Kerala cricket’s English connection

The popular Aamir Khan film Lagaan showed how India got the game of cricket and won at it. Had it not been for the English and their astute ways at winning the game, as depicted in movies/TV serials ( Lagaan, Body Line etc.) and the intricacies of the game itself Indians may not have been as badly bitten by the bug as they were. The game continues to dominate our hearts and minds long after the English have left the pitch.

Reminiscing about the British and their cricketing influence, the name of Richard Luff comes to mind. He was one of the Englishmen from Cochin who played at a higher level and represented the State three times the Ranji Trophy championship. As a right-arm medium pace bowler he made his debut for Travancore-Cochin in 1954 against Madras. He went to play for Kerala in the championship in 1957-58 and 1958-59 too.

Another Englishman who played for the State was John Gilbert Hugh Thwaites. He played two Ranji Trophy matches, against Mysore and Hyderabad in 1958-59. Thwaites, who began his career in Cochin with Harrisons and Crosfield, moved to Brooke Bond in Calcutta and thereafter to the UK.

Former Kerala player T.K. Madhav recounts a funny incident involving his contemporaries Luff and Thwaites. “Hugh Thwaites, fresh out of school and college in the UK, played his first Ranji Trophy match at Palakkad. During the match a traditional ela sadya was served at lunch instead of a light meal that was normally offered. Thwaités was at odds about eating rice and that too off a banana leaf. Since there was no cutlery provided I told him to use his fingers to eat and he used them as a fork, keeping his fingers straight and digging into the heap of rice. Most of the rice would fall through his fingers. It was hilarious.”

Richard Luff played a longer innings for Kerala than Thwaites and is remembered for his extraordinary swing bowling. His best bowling analysis for Kerala was 4 for 54 in a match against Hyderabad. A six-plus-footer Luff was trim and used to open the bowling. He had a peculiar bowling action, twirling both arms and delivered off the wrong foot like the great Lala Amaranth.

In one of the State selection matches, Luff represented Central Kerala, and playing against South Kerala, which had five to six renowned State batsmen, the odds were stacked heavily against Central Kerala. Madhav recalls, “In the first innings we had put up a middling total of around 200 runs. By the time we began to bowl the North East monsoon clouds had gathered darkly overhead and it aided our swing bowlers. Luff opened the bowling with me against these stalwarts. We reduced them to 55 for six by close of play on the first day, with Luff inflicting the maximum damage. When Balan Pandit, perhaps technically one of the best batsman to have played for Kerala, came to bat Luff bowled a “widish” ball outside the off stump. The technically correct Pandit raised the bat to allow it to let go to the wicketkeeper. To his utter horror the ball swung in sharply at the very last moment and knocked his leg stump leaving him completely perplexed. He was heard muttering in Malayalam, on his way back to the pavilion:- Iyaal enthannu eriyunnathu (what is this man bowling)?

Another amusing incident associated with a peculiar habit of Luff is remembered when old timers speak about him. Unlike most fielders he used to wear the abdominal guard while fielding in the slips. Before he bowled he would pull it out and hand it over along with his cap and all that to the umpire. The local umpires in Fort Kochi were aware of his habits but in an away match when Luff removed his cap, sweater, and the abdominal guard from his trousers and handed it to the umpire, the latter was taken aback and shook his head refusing to lay his hands on what he considered ‘soiled’ guard!

Luff came to Cochin in the mid-fifties. He joined the tea broking firm Carritt Moran and Company. Luff had a daughter Fredrica and his wife Leonora earned a name for herself in the field of social service. She was known to take her bungalow staff and help at local hospitals and schools in Fort Kochi.

When the Luffs left Cochin in 1969 there were many who were saddened by their departure for the couple had contributed a lot to the social scenario of Cochin, in their different ways. After leaving Cochin, Luff took charge of tea broking firm, Pakistan Brokers (now Bangladesh Brokers), in Chittagong, after which he returned to England and joined Thomas Cumberledge and Inskipp, a tea company.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 10:32:21 PM |

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