Cricket is recorded as having been played in India as early as 1721 – probably among sailors off a merchant ship – but the first club was not set up until 1792 with the establishment of the Calcutta Cricket Club on the site where Eden Gardens now stands, although its membership was restricted to Europeans. Five years later Bombay hosted its first match. And it was in Bombay that Indians first began to play the game. At the end of the 18th century the Parsees took on the Eton Ramblers, and in 1848 they formed the Orient Club. As equipment was scarce and expensive, they used cast-offs from the exclusive European Club, Bombay Gymkhana.
In 1877 the Parsees beat the Europeans, and flushed with success, planned tours of Australia and England. Australia fell through, but in 1878 they did visit England, winning one out of 28 games; two years later they returned, winning eight out of 31 with Mehlasa Parvi taking 170 wickets at under 12.
In 1889 an amateur English side travelled to India. They played almost exclusively European sides but their one defeat came against the Parsees, Pavri taking nine wickets. In 1892 they returned and suffered two defeats in 20 games – again losing to the Parsees. They also played an All-India side, but the reality was that was almost entirely made up of Europeans as well. In 1895 competitive cricket in India started with the first Europeans v Parsees match, a series known as the Presidency matches.
The success of Ranji in England fired the imagination, especially among his fellow princes back home. Many sent for coaches from England and lavished huge sums on ensuring that they could boast the best facilities. In 1907 the Hindus joined the Europeans and Parsees to make it a triangular competition and in 1912 the Mohammedans also started to participate. In 1937 the Christians and Jews combined to for a side called The Rest and the competition became known as the Pentangular.
While the competition was the mainstay of the cricket calendar, there was no real attempt to launch a national competition until after India’s Test debut in 1932. That first match, at Lord’s, came more than two decades after India’s first steps to earn Test status. In 1911 and All-India side toured England under the Maharajah of Patiala – with moderate success – and by the late 1920s the performance of the side against an MCC XI led by Arthur Gilligan persuaded the ICC that they might be ready.
The one stumbling block was that India did not have a central body running the game, and so in 1928 the Board of Control for Cricket in India came into being. India were due to make their Test debut in 1930-31 but extreme nationalist sentiment and activity at the time led to the trip being cancelled and so it was at Lord’s 18 months later that India joined the Test ranks.
In 1934 the BCCI launched a national competition between “the princes and the princely states” and it was named after the greatest Indian player to that time, KS Ranjitsinhji. The board also set up and inter-varsity tournament. In 1936 the first major stadium – the Brabourne in Bombay, the Lord’s of India – was opened, the first of many giant arenas.