last, by the Oxford Authentics, had been twenty four years before.

Most of the Authentics had played at least some county cricket, but all were amateurs and only one, George Simpson-Hayward, who had a successful time on the mat in South Africa in 1909/10 with his lob bowling, ever played for England.

Gilligan’s side was by no means representative of the full strength of England, but was still a strong combination. Maurice Tate and George Geary were the only two to have played against Australia the previous summer, but Gilligan himself, Andrew Sandham and George Brown had been capped against Australia in the past, and Bob Wyatt would be in the future. Ewart Astill also went on to play Test cricket, and the remaining professionals in the party, Jack Parsons, Stuart Boyes and late reinforcement Jack Mercer had long and successful county careers. Of the remaining amateurs, Guy Earle, Melvyn Hill, Peter Eckersley and vice-captain Raleigh Chichester-Constable, only the latter was an unknown quantity as a First Class cricketer.

Jeremy Lonsdale’s account of the tour begins, as it should, with some historical context. He deals at some length with events that led up to the tour taking place at all, the party leaving and its selection. Bizarre as it may seem to our eyes MCC’s initial view was that a six month tour of the sub-continent involving more than 20,000 miles of travelling and 34 matches could be covered by a party of 13, with the management duties being left to the captain and vice-captain.

A couple of journalists also accompanied the tour, and a variety of local ones turned up at the various matches. Wyatt and Tate both wrote about the trip in autobiographies and Lonsdale had access to a family archive of Hill’s, and to that of the MCC. The social aspects of the long trip were widely reported on as well as the play, so Lonsdale had plenty of material to draw on in putting together what is a very full account of the trip.

The heart of the book is inevitably the descriptions of all the matches played, starting in what is now Pakistan before travelling through India and extending as far as Ceylon and Burma, now Sri Lanka and Myanmar. There were, unsurprisingly, problems with illness and injury, but never on a scale that prevented the MCC putting out a side, albeit the occasional guest was relied on. Yorkshire pros Arthur Dolphin and Maurice Leyland, in India coaching anyway, helped out on occasion, as did the Maharajah of Patiala. Just once, in one of the early games before Mercer arrived, did the tourists have to call on the assistance of the military, in the shape of Lieutenant Ronald Yeldham (who was a First Class cricketer) in order to field an eleven.

The Englishmen went through the trip unbeaten*, winning eleven times and drawing the remainder of the matches many of which, had they not at Gilligan’s insistence been reduced from three days to two, would probably have been won. Only once, in an interesting and ultimately drawn fixture against ‘All India’ in Bombay did the tourists look to be in difficulty, albeit they did have the worst of a drawn one day match on what seems to have been a very poor wicket against the Madras Cricket Club.

The accounts of the matches are all of interest, made the more so by a look at the social engagements the party enjoyed, and livened by some asides from the Hill archive that demonstrate very clearly that the irregular Somerset and occasionally Glamorgan wicketkeeper must have been entertaining company.

On the whole and despite the entirely appropriate title the trip seems to have been an enjoyable one despite clearly being too long with too much travel and, to go with the opulence of some of the side’s surroundings, facilities in some locations that gave cause for complaint. On the field events seems to have largely been incident free, save for one controversial ‘non-dismissal’ of CK Nayudu in Bombay which at one point threatened the whole future of the tour. The incident is, understandably, dealt with at some length, although it certainly seemed to me that there must be aspects of that story that are never going to see the light of day.

All in all No Picnic is an excellent book, well up to the standard of its predecessor and together they set a high bar for future books in this series. In view of the speed with which some recent ACS  publications have gone out of print, coupled with what I suspect is a rather wider group of potential purchasers than normal I would recommend, if the book is of interest, that potential purchasers visit the ACS website and make their purchase promptly.

*Strictly speaking the team did lose one match, played under some interesting playing conditions against Delhi Ladies, the detail of which is one of the more memorable parts of the story

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