Ramachandra Guha’s A Corner of A Foreign Field started of as a biography of Palwankar Baloo (and his brothers). Guha calls him the first great Indian cricketer. The story of the Palwankar brothers and Baloo in particular reads like an epic – the stigma of an untouchable caste, the reluctance of the Brahmin Hindu teams to select him, the separation in the tents, the denial of captaincy (when he very clearly deserved it) and the redemption on the field.

His bowling stats seem to speak for themselves: 179 wickets in 33 matches, that’s almost 6 wickets per match -. 17 times 5 wickets in an innings.

In a tour of England in 1911, Baloo in 14 matches against first side county teams took a total of 114 wickets. Since then only Vinoo Mankad has taken more than 100 wickets in an English summer.

Guha is definitely a fine writer mirroring the cricket on the field with the socio-cultural metamorphosis outside the field. He compares the case of Baloo with that of D’Oliveira, that of West Indies who had white captains till Sir Frank Worrell came along and in particular¬† South Africa-Indian golfer Sewsunkar Sewgolan who after winning the Natal Open in the 60’s had to wait outside the clubhouse in the rain for the orderly to bring his medal and prizes.

Unfortunately, there is not much else available about the Palwankars though Guha does list out a number of notes and citations from various newspapers of those times including Tilak’s Mahratta. In particular, there is Vithal (Baloo’s younger brother and the first Dalit to captain the Hindus) who has written his autobiography Maze Krida-Jivan (My Sporting Life). But it is out of print. Only about 1000 copies were printed when it was published in 1948. One of those copies is with Guha. I wonder if he can share it.


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