Cricket: Jewels in the Crown

Boria Majumdar is a sports journalist and author
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Reliving India’s Test matches in England down the decades

1932: Silver Linings Playbook

THE TIMES, LONDON, on March 1, 1932, one- and-a-half months before the Indians embarked on their first-ever official tour of England, published the following report: ‘The game gown on…The Delhi police may be having three sharp rounds with a rioting crowd in the Chandni Chowk, the crowded bazaar of the old city, but a mile or two away on the club ground set in the gardens that 400 years ago Shah Jehan built for his princess, a Roshanara side will be playing the Punjab Wanderers or an Army team from New Cantonments will be fielding in the white sunlight.…’

Here is the team for England:

The Maharaja of Patiala, Captain (eventually withdrew in favour of the Maharaja of Porbander), K. S. Ghanshyamsinhji (Kathiawar), Vice Captain, Amar Singh (Jamnagar), S.M.H Colah (Bombay), Ghulam Mohammed (Ahmedabad), Joginder Singh (Punjab), B.E. Kapadia (Bombay), Lal Singh (Kuala Lumpur), N.D. Marshall (Bombay), J. Naoomal (Karachi), J.G. Navle (Gwalior), C.K. Nayudu (Indore), Nazir Ali (Patiala), S. M. Nissar (Punjab), P.E. Palia (Mysore), S Godambe (Bombay), Wazir Ali (Bhopal).

It will be seen that the team is composed entirely of Indians; the question of selecting Englishmen playing in India did not arise.

And soon after the Indian team arrived in England on April 13, 1932, the Evening Standard commented on the socio-political significance of the tour:

‘No politics, no caste, just cricket. This is the unofficial slogan of the cricket team that has come from India after a lapse of 21 years to try its strength against England and the first-class counties.

There has never been such a team of contrasts meeting on the common footing of cricket. The 18 players speak eight to ten languages among them; they belong to four or five different castes.’

The Indians played their first tour match against TG Trott’s XI at Pelsham Farm, Pearmarsh, near Rye on 29th April, 1932. Interestingly, playing against the Indian team in this match was Duleepsinhji.

However, it was on May 22, 1932 in the match against the MCC that the world got a glimpse of what India’s first homegrown legend, CK Nayudu, was capable of achieving. Nayudu, Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1933, smashed the first Indian century of the tour in style.

And in the first and only Test match at Lord’s, the Indians shocked the English in the first half-hour itself. The MCC was reduced to a dismal 19-3 by some excellent Indian bowling and fielding.

Though India eventually lost the match by 158 runs, the courage and grit shown at Lord’s clearly conveyed to the world that the Indians, in little time, would carve out a niche in the world of cricket.

1936: Heroics in Vain

The Indian team at EdgbastonINDIA’S SECOND TOUR to England in 1936 was marred by controversies. The two men who were discriminated against the most were two of the best players in the team, Lala Amarnath and CK Nayudu. Amarnath was victimised by none other than Captain Vizianagram (Vizzy). Despite being the man in form, Amarnath was sent home mid-way into the tour on charges of indiscipline. Labelled a womaniser by Vizzy and discriminated against at every step, it was only a matter of time before Amarnath lost his mind. An outburst was enough for manager Britton Jones and Vizzy to send him back. Even after his return, the drama continued. The final act in the saga was the most bizarre. Despite the fact that the Board president (Maharaja of Bhopal) announcing in the press that Amarnath would rejoin the team in England and after his cricket kit had boarded the ship, he was instructed not to travel. Reeling under such internal strife, India lost the series despite the heroics of Merchant and Mushtaq Ali at Old Trafford.

1946: Zero Teamwork

Scorecard from the Lord’s TestDURING THE 1946 tour of England under the Nawab of Pataudi, the Indians were confronted with a bizarre problem. Most of the inconvenience stemmed from food rationing, which in 1946 still wrecked the lives of most in Britain. With insufficient food, many starved on occasions. The touring Indians however fared better, though the kind of food on offer was very basic and not often to their Oriental tastebuds. Overall, the tour wasn’t great. Writing to CK Nayudu, his mentee Mushtaq Ali describes his 1946 English outing:

‘…Now Sir, in my humble opinion, this tour is worse than 1936, the same old trouble: no teamwork at all. Every member of the team is for himself. No one cares for the country at all…We collapsed because he (the Indian captain) sent in Abdul Hafeez at No 3 instead of going in himself...’

1952: Mankad’s Test

Fred Trueman left India reeling at 0/4 in LeedsINDIA’S TOUR OF England in 1952 will have to rank as one of the worst the Indians have undertaken. With Freddie Trueman bowling at his best, it was on this tour that the Indians suffered the ignominy of being reduced to 0/4 at Leeds in the first Test. If there was one bright spot, it had to be Vinoo Mankad.

Vijay Hazare’s team faced disaster at every step in England and lost the first Test match by seven wickets.

In the second Test, in his first appearance, Mankad was unbeaten on 72 in a score of 118 for five.

Included in the team for the second Test, Mankad was at his best. The second Test, which India lost by eight wickets, is still best known as ‘Mankad’s Test’. He scored 72 and 184, and also took five for 196 in the first innings. Even after this performance, however, the BCCI did not honour Mankad and he was forced to return to play for Haslingden Club, Lancashire, later on in the month.

1959: Captaincy Conundrum

Captaincy ConundrumINDIA’S poor run continued in England with the visiting team deeply divided and the players openly campaigning against each other during their 1959 tour. This had become a feature of Indian cricket of the 1950s and many in the team like opening batsman Pankaj Roy felt victimised as a result. Little cliques were forever trying to win favours with the BCCI and trying to alienate players from the rival camp. The result, in such a scenario, was expected and India ended up getting whitewashed, losing the series 5-0. There was no acceptable leader in the team and India ended up with four different captains leading the side in the series. Coming at the back of a poor series against the West Indies at home, this could be labelled as one of the worst phases of Indian cricket. The serious weakness against quality seam bowling was exposed yet again.

1967: A Pat for Pataudi

The Pataudi-led squad in 1967THE 1967 TOUR of England was one of the worst away tours in the annals of Indian cricket. Horrible weather marred preparations and injuries to key players like Dilip Sardesai and Subroto Guha did not help either. India lost 0-3 and only skipper Pataudi had a reasonable tour with some decent batting performances, which included a century at Headingley.

1971: The Chandrasekhar Effect

Ajit Wadekar, April 1971, on his return from EnglandTHAT THE win in the Caribbean was no flash in the pan was evident when the Indians beat the mighty English at the Oval, thanks to the magic of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. In his words, “My bowling in the first innings at the Oval was nothing special, though I did get the wickets of Basil D’Oliveira and Ray Illingworth.

The scorecardThe second innings…well, that was just one of those days. I had never been a bowler who planned things. Most of the time, I bowled whatever I like, without giving much importance to the conditions or who I was bowling to. I always believed that if I bowled well, I could trouble most batsmen because I could get extra bounce from a placid pitch and get some nip off it. That afternoon, everything just fell into place. We won the match, if I’m not wrong, on Chaturthi day—someone had even brought an elephant to the ground. But it was only when we arrived back in India that we realized the enormity of our achievement. They took us from the airport to the Brabourne Stadium in open cars and some of those cheers still echo inside my head today.”

1979: Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up1979—INDIA’S TOUR of England—lost 0-1; Famous last Test at the Oval. Chasing a victory target of 438, the Indians finished with 429 for 8. This was the highest total a side had ever been set to win a Test in the fourth innings. But the Indians had already established a record, beating the West Indies at Port of Spain three years prior, by making more than any team had ever made to win a Test batting last. Sunil Gavaskar had been instrumental in that victory. On this occasion, he nearly pulled off yet another, even more stunning act. If critics could point a finger at the 1976 miracle saying the West Indians weren’t at full strength, nothing such could be said of England in 1979. Yet again Gavaskar went about his task with unrivalled finesse and artistry. He batted for 8 hours and 9 minutes, and at 389, with India just 48 runs shy of victory, was caught at mid-on for 221. His innings had 21 fours and was justifiably chosen by John Arlott as part of the BBC’s package of special Test match performances. By the end of the mandatory overs, the Indians had reached 429-8, a mere two hits away from an incredible victory.

1982: Dev and the Details

Yashpal Sharma was dismissed by Derek Pringle in the first TestINDIA LOST THE three Test match series 0-1 and the real high point for India was the performance of Kapil Dev, who was clearly India’s player of the summer. He scored close to 300 runs and picked 10 wickets and had established himself as India’s premier all-rounder. Dilip Vengsarkar yet again got a hundred at Lord’s (157) while Sandeep Patil scored a hundred in the second Test at Old Trafford. Unfortunately for India, the batsmen did not click together allowing England to dominate right through the series.

1986: Kapil’s Devils

Signatures of players from India’s Test squad to England in 1986WON THE SERIES 2-0, the 1986 tour of England ranks among India’s best overseas wins. Never before had an Indian team acquitted itself better than Kapil Dev’s men, which beat the English in both the Texaco one-day and the Cornhill five-day series. This was one of Indian cricket’s best overseas victories of all time. With the World Cup a year away, everything seemed to be going for the Indians yet again. This was especially so for Chetan Sharma who needed a miracle to get going after being hit for six of the last ball by Javed Miandad in Sharjah. For months, he was a traitor who had let the nation down. The win in England and his multiple five-wicket hauls made Sharma a more complete cricketer.

The other highlight of this tour was Dilip Vengsarkar completing the distinction of scoring three consecutive hundreds at Lord’s—1979- 103 in the second innings of the second Test; 1982- 157 in the second innings of the second Test; and, 1986- 126 in the first innings of the first Test.

To quote Robin Marlar, “India won the Lords Test, the showpiece, because Dilip Vengsarkar took the old ground by storm. Cricket has added charm because it is concerned not only with the here and now, but also with past achievements in the continuity of a cricketing career. When he is old, Vengsarkar will, I hope, take immense pleasure in his unique standing as the first non-England batsman to score three hundreds in successive series at Lords…”

1990: The Young Prodigy at Old Trafford

A timeline of India-England encounters at Old TraffordTENDULKAR STOOD UP to his tag of prodigy by scoring a match-saving century at Old Trafford, which was also the debut Test of Anil Kumble. His unbeaten 119 and his partnership with Manoj Prabhakar was the highlight of the Test series, which India lost 0-1. After Graham Gooch batted India out of the first Test, it was Azharuddin, Shastri and Tendulkar’s batting that helped the team draw the next two Tests. India hit back in the ODI series, winning it 2-0. The series is also believed to be the first that was played in the altered English weather in which the summer remained mostly dry, accounting for the high scores by both teams.

To recap the hundred in the words of the master batsman, “We lost the Lord’s Test by 247 runs and needed to tighten our game before the second Test at Old Trafford a week later to remain competitive in the series. In a three-test series, it is always a difficult task to come back into the contest after losing the first Test match. At Old Trafford, we had to bat the whole of Day 5 to save the Test. There was a substantial cloud cover over the ground and the ball was swinging around for the fast bowlers all day on a worn out fifth-day pitch.

Unfortunately for the team, Azhar fell with the score on 127 and Kapil Dev got yorked to Eddie Hemmings with the team total on 183. Manoj Prabhakar joined me in the middle and we knew it was an extremely vital partnership in the context of the match. I had been lucky at the start of my innings with Eddie Hemmings dropping me when I was on 14. In trying to save a match, the important thing is to set yourself small targets and go about meeting them. These could be as little as the next five overs, the next hour or even a session. The first time the thought of the hundred came to me was when I was nearing ninety. I reminded myself of the mistake I had made in New Zealand a year earlier and was conscious not to repeat the same mistake and lose out on the opportunity yet again. There was still some time left in the day’s play and England could still press for victory if I got out. Eventually, I played a punch off Angus Fraser through mid-off on 97. Chris Lewis chased down the ball and by the time he had thrown it back to the bowler, I had run three completing my first Test hundred.... More than thrilled, I was relieved at having saved the game for India. But I wasn’t adept at showing my emotions in public. It was a result of my upbringing and people may have considered me socially awkward.”

1996: Two to Tango

Two to TangoSOURAV GANGULY and Rahul Dravid arrive on the scene. In a spate of days, things had changed. India was no longer synonymous with Sachin Tendulkar. Two players, who ruled world/ Indian cricket for more than a decade since and went on to captain India with distinction, had arrived. While Dravid went on to establish himself as one of the best Test batsmen in the world, Ganguly could rightfully claim the mantle of India’s best captain. Though the Indians lost the Test series 0-1, the highlight was the two consecutive hundreds by Ganguly, including a debut hundred at Lord’s. Dravid just fell short while Sachin continued his imperious run scoring two hundreds in the three Test-match series. Despite the loss, Indian batting was gradually becoming a force to reckon with.

2002: A Draw to Remember

A ticket stub of the 2002 Test match at HeadingleyTHE NEW MILLENNIUM had brought new promise and in the summer of 2002 in England, Team India witnessed a resurgence. Led by one of India’s best captains in Sourav Ganguly, two of its best all-time batsmen in Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, two world-class spinners in Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh and fast- bowlers like Zaheer Khan who could make batsmen hop, India was suddenly a real force in international cricket. As a result, the Indians won a famous Test match and also went on to win the Natwest Series in June-July, 2002.

In the words of Tendulkar, as described in his autobiography: ‘At Headingley, 22-26 August, 2002, the wicket was very damp at the start of the match. Despite this, however, we decided to bat first after winning the toss. It was a unanimous decision for we were all in agreement that come what may we would bat first and put runs on the board. We needed to score big in the first innings to be able to put the English under pressure. Sehwag got out early but then Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Bangar, our makeshift opener for the game, put together an excellent partnership that swung the momentum our way. Batting wasn’t easy on a fresh wicket and both of them played exceptionally well leaving a lot of balls outside the off stump.

In this innings, Flintoff bowled a hostile spell to me at the start and I just had to knuckle down and play him off. Quality swing is difficult to negotiate and I knew I had to be watchful. Sourav was batting with me at the other end and was going after Ashley Giles who was once again bowling the defensive line to me outside my leg stump. Sourav, a left- hand batsman, wanted as much strike as possible against Giles and that’s what we did in this innings. We shifted gears in the third session of the day and launched into the English bowlers who were gradually starting to get tired. It was one of those rare matches where we refused to take the light even when the umpires offered it to us. We had built excellent momentum and were dominating proceedings and there was no reason to take up the offer of bad light. At the end of the day, I was unbeaten on 185 and we had already put up a mammoth score on the board. We could not lose the Test match from there on and our bowlers had loads of runs to play with and put the English batsmen under pressure. England’s task had become more difficult because the wicket had started to turn uneven and the odd ball had started to keep low. Finally, we declared our first innings at 628-8, one of our highest ever scores on English soil.

Thereafter the bowlers took over and from the start of the English innings, managed to put them under pressure. Kumble and Harbhajan bowled beautifully in tandem in not so helpful conditions and both picked up three wickets each in the first innings, and we enforced the follow on. Our huge first innings score allowed us to put many fielders in catching positions and we could keep attacking the whole time. And in the second innings with close to 400 runs in the bank we kept up the pressure and gave each English batsman a hard time. Even Nasser who scored a hundred in the second innings wasn’t spared and there was a lot of banter in the middle. None of us held ourselves back and our bowlers stood up to the opportunity, and made regular inroads into the English batting. Each wicket was followed by a lot of talk and the new batsman was given a rousing welcome to the wicket. When Andrew Flintoff got out for a pair, caught by Dravid at slips off Zaheer Khan, our premier left-arm fast bowler, we knew we were within striking distance of a famous victory. Anil did the rest of the job picking up four wickets and we bowled England out for 309, winning the match by an innings and 44 runs.’

2007: Turning Point

In 2007, India broke a 21-year jinx to win a Test series in EnglandCOMING IN THE immediate aftermath of the CWC 2007 disaster, the 2007 series win in England was a major turning point in the history of Indian cricket. Under a new regime with coach Greg Chappell shown the door, this was also the high point of Rahul Dravid’s captaincy. Zaheer Khan was the new Indian bowling spearhead and the real star of the tour picking bulk of the English wickets. He finished the tour with an enhanced reputation and was widely recognised as one of the best exponents of reverse swing in the world. Luck, not always given its due in international sport, went the Indian way with umpire Steve Bucknor not giving last man S Sreesanth out in the first Test at Lord’s, a close LBW call that would have given England a 1-0 lead. As it happened, the skies opened up soon after making sure India went into the second Test unscathed.

The comeback, which started in England, was complete when the reins of a young Indian team was handed over to MS Dhoni in September 2007. Under Dhoni, the Indians scripted history in South Africa by winning the inaugural T-20 World Cup tournament.

2011: All Is Lost

Scorecard of the third Test match at Edgbaston, August 2011THE HORROR OF eight straight Test match defeats on away soil began with the mauling at Lord’s in July 2011. Disaster struck on the first day of the tour when Zaheer Khan pulled up a hamstring injury. It was astonishing to see wicket-keeper captain MS Dhoni trying to bowl medium pace—indication of India’s troubles, which ended in a 0-4 series loss. The only stand-out performer was Rahul Dravid, with three hundreds in the four Test matches.

2014: Losing Track

Alastair Cook (left) with the trophy after England’s 3-1 win in 2014DESPITE A FANTASTIC win at Lord’s in the second Test, which will easily rank as one of India’s best ever, the team, quite unexpectedly, lost track from the third Test at Southampton and ended losing the series 1-3 with captain MS Dhoni unable to stem the tide on green English wickets. This series loss hurt more because the Indians were hardly competitive in Tests 4 and 5 and a change of guard at the top was imminent.

(These are edited excerpts from his book Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians)

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