It was as if he had striven for Test status for more than thirty years, and having achieved it, he never got to play. Gandhiji was allowed to live in free India for five and a half months, before we killed him – and for those five and a half months, he took no rest – none at all – he was in a poor Muslim home in Calcutta on the night of 14/15th. August, 1947, keeping the peace. As the Punjab burnt, Gandhiji kept Bengal from boiling over.
In early September he went to Delhi, via Bihar – there he stayed until his death – each day was full of meetings and appeals and prayer and fasting and guidance and heartbreak. Ten days before he was shot, there was a bomb attack on his evening prayer meeting – but he refused to change his schedule – and it was at this same prayer meeting on January 30, 1948, that an unarmed, defenseless, almost 80 year-old man was shot from point-blank range.
He did not like cricket – he considered it a waste of time and energy – and he especially did not like the Triangular and Quadrangular tournaments played in Bombay, with teams selected on communal basis – it went against all he stood for – and he was too rigid to see that it was only a game.
The day he was murdered, the first Test team of free India was playing in Australia – well, not playing that day, but resting between defeats in the fourth and fifth Tests at Adelaide and Melbourne – the fourth Test concluded on the 28th. of January, with India losing by an innings and 16 runs.
Hazare made his famous centuries in both innings, accompanied by a Phadkar century in the first innings, and a gallant 51 by Adhikari in the second, and Bradman had 201 in the Aussies’ only innings – off but 296 balls, with a very rare six. Hassett and Barnes added centuries of their own, although not as fast as Bradman’s – in both of Hazare’s innings, his strike rate was less than 40, which was understandable.
I wonder what our players thought on the morning of the 31st. in Australia, when they received the news of Gandhiji’s murder – someone like Lala Amarnath, the captain, had been so close to the bloodshed of partition; I wonder if they had a moment of silence, or a prayer meeting – there must be a record somewhere – maybe at the team breakfast they all bowed their heads in remembrance.
Be as it may, the next Test at Melbourne, which started on the sixth of February — can we imagine a week-long break between Tests, with no practice match? – was even worse than Adelaide – we lost by an innings and 177 runs. In Australia’s only innings, Bradman retired hurt on 57, and Harvey hit an attacking century. In our two innings, Mankad had a century to go with Hazare’s 74 in the first — and the second innings folded up on 67, with Adhikari top-scoring with 17.
It must have pleased Gandhiji just a little that our team contained Hindus and Muslims and Christians and Parsis, and that they came from all the corners of the new country – but he had far deeper worries on his mind, and if you read his prayer-meeting speeches from August 15, 1947 until January 29, 1948 you will find him tackling violence and religion and death and attacks on him – physical and verbal – with wit and irony and guts and humour and passion – and he foresaw an India where politics could be a curse, and non-violence a dream – but he never gave up… he never gave up…
Somewhere, grudgingly, he must have sensed that same quality in Hazare.
We can certainly hope so – wish so – as we remember both of them…