The Indian Gymkhana Club

The two cricket teams arrived punctually and changed into their flannels. It was a sunny English summer day in Mill Hill. Several celebrities had been invited to see the match as an introduction to the Club team, with the aim of persuading them to help the fund raising effort.

The two captains walked to the pitch and tossed a coin. As if on cue, the landlord rushed up with seven strong men and said “No money, No play”. The cricketers were standing on land which they were negotiating to buy for the club and had promised the landlord an advance deposit after the game. M. P. Banjana, a Somerset County Cricketer and team captain, said “Let us play and we will settle the money problem afterward”, but the landlord was having none of that. Tempers rose, the landlord ordered the seven bully boys to march the team off the pitch and the match had ended before it had begun. The two teams and celebrity visitors left feeling humiliated.

The year was 1920.

The incident provoked a strong response from the Indian High Commission and the Indian community. Soon after, Mr. T. B. W. Ramsay, a barrister-at-law practising at the Privy Council, enlisted the help of Lord Hawke, President of the M. C. C. They made an appeal for £15,000 to purchase a Sports ground for the Club. The heirs to Mahrajas and Nawabs who had been so unceremoniously ousted from the Mill Hill pitch rallied to the cause. The Maharaja of Patiala came forward with a financial guarantee. Others such as the Maharaja of Kapurthala, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Cooch Behar and Indor, the Nizam of Hyderabad and Sir Victor Sassoon became “founders and patrons”. Armed with the backing of powerful and wealthy patrons, the Indian Gymkhana Club was housed in permanent premises at Osterly, where it still stands. Lord Hawke became the first President of the Club.

The Club, which had been formed in 1916 without a clubhouse, fielded its own cricket team immediately after inception. At the first match, played on 2nd June 1916, M. P. Banjana scored a century against the Australian team and C. H. Gunasekra, another County cricketer on the tam, pulled off a hat trick. Most prominent cricketers and hockey players from India, and also Pakistan and Ceylon, have played on the Osterley grounds at one time or another, including the Maharaja of Visianagram, President of the Indian Board of Cricket Control, Vijay Merchant, Nazir Ali, Jahangir Khan, Sil Learie Constantine, Vijay Hazare, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, the Nawab of Pataudi, and more recently, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Imran Khan. Rohan Kanhai came to the IGC when his team came to Britain in 1952, along with Sonny Ramadhin and Valentine.

The 1917 Sir James Walked C. I. E. presented the Club with a Challenge Cup for lawn tennis. The Maharani of Cooch Behar followed with a Cricket Shield given in memory of her husband called ‘The Maharaja Jitendra Narayan of Cooch Behar Memorial Shield’. Then in 1961 a silver trophy also for cricket, was given in memory of Shri Narottan Morarjee by the Scindia Steamship Co. of Bombay, and it provides a valuable record of the best batsmen and bowlers each year.

The IGC Ltd is open to members of all races and religions. Nor is it’s membership restricted to people of Indian origin. When the Club celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1966, the message was that it aimed to become a multi-racial centre where old and young alike could meet to play sports and foster goodwill between people across generations. That is even more true today.