On Saturday we returned to the iconic Bombay Gymkhana club for a game against an Indian RFU Presidents XV. The club has a very colonial feel to it, not surprising as externally it has changed little in the past 100 years or so. As a boy I was a keen follower of cricket and I remember seeing grainy black & white photographs in Wisden of the pavilion when Bombay Gymkhana was a Test match venue. I never dreamt then that I would visit the place but here I was, and the building was almost exactly as I recalled.
Everything is wood panelled including the very well appointed changing rooms and to enter the bar you must be wearing a shirt, long trousers and proper shoes, not sandals. With annual membership fees running into thousands of pounds this club is very much for the elite of Mumbai, a real contrast to the school we visited in the morning which drew its students from the slum areas of the city.
Sitting on the veranda watching the teams warm up I saw that they were pretty well matched in age and Bombay had one or two players in their 60s, so following the close result in Delhi there was a chance of a rare Commons & Lords win.
It is monsoon season in India and as we approached the 5:30pm kick-off time the sky got darker and there were a few spots of rain in the air. The floodlights, much more powerful than you would usually see at a rugby club, were switched on and soon it was almost as bright as daylight. So the game kicked with a hundred or so spectators in the ground and the same number again watching from the other side of a chain link fence, curious to see why a bunch of men old enough to know better were running at each other in pursuit of an egg shaped ball.
As expected the game was very even with Commons & Lords having the better of the early exchanges in terms of territory and possession and just before the end of the first quarter when there would be a drinks break, the tourists went over for a try. The rain began to come down more heavily making handling difficult but the President’s team managed to string enough passes together to level the scores at 5-5 at half time.
Refereeing duties were shared between PK and Alex Murphy and it was PK that started the second half with Commons & Lords finding gaps in the home defence and at the end of the third quarter they scored out wide to the right, the conversion going wide.
The final quarter saw play get more physical as players tried to get a decisive score and Murphy, who had resumed with the whistle, was forced to give a succession of penalties against both teams as their eagerness surpassed their ability to stay within the laws of the game. The President’s XV had their chances to equalise but good defence from the Parliamentarians kept them out and they recorded a 10-5 victory, the first time Commons & Lords had won on tour for many years.
Click here for pictures of the game
Local dignitaries, including representatives from the British and Australian High Commissions, had been invited to the post match event which started with cocktails and hors d’ouvres before a series of presentations by both teams. Bombay Gymkhana generously provided all the tour party with souvenir shirts and rugby balls as mementos of the match and we finally sat down to eat at about 10pm.
Needless to say it was a late night and this morning at breakfast there were very few of my colleagues about to share my breakfast of chicken curry with scrambled eggs. Today we have some free time to explore Mumbai and do some souvenir shopping before flying back to Delhi in the evening.