By the time the land, that we today call India, was granted membership by the ICC, which was then known as the Imperial Cricket Council, Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji Jadeja already had had an exalted cricket career, playing for Sussex and the English Cricket team. His nephew, Duleepsinghji, was also following his path to cricketing success. Yet, their homeland was not given much recognition in international cricket.
It was in 1926-27 that things began to change when an Arthur-Gilligan-led English side, on their Indian tour, was rattled by remarkable performances by players like CK Nayudu and DB Deodhar. The former broke the world record for hitting most sixes in a match (11) as he blasted 153 runs in merely 100 minutes, while the latter, a 53-year-old Sanskrit professor, representing an All-India team, amassed 148 runs in four long hours. Two months later, a very impressed Gillian met the Maharaja of Patiala, Grant Govan, and Anthony de Mello at Roshanara Club in Delhi and promised to talk to MCC about a tour.
Roshanara Club, situated in the heart of North Delhi, holds a distinguished place in India’s cricketing history. Formed in 1922 by Govan and a group of affluent Indians, this club is considered to be the site where the seeds of BCCI – the governing body for cricket in India – were sown in 1927. The first unofficial Test match and the first unofficial Ranji match were also played at this esteemed venue.
Pearls of the game like Jack Hobbs, CK Nayudu, Mushtaq Ali, Amar Singh, Herbert Sutcliffe, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, and Frank Worrell were among the first to have blessed the greens of Roshanara. Ever since then, world-class players of the following generations have adorned this ground with their presence. Greats like Kapil Dev, Bishan Singh Bedi, Rahul Dravid, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Gautam Gambhir, Ishant Sharma are few among an ocean of star cricketers who have played here.
“To promote cricket in our club, many of the star-capped players who visit us are given honorary membership, so that they keep visiting and inspiring budding players and members alike. Mohammed Shami is our latest member. Rishabh Pant will soon follow suit. Other than these, legends like Virat Kohli, Virender Sehwag, Ishant Sharma, Kapil Dev are also honorary members of our club,” informs Amit Kumar Garg, the Chairman of Cricket at Roshanara Club.
Garg goes on to say, “The latest feather in our cap was that four IPL teams chose our ground for their practice and training. These teams were Mumbai Indians, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Rajasthan Royals, and Chennai Super Kings, and they were very happy with the facilities and infrastructure.”
Garg upholds that cricket is and always has been the main attraction of the club, “The beauty of our club lies in our cricket ground. It is a sprawling, lush-green ground with five pitches.” While the turf of Roshanara is a thing to behold, it is also well known in the local cricket circles that Roshanara Club’s playing surface is one of the best in Delhi. Remarkably, despite the harsh weather conditions of Delhi, it is fresh, lively, and green.
“Our pitch curator, Daya Ram, is on club roles and he takes very intricate care of the pitch. He professionally curates it. On top of that, we do not use ordinary sand mixed with concrete to make our pitch. The sand that we use especially comes from Rajashtan. Also, in every off-season, we prepare our pitch from scratch,” Garg explains why their pitch is one of a kind in Delhi. Rajan Manchanda, Ex-Secretary of Roshanara Club and Joint-Secretary of DDCA, adds to this by highlighting the advantageous location of the ground, “The water table is fairly near the pitch…just 5-6 meters below it, you can find water. The welling and drainage system of the ground is also very efficient. All this helps in keeping the playing surface not only fresh but also in retaining its liveliness.”
A certain aura and charm of playing or watching cricket is another thing that is exclusive to Roshanara Club. Merely by being there, one feels the weight of history and culture. Inside one of the pavilions, there are big cabinets flooded with cups and memorabilia that instill in the observer a feeling of being in a cricket museum. The cricket ground, on one side, is encircled by low, white structures with long stretches of verandas where the members dine and drink, while often watching cricket. “In the winter sun, during the cricket season, there is generally a crowd of 300-400 members who have their brunch while viewing quality cricket. This resembles the club culture that is prevalent in England. The atmosphere is a whole package…all this gives you a special feeling,” remarks Manchanda. “The ground, the legacy, the people, the culture, the atmosphere…makes Roshanara special. I am totally in love with the club…I have been meaning to shift houses but my emotional connection with this place is one of the main things stopping me,” exclaims Siddhant Malik, the captain of Roshanara Club’s Members’ Cricket team.
While the significance of tradition has been respected in the management of the club, it has also not lost sight of passing time, rather it has modernized along with it. The authorities have invested heavily in installing floodlights, renovating the dressing room, and in other cricket-related equipment like super-sopper, moveable practice nets, and bowling machines. Till recently, many Ranji Trophy matches were also often played here. However, due to the new anti-corruption rules, Ranji games have been called off as they would interfere with the free movement of members within the club.
Harmonizing with the larger developments in the game, Roshanara Club has organized multiple T20 tournaments for cricket clubs and corporations and members alike. One such tournament is the Roshanara Premier League, styled like the IPL but exclusively for the members and their relatives. It has been a big hit for many years.
The club tries to balance leisure and entertainment with the development of the game. “We have a world-class cricket academy also to nurture young, talented cricketers. We provide state-of-the-art facilities along with different types of surfaces to play on to our players. We keep in mind that our equipment and facilities do not go out of time,” explicates Garg.
Speaking in cricketing terms, the Club will reach its much-coveted three-figure mark next year, and while it removes its helmet and salutes the audience, it is worthwhile that we acknowledge its journey, wherein it stuck to its rich cricketing history while also actively participating in the developing culture of cricket in Delhi. Garg spells out the perspective with which the club sees cricket, “We have not forgotten our heritage and at the same time, we have modernized too. We have struck a healthy balance.”