Monday, June 25, 2012


P. Rathnavel Thevar (extreme left) with Jawaharlal Nehru and other Congress leaders, at Tiruchi

The Trichinopoly United Cricket Club was started by  Rathnavel Thevar in 1914, the first cricket club in the town and reflecting in its name that of the Madras United Club which pioneered Indian cricket in Madras. The game in Madras had, however, been first formally played by the ‘Europeans only’ Madras Cricket Club. In Trichy, it was the TUCC that launched the game on a serious footing, a South Indian Railway club, comprising European and Anglo-Indian players being started only thereafter. When these two clubs met in an annual fixture, it was the Trichy equivalent of the annual Presidency match played in Madras between the Europeans and the Indians.
Rathnavel Thevar also sponsored annual matches between Trichy and Tanjore and Trichy and Pudukottai. Both these fixtures had their share of incidents whenever princely Tanjore and Pudukottai included Europeans in their teams; Thevar did not suffer Europeans kindly, though he once included one, a Maclaughlin of the I.C.S. who was a lusty striker of the ball. In one match against Tanjore, the team from the Delta included five British players. During lunch, Thevar found the five drawing up a table to lunch by themselves. His remonstration against this behaviour almost stirred up the crowd. On another occasion, G.T.B. Harvey, a good all-round sportsman and mentor of the young Rajah of Pudukottai, was coaching the Pudukottai team. During lunch he was heard lecturing the umpires on the LBW rule. Then, during the Pudukottai innings, he was loud in his bellowed protest when a Pudukottai batsman was ruled out LBW. Thevar could no longer keep silent and began loudly berating Harvey. Before the boos from the crowd turned into something nastier, Harvey left the ground.
The ground in question was the Puthur cricket ground that Thevar had developed for the TUCC after he had purchased it when he became Municipal Chairman in 1924 (a post he intermittently held till 1946). The ground was later taken over by the Government for a government hospital, on, it was alleged, the instigation of his political rivals. The last match played on the ground was a Madras-versus-Combined Districts game: the first, a competition mooted by Rathnavel Thevar, was played in 1939. The Rathnavel Trophy is today competed for in an inter-district schools tournament.
Thevar also regularly took the TUCC on a cricketing tour of Ceylon (where his kinsman R.M. Perumal, one of the best players in the Districts — which he often captained — learnt his cricket) and also hosted a match for any Ceylon team touring South India. In 1948, an ailing Thevar took TUCC hockey and cricket teams to Ceylon but returned seriously ill and passed away in May that year. During that tour he had stayed with P. Saravanamuttu, the President of the Ceylon Cricket Board and the Tamil Union club .While in Colombo he had promised his friend and personal host assistance to improve the Club’s facilities. Though he could not fulfil his promise, his friend N.S. Krishnan, to keep the promise, took his drama troupe to Colombo to stage a play for the Tamil Union, which, as a consequence, benefited to the tune of Rs. 28,000. The facilities that were developed made the Tamil Union’s Oval for many years the only venue for international cricket matches in Ceylon.
Thevar Vilas was a home that welcomed any cricketer or political leader visiting Trichy. Its walls hosted as many pictures of cricketers as of political leaders. Its library held a wealth of cricket literature. And in it Nehru and Satyamurti had dipped.
Thevar entered politics as a member of the Justice Party, but, after visiting Gandhi in Sabarmati Ashram in 1923, he became a Congressman. He was a member of the Madras Legislative Council from 1923 to 1946. He had been arrested during the Satyagraha movement and fell ill while in jail. His health never recovered fully, but that never stopped him from enthusiastically contributing to governance and sport.

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