England captain Len Hutton (L) tosses the coin and Indian captain Vijay Hazare calls incorrectly at the Oval © Getty Images
60 years ago, the final day at The Oval was rained off, saving India from the humiliation of a 0-4 whitewash. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the horrid tour and how it came to a conclusion.
It had been a prolonged nightmare.
At Headingley, a debutant Fred Trueman had them reeling at 0 for four. The encounter Lord’s had been Vinoo Mankad’s Test, but that had not stopped England from triumphing by eight wickets. At Old Trafford, Trueman had taken eight for 31 to knock them over for 58 in the first innings, before Alec Bedser and Tony Lock had skittle them out for 82 the second time around.
Trailing 0-3 in the series, India started the last match at The Oval on the back foot, conceding 143 runs before managing to take the first wicket. But, some tidy bowling and fielding brought them some success, and with rain interrupting, Len Hutton declared the innings at 326 for six on the second day.
Six for five, the ordeal continues
Immediately, the Indian batsmen went through a sense of déjà vu. The horrors of Headingley and Old Trafford came rushing back. After a maiden over by Bedser to Mankad, Trueman carefully measured 30 yards, covered it in 14 strides and bowled like the continuing gale that had blown India away. His first ball was short, Pankaj Roy poked it off his ribs, and Tony Lock standing fine in the leg trap dived full length to hold a magnificent catch.
The next over, Mankad cut Bedser for a two and a three. This brought Hemu Adhikari on to strike and he immediately turned the ball towards the leg, and Trueman, one of the four short legs, threw himself forward to grab it.
Next, Mankad hooked Trueman, sending the ball straight up over the second slip, with more than enough time for Godfrey Evans to move across and catch it.
Vijay Manjrekar snicked the first ball and was dropped by Bedser, and it resulted in a single.
Finally, with the score on six, Bedser pitched up to be turned by Manjrekar into the hands of Jack Ikin at another short leg. And the next ball, Polly Umrigar found his stumps knocked back by a yorker.
The score read six for five. Captain Hazare and Dattu Phadkar did take them to 49 without further loss by the end of the second day.
Quality of mercy … droppeth as the gentle rain
It was then that the rain gods took pity on the struggling visitors and their tears were sent down as aid-drops. The third day was washed out completely and the fourth witnessed just 65 minutes of play, in which the Indians were bowled out for 98. Trueman and Bedser accounted for five wickets each, and Hutton wasted no time in enforcing follow-on.
The whole of August 19 was yet to be played. With the condition of the wicket being wet and sticky, and the dearth of confidence among the long suffering Indian batsmen, three hours of play seemed to be all that the home team needed for a 4-0 win. However, a steady drizzle prevented any action. And when at 3.00 p.m. a downpour lashed across the ground, play was called off.
It must have been with a combined sigh of immense relief that the Indians welcomed the intervention of the merciful weather. Not many of the spectators grudged their escape either, having been witness to their protracted plight on the tour.
Trueman finished the series with 29 wickets at 13.31, at a strike rate of one in every 24.7 balls.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)