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The doyen of Indian cricket

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

Just before an international cricket tournament commences or a cricket  Test series involving India is imminent, cricket fever gradually builds up to a frenzy all over India. But few of today’s Indian cricket followers would be aware that it was Anthony Stanislaus de Mello – with ancestry in Saligao, Goa – who was responsible for putting India on the cricket map of the world in the early part of the last century.

Anthony de Mello, doyen of Indian cricket

Anthony de Mello, doyen of Indian cricket

This is what Vijay Merchant, one of the leading lights of Indian cricket of yesteryear, had to say about Anthony de Mello: “For sheer cricket administration capability, confidence and enthusiasm, there was never anyone to equal de Mello. He was the man who organised the Board of Control for Cricket in India, was its first Honorary Secretary, India’s cricket representative in international cricket conferences, and, finally, its President. It was he who built cricketing relations between India and England and later India and Australia. He was chiefly instrumental in building bridges between India and other international cricket countries. His trump card was his bowling and his tremendous enthusiasm. When he became the President of the Board, he introduced many measures which were conducive to better cricket, greater discipline, more involvement and generally higher standards. Whatever he may have done as a cricketer, as an administrator, as one guiding the destinies of Indian cricket, Anthony will always be remembered as the builder of stadiums without having anything in the bank to his credit. How he managed it only he knew… there never will be another Anthony de Mello in Indian cricket.”

Hailing from Sonarbhatt in Saligao, Goa, though born in Karachi on 11 October 1900, Anthony first proved his mettle in sports at his school – St. Patrick’s, Karachi. He captained his school teams in athletics, cricket and soccer.

The father of Anthony de Mello, who hailed from Saligao, was among the earliest people who took the boat from Goa to Karachi and made good there. Anthony and his brother Roque went to England to study. Roque studied Law and Anthony joined Cambridge University. He was good at both hockey as well as cricket at Cambridge. However he was recalled back to Karachi by his parents due to the unfortunate and untimely death of his brother Roque. That cut short his career at Cambridge.

Hubert D’Souza from Nigvaddo in Saligao recalls Anthony de Mello’s studies in Simla. He says: “I knew Tony personally in Simla when he gave up studies at the Inter Science level in 1917, took up a job there and gave me all his college books with a remark – these will be of more use to you than me.”

After he returned from Cambridge, Anthony de Mello’s prowess on the cricket field caught the roving eye of the Maharaja of Gwalior, a great patron of sports. He enlisted his services at the Gwalior Motor Transport Company, at which Anthony rose to become the managing director. He was also involved with Gwalior Potteries and intimately connected with the English firm of Gowan Brothers of Delhi.

In 1928, Anthony de Mello was instrumental in founding the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Thanks to his persistent efforts, his forceful and lucid presentation, and his influential contacts abroad, his application on behalf of India and Indian cricket was given prompt and due consideration by the Imperial Cricket Conference in London. In 1929, India was accepted a member of the Conference. He thereby put India on the cricket map of the world for the first time. In 1993 Anthony de Mello initiated the famous Cricket Club of India (CCI).

In 1937 he realised his Indian cricket dreams by building the Brabourne Stadium at the CCI in Bombay in record time. His portrait adorns the halls of the CCI adjoining the Brabourne stadium and his profile is outlined on the CCI website [Sadly, a recent update to this website has omitted his profile]. His interests did not cover only Indian cricket, but also extended to other activities. He built the National Stadium at Delhi and was a key organiser of the first Asian Games there in 1951.

Brabourne stadium for cricket, Bombay

Brabourne Stadium

“The success of the first Asian Games in Delhi is mainly due to the herculean efforts and organising ability of Anthony de Mello.” This spontaneous comment by Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India in 1951, summed up Anthony de Mello’s great organising skills and administrative acumen.

He was the founder of the Asian Cricket Conference in 1948 and was unanimously elected its first president. While in England he successfully negotiated for the first English cricket team to play in India.

Although he hobnobbed with princes, maharajas and the highest government officials, Anthony de Mello was approachable to the common man too and knew no caste or class barriers. He was the founder of the Asian Table Tennis Federation and the Vice-President of the International Table Tennis Federation. He saw to it that the 19th World Table Tennis Championship was held at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay in 1952, and by this feat he proved his tremendous organising ability. He also built the Vallabhai Patel Stadium in Bombay at the NSCI.

In his 342-page book Portrait of Indian Sport published by Macmillan of London, which he dedicated to the Indian sportsmen “among the best in the world”, he made an assessment of India’s activities in every sphere of sports including Indian cricket.

Until his death, Anthony De Mello was a devout and practicing Catholic. The Knighthood of St. Gregory was conferred on him by the Holy Father Pope Pius XII, and he was allowed to marry a gracious Parsi lady, Rita Mody, under the Pauline Privilege. An ardent Indian nationalist, he had visualised a “big stadium for the land I love, Goa, when freedom comes, and a pavilion for my dear youth in the village of my ancestors, Saligao.” But that was not to be. He died in May 1961, before he could give concrete shape to his dream.

[with inputs from Eutropio Pinto and Hubert D’Souza in Arrarim, Saligao]

References:

  • Saligao: Focus On A Picturesque Goan Village; J Patrocinio de Souza and Alfred D,Cruz
  • Saligao, Golden Jubilee (1936-1986); Saligao Union, Bombay

3 comments on The doyen of Indian cricket

  • Jules Fausto Mendonca de Sa

    Dear Fr Nascimento,
    I have only just learnt that Anthony Stanislaus D’Mello was the Uncle in law of my paternal Aunt. Though I have the names of the brothers Anthony S D’Mello and Roque D’Mello, I am lacking the name of the sister who was married to a Tellis. I was wondering if there was anyone from that D’Mello family living in Saligao, who would help me?
    Kindly advise.
    Regards
    Fausto

  • Zelia

    What was the name of The father of Anthony de Mello, who hailed from Saligao, and was among the earliest people who took the boat from Goa to Karachi and made good there. Who was his wife and howmany children did he have? could you search the Saligao records nd let me know. I knew his nephew William Tellis who worked in Kemari, Karachi

    Regards

    Zelia

  • Zelia

    Eutropio Pinto and Hubert D’Souza in Arrarim, Saligao]

    What were the names of Anthony’s parents and his siblings. He must have been a contwemporary of the Albuquerque brothers in England. Maybe David Albuquerque would know

    Zelia

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