1721 Cricket was played on Indian soil for the first time this very week by sailors from Cricket East India Company ships in December 1721, more than 300 years ago. The reference appears in a messy but entertaining History of the Indian Wars (1737), written by unreliable able seaman Clement Downing who was applying for a job with the British East India Company again. Shipping records support details from his account.
The Emilia sloop and the Hunter galley, two country-built boats in the Company’s service, had sailed from Bombay on December 2 to guard the numerous smaller craft transporting bales of Indian goods down the coast from the storied trading entrepôt of Cambay. Cambay.
The two boats missed the spring tide that would have allowed them to cross the bar and head towards the rapidly silting-up Cambay as they tacked through the perilous banks of the Gulf of Cambay to avoid attacks from Kanohji Angre’s Maratha navy and hostile Kathiawari seafarers from Sultanpur and Beyt. They instead took a detour into the Dhadhar River and camped out in the prosperous cotton-growing and industrial Jambusar pargana.
Under the command of Lieutenants Stevens and Rathbone, the ship’s crews diverted themselves for nearly a fortnight of cricket and other exercises after a tender left to transport Hearing and Doggett, the two ship’s captains, up to Cambay. If the directors of the Company in London had known, they would have thrown a fit.
Indian Textiles Have an Allure
At this point, the British were practically all at sea off the west coast, unwelcome in Surat and clinging to a toehold in Bombay’s plague-ridden swamp. The Mughal satraps and the resurgent Marathas were the two leading competing land powers. Like other Britons who have found service with the Marathas, Downing was pleased to see Rustum Ali Khan in Vadodara.
The Dutch made up most of the European traders, and Downing rode with the Armenians or their caravans on land while discretely dressed in local garb. Even so, the British Company was making enough money selling silks and cotton nationwide to incite a riot in London and cause women wearing stylish Indian calicoes to be doused in acid. Goaded by the rabble-rousing pamphleteering of Daniel Defoe, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1721 banning their wearing.
The two boats failed to catch the spring tide that would have carried them over the bar and into the rapidly silting-up Cambay because they were too busy tacking through the perilous banks of the Gulf of Cambay to avoid attacks from the Maratha navy under Kanohji Angre and hostile Kathiawari seafarers from Sultanpur and Beyt. Instead, they took an alternate route along the Dhadhar River and camped in the prosperous Jambusar pargana, known for its cotton production and manufacturing.
Following the departure of the tender carrying Hearing and Doggett, the captains of the two ships, up to Cambay, the boats’ crews, under Lieutenants Stevens and Rathbone, diverted themselves for almost a fortnight of cricket east India and other exercises. If the Company’s directors in London had known, they would have thrown a fit.
The Allure of Textiles from India
At this moment, the British were almost entirely at sea off the west coast, unwelcome in Surat and clinging to a foothold in Bombay’s plague-infested marsh. The resurgent Marathas and the Mughal satraps were the two central rivaling land powers. Downing was glad to find service with Rustum Ali Khan in Vadodara, as other Britons do with the Marathas.
Most European traders were Dutch and Often traveled with the Armenians or their caravans on land while disguised in native clothing. Yet, the British Company had considerable success selling silks and cotton throughout the country. The London weavers rioted and hurled acid at women wearing the popular Indian calicoes. In, an Act of Parliament was passed that made their wearing illegal.
We don’t and can’t know who was playing cricket on the Dhadhar’s banks, but we can deduce a few things. On the Emilia, there are three Europeans and 18 Indians. The makeup of Hunter’s crew is less detailed; while more conspicuous for a galley, the Company scorns it for being so tiny. At most, there may be 10 Europeans (not necessarily English) and 50 Indians on board. The Hunter has been allocated 12 marines from the London, a newly arrived cruiser, which is unusual for this expedition.
We believe that 20 Europeans and 50 Indians were abandoned on the riverside after a detachment of probably a dozen Europeans and twenty Indians proceeded up to Cambay. They deployed a safety net after landing.
There is no question that the exercises required everyone in attendance to participate. While at the end of the fortnight, the practice seemed to have dissolved into fun, these exercises were drills, and this was a military operation, with everything ready. Everyone exercising does not always translate to all playing cricket, either.
Some London marines most likely introduced cricket. This obscure rural working-class sport was still only generally recognized in the far southeast of England.
Gravesend, in Kent, was known for producing some of the best cricket east India players in history when London sailed from there.