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In this 16 part series, Arunabha Sengupta captures one special moment from each of the 16 previous Indian tours to England. In the 11th episode he looks back at Dilip Vengsarkar’s third century at Lord’s in 1986.
In 1986, Dilip Vengsarkar was at the peak of his considerable powers. That summer, the tour was earmarked for the dominance of this Bombay batsman over a hapless set of English bowlers.
The sublime height was reached at Headingley in the second Test when Vengsarkar notched up 61 and an unbeaten 102 in near unplayable conditions, match winning knocks both, when the next highest in the match was 36. However, for sheer magic of the occasion, one has to single out the moment in the first Test at Lord’s when the Indian stalwart reached his third consecutive hundred at the Mecca of cricket.
The Lord of Lord’s
No overseas batsman had ever scored three Test hundreds at Lord’s. The names of the Englishmen who had achieved the feat read like a roll call of greatness. Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Denis Compton, John Edrich and Geoff Boycott. Now, Dilip Vengsarkar had come tantalisingly close.
In 1979, Vengsarkar had battled with his back to the wall, saving India from a near certain defeat with his famed partnership with Gundappa Viswanath. In 1982, he had blazed away in an effort akin to that of the boy on the burning deck, lighting up Lord’s before the Indian challenge was reduced to embers and ashes.
In this innings he was all grace and elegance. A square-drive off Graham Dilley had brought up his half century. Essayed while down on his right knee and head over the ball almost endeavouring to sniff the cherry, it had left flickers of class in its wake.
However, at 264, the honest toil of Derek Pringle bore fruit at last, knocking over the off-stump of Chetan Sharma. From 232 for three, Indians had lost five wickets for 32. They were still 30 runs behind England, and Kiran More was walking out on his debut. Vengsarkar was precariously poised on 81.
Not only did Vengsarkar’s landmark look distant, all the good work done by Chetan in restricting England to a reasonable score seemed to have been undone. Barely six months after he was dispatched forever into the wasteland of notoriety by Javed Miandad’s final-ball six at Sharjah, Chetan had come back to capture five for 64. He had removed the cream of English batting — the centurion Graham Gooch, beleaguered skipper David Gower, Mike Gatting castled with a beauty, the prolific Allan Lamb and the obstinate Paul Downton. England had collapsed from 245 for four to 294 all out.
Now, on the third afternoon, the balance seemed to have been restored. For India, who had made their Test match debut at this very ground, Lord’s had not been a very happy arena. True, they had lifted the Prudential Cup here three years earlier, but in Test matches, they had lost their first six at the venue. The overall record stood at eight defeats and two draws. It seemed to be headed for yet another disappointment.
But, More displayed enough talent for a batting slot much higher than number 10. Starting with crisp drives, this diminutive little keeper refused to be intimidated, hooking over square-leg when bounced at. In less than half an hour, India had taken the lead and crossed 300, with Vengsarkar steadily making his way through the nineties.
With the Bombay batsman on 95, Pringle brought one back to trap More leg before. The last man was Maninder Singh, the incredibly talented left-arm spinner. Unfortunately he was also the stalwart torchbearer of the traditional Indian rabbit, carrying on the excellent tradition of Bhagwath Chandrasekhar and Dilip Doshi. Yet somehow, he survived the last ball of the over from Pringle.
And as Dilley ran in, Vengsarkar leaned on the front foot and struck him through mid-wicket — those unstoppable on-drives aptly nicknamed rifle-shot by the English bowlers that summer. The deep mid-wicket sprinted across, but the ball won the race. He was on to 99.
The next ball was the classic tip and run. With five men saving one, Vengsarkar played it with a dead defensive bat and scampered across. And whatever be the shortcomings of Maninder’s batsmanship, he could sprint faster than any Indian cricketer of his era bar Mohammad Azharuddin. The run was completed, the bat reached for the sky, the Indian cricketers on the Lord’s balcony stood up in unison.
An overseas batsman had finally scored three hundreds at Lord’s. Among all the Lord’s centurions, Vengsarkar was the first to score three on his first three appearances. The century had come in 170 deliveries. Interestingly, in the second Test at Headingley, Maninder would hold up one end yet again, as Vengsarkar would get to his next, even more fantastic, hundred.
The next few moments saw some seething Indian delight which troubled the batsman more than the swing of Derek Pringle, Graham Dilley and Richard Ellison had done through the innings. Numerous supporters ran into the field and lavished largely unwanted embraces on the hero of the moment. Vengsarkar was almost mauled.
Luckily, he got over it, and went on batting for another hour. Maninder stuck around, and also gained enough confidence to step out and loft Phil Edmonds for four. When Emburey finally snared him, the last wicket stand had been worth 38. Vengsarkar remained unbeaten on 126, and India secured a 47 run lead.
In the end, the moderate lead proved a match-winning one. Skipper Kapil Dev’s inspired opening burst on the fourth morning was one of the best he produced during the sedate mid-eighties. Gooch, Tim Robinson and Gower perished before the deficit was wiped off. Kapil had them all, for one run in the course of 19 balls. It was the spell that would get him the Man of the Match award.
There was a fightback by Gatting and Lamb, but the Englishmen soon became tied down by a twin web of spin. Maninder held them spellbound with his looping deliveries, playing havoc with the tail, removing three batsmen for just nine runs from 20.4 overs. Ravi Shastri complemented him, with his own brand of left-arm spin, flatter, accurate and nagging — finishing with figures of 20-8-21-1.
The England second innings folded for 180. India needed 134 from the last day.
They were made to struggle for a while. Dilley had Krishnamachari Srikkanth caught in the slips for a duck. Sunil Gavaskar, his quest for a Lord’s hundred continuing to prove elusive, looked good for a while but snicked Dilley with the innings far from stable. Mohinder Amarnath had a torrid time against the swing.
However, Vengsarkar played another delightful little cameo, and kept the scoreboard moving even as Amarnath was reduced to scorelessness. But, when both were out within a space of two runs, Vengsarkar for 33 and Amarnath for eight, things looked slightly precarious at 78 for four. India, though, had the ideal man for the occasion, and Shastri held his nerve, batting with composure beyond his years.
When Azharuddin was run out with the score on 110, Kapil came in with the intent to settle the issue quickly. As Edmonds started what was to be the last over of the match, he struck three fours and lofted the ball over mid-wicket for six to end the match.
There had been some stumbles on the way, but India had triumphed at Lord’s on their eleventh attempt. In the Indian dressing room, it was teetotaller Sunil Gavaskar who uncorked the champagne.
England 294 (Graham Gooch 114, Derek Pringle 63; Chetan Sharma 5 for 64) and 180 (Mike Gatting 40; Kapil Dev 4 for 52) lost to India 341 (Mohinder Amarnath 69, Dilip Vengsarkar 126; Graham Dilley 4 for 146) and 136 for 5 (Dilip Vengsarkar 33) by 5 wickets.
(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)
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