Laxman Sivaramakrishnan picked up 12 wickets to win a Test for India on December 3, 1985. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the Test where the mystique of the East baffled the Englishmen.
The tourists were perhaps surprised to find a teenager in the Under-25 team that faced them in for India Under-25s at Ahmedabad early on the tour. The frail, unassuming leg-spinner was largely ineffective in the first innings. But after another kid called Mohammad Azharuddin scored 151 they were under pressure to save an innings defeat.
Trailing by 176 the inability of the England XI against spin was cruelly exposed by this man. With some assistance from off-spinner Gopal Sharma he helped rout the tourists for 117; he picked up David Gower, Richard Ellison, Vic Marks, and Paul Downton and finished with figures of 20-11-27-4.
Laxman Sivaramakrishnan turned out to be the inscrutability the Englishmen had failed to decipher. His vicious leg-breaks seemed as indecipherable to them as the mystery of the fabled Indian rope trick. They knew he was a force they have to reckon with throughout the series. It won’t be an easy task.
Over a year and a half back, Siva was the youngest debutant for India at 17 years 118 days. It was a rather ordinary show where he conceded 95 from 25 overs without taking a wicket. The leg-breaks had absolutely no impact on the hosts, and as many as four West Indians had scored hundreds in the Test. Siva had not played a Test since then.
This time, however, Sunil Gavaskar and the selectors made sure he was in the starting XI for the first Test at Bombay along with left-arm spinner Ravi Shastri and off-spinner Shivlal Yadav. The spin attack was not only potent, but also versatile. England had included two debutants in the forms of Chris Cowdrey and Tim Robinson. They also made the dubious inclusion of Ellison over Paul Allott.
Day One: Siva runs through
Gower won the toss and elected to bat on what seemed like a slow pitch with fair bounce. Graeme Fowler and Robinson got the tourists off to a slow but confident start, adding 47 in 95 minutes. With the advent of Siva as the fifth bowler, however, things changed: he got a lucky breakthrough when Fowler hit a full-toss back to him; it was his first Test wicket.
He never looked back from there. Eight minutes later Siva had Robinson caught behind; Mike Gatting and Gower hung around for a while before Siva had the former caught-and-bowled; immediately afterwards Kapil ran through Gower’s defence, leaving England reeling at 78 for four.
Kapil removed Allan Lamb as well, and Siva promptly bowled Ellison; Yadav, who had come on to replace Kapil, had Cowdrey caught-behind. England were 114 for seven when Phil Edmonds joined Downton.
The pair settled down. They used their feet to great extent and smothered the spin; whenever anything was over-pitched or pitched too short Edmonds played his strokes, while Downton played a more laidback role, perfectly happy to let the spinner take the driver’s seat.
The pair added 61 in 88 minutes before Shastri broke through just before stumps, having Edmonds caught by Anshuman Gaekwad. In an excellent display of concentration and control Edmonds scored 48 in 81 balls with four fours and three sixes. India left on a high: England returned with 190 for eight with Downton on 32 and Pat Pocock on eight.
Day Two: A surprising onslaught
Pocock fell to a bizarre dismissal the next morning: as he cut Siva fiercely the ball took the edge and got entrapped in the pads of Syed Kirmani. It was Siva’s fifth wicket. He picked up his sixth when Cowans holed out to Shastri; the innings ended on 195. Downton batted through, scoring 37 in 166 balls and 189 minutes. Siva finished with six for 64.
Gavaskar and Gaekwad got India off to a rollicking start against the duo of Ellison and Cowans. Cowans bowled a hostile spell generating exceptional pace and bounce, but the Little Master shrugged off his defensive image and exploded in a flurry of strokes. The 47-run partnership came in only 48 balls before Cowans found Gavaskar’s edge; though Gaekwad fell soon Dilip Vengsarkar carried on with the good work.
When Cowans eventually snared Vengsarkar India were ahead of the clock at 116 in 104 minutes. The first three batsmen had scored 85 runs between them in 95 balls with 17 boundaries. It was a rare display of aggressive batting after the dull series the same countries had played earlier that decade.
Mohinder Amarnath and Sandeep Patil carried on with the onslaught. India seemed to be going away with the match when the English spinners struck: Edmonds removed Patil while Pocock claimed Amarnath; from 156 for three India lost two wickets without the addition of a run. It was only the 34th over.
Gavaskar, however, had managed to get his side in a rare aggressive mood. Kapil walked out and attacked the hapless English bowlers in his characteristic fashion, hitting both spinners to the fence at regular intervals. India crossed England’s total, and with Shastri holding up one side and Kapil on rampage, Gower looked completely out of options.
Cowdrey was fielding at short-leg. A desperate Gower turned to his innocuous medium-paced bowling as a desperate measure. The youngster was so excited that he forgot to take his shin-guard off when he was asked to bowl.
[Cut-scene: Thousands of miles away Colin Cowdrey was driving in Kent. He had tuned in to the radio; the commentator’s announcement that Chris had been handed the ball caught his attention. The great man must have been happy when Chris clean bowled Kapil with his fourth ball in international cricket. He, after all, had never got a wicket himself.
The emotional (stunned, say the sceptics) father drove through a one-way street and was stopped by the police. Colin Cowdrey, the first man to play a hundred Tests, confessed. The policeman, a cricket follower himself, let him go without a fine.]
India were ahead by 23, but they had only four wickets in hand. The situation called for some serious rearguard action. Shastri found an unlikely ally in Kirmani, and the two saw India to stumps. The long strides of Shastri, supported by Kirmani’s busy footwork, kept out the spinners.
England had their chance when Shastri stepped out against Edmonds, but Downton missed an easy stumping opportunity. India finished at 268 for six with Shastri on 45 and Kirmani on 20. They were only 73 ahead.
Day Three: Shastri and Kirmani negate England
On a wicket that had started to turn Shastri and Kirmani thwarted the English attack all morning, adding to their frustration. India had moved back to first gear. A packed stadium watched their local boy and the cheeky wicket-keeper piled up the runs, slowly batting England out of the Test.
The lead crossed a hundred, but the pair did not seem to tire. They batted on, frustrating the English spinners with the passage of every over. They did not accelerate even after both batsmen brought up their maiden hundreds against England. The partnership eventually crossed the 200-mark; the English shoulders slowly began to drop.
Then, after a seventh-wicket Indian record partnership of 235 runs in 319 minutes (the current record is Rohit Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin’s 280) Kirmani tried to clear the mid-wicket boundary off Pocock and was caught by Lamb. He had faced 230 balls for his 102 and had hit ten boundaries. Wisden wrote that Kirmani had played “a composed innings that confirmed he could hold his Test place on his batting skill alone.”
The batsmen had crossed over. Shastri tried to repeat Kirmani’s stroke and holed out to Lamb next ball for a 323-ball 142 with 17 fours and a six. Gavaskar had still decided to bat on and eventually declared at 465 for eight. Kapil trapped Robinson leg-before (rather dubiously) early, but Fowler and Gatting batted through. England finished the day on 57 for one, still 213 runs behind; Fowler was on 19 and Gatting on 14.
Day Four: Gatting’s resistance goes in vain
The spectators had come with the hope that Siva would run through the English line-up easily, but the opening stand — especially Gatting — proved them to be wrong. While Fowler played the sheet-anchor’s role Gatting opened up: despite the turn the three spinners obtained he scored runs quickly thanks to his exemplary footwork.
Siva finally broke through 45 minutes after lunch, trapping Fowler leg-before for a 194-ball 57. His vigil had lasted 215 minutes, and the pair had added 135 in 197 minutes. With Fowler’s dismissal, however, the Indian spinners got their groove back and pushed the batsmen to the back-foot.
Gower went first when he tried to defend Shastri; the ball went to silly-point where Vengsarkar, lunging fully forward, came up with a spectacular catch inches from the ground. Gower did not want to leave — he tried to establish that he had not hit the ball — but Swaroop Kishen declared him out.
Lamb was all at sea off a leg-break the in Siva’s next over; the bowler turned it viciously from round the wicket and Kirmani whipped off the bails. Gatting duly brought up his maiden Test hundred. He had taken 54 innings to get there — two more than Bobby Simpson’s then record. Cowdrey resisted for a while before falling to another close-in catch by Vengsarkar off Yadav.
Gatting was the only one who stood between India and a victory now. He played some wonderful strokes in a valiant effort to save the innings-defeat. His last 46 contained 10 boundaries. He eventually tried to hit Siva out of the ground but did not time the ball. It went up miles into the air and it seemed that Patil had to wait for an eternity before the ball landed in his safe hands at long-off. Gatting’s 255-ball 136 contained 21 boundaries.
Downton had been promoted above Ellison, but the Kent speedster put up an excellent display of defensive batsmanship. The day’s play ended with Ellison giving Vengsarkar his third catch – this time off Yadav. Ellison had scored a duck – but had faced 52 balls and had batted for 50 minutes. He had done his bit.
England ended the day on 228 for seven with Downton on nine. They were still 42 runs behind, and a defeat seemed inevitable.
Day Five: Siva wins Test for India
Edmonds fell to Siva on the final morning after a 27-run partnership. Kapil’s catch gave Siva his first ten-wicket haul in Test cricket. With Pocock’s advent things changed. Downton, who had defied the spinners so well in the first innings, went on to do an encore. Pocock, on the other hand, played an excellent hand, and between them the two kept on frustrating the Indians.
Surprisingly, Gavaskar delayed the second new ball even when it was evident that the spinners were having no impact on the batsmen. When he finally claimed it the batsmen were already settled at the wicket. Then, well after lunch, Siva hit Downton’s pads and the ball lobbed to Vengsarkar at silly mid-on.
The Indian team appealed, Bhairab Ganguli took a long time to respond, but eventually raised the finger. It was later found that Downton was given out leg-before. He had scored 62 in 155 balls. In the entire Test he kept the Indian spinners out 366 minutes and 321 balls before being dismissed.
Cowans walked out and edged Siva to Vengsarkar first ball — this time at short gully. England were eventually bowled out for 317. Vengsarkar finished with four catches; had Downton been given out caught Vengsarkar would have been the fourth cricketer to have finished with five catches in an innings.
Siva finished with six for 111 and a match haul of 12 for 181. The figures remain the second-best by an Indian against England after Vinoo Mankad’s 12 for 108. Siva also became the second Indian to take six wickets in each innings of a Test after Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.
India needed only 48 to win their first Test in three years (their previous victory had come against the same opposition at the same venue). Gower opened with Edmonds, who snared Gaekwad early; Gavaskar also struggled before falling to Cowans; but Amarnath and Vengsarkar ensured that no further wicket fell, and India cruised home by six wickets.
England 195 (Phil Edmonds 48; Laxman Sivaramakrishnan 6 for 64) and 317 (Mike Gatting 136, Paul Downton 62, Graeme Fowler 55; Laxman Sivaramakrishnan 6 for 117) lost to India 465 for 8 decl (Ravi Shastri 142, Syed Kirmani 102, Mohinder Amarnath 49, Kapil Dev 42; Pat Pocock 3 for 133) and 51 for 2 by 8 wickets.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/
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