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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 eighth episode, he looks back at the 42-run rout of the Indian team in the Lord’s Test of 1974.
Summer of 42
1974 has gone down in Indian history as the summer of 42. It is remembered with pain and not a little embarrassment, as the season which brought Indian cricket down to earth with a resounding crash and crumble.
India had finished second best on a green Manchester wicket in the first Test, but it had not really taken the sheen out of their performances or hope from their hearts. After all this was what home advantage was about, and Indians had won plenty in the last three years. Three years ago, they had defeated West Indies and England in their respective backyards. In the interim, they had won against the visiting English side. They were a team that had supposedly emerged from the dark days of the 1950s and 1960s, from an era when they had been the whipping boys of cricket. They were a new generation, developing into a major power of the cricket world. They were expected to fight back as the series progressed.
Yes, there were plenty of expectations. Ajit Wadekar had won three major series — two of them away from home. Indian cricket fans had not been used to such frequent success. The team was branded the best in the world. This was a team of giant killers, of talented young batsmen and supreme spinners.
And all the soaring hopes of this young nation were dashed into infinite fragments on that overcast and humid June day.
After Sunday’s rest, the morning dawned dark and ominous. Clouds covered Lord’s and the air was heavy with moisture. Already India were way behind in the match. Dennis Amiss had made the best of a placid wicket and a hapless bowling attack, serenely stroking his way to 188. England had piled up 334 for one on the first day. On the second day, Tony Greig and skipper, Mike Denness, had hit hundreds, John Edrich had finished just short with 96. The final score had been a mammoth 629.
In response, Indians had started with a lot of spunk. Sunil Gavaskar, fresh from his hundred at Old Trafford, had helped Farokh Engineer put on 131 for the first wicket before departing for 49. Engineer had gone on to score 86. Gundappa Viswanath had struck a fifty and Eknath Solkar had looked good. At 250 for four with just about an hour’s play remaining on the third afternoon, most of the money had been on a draw.
And then there had been recklessness. Chris Old and Mike Hendrick had not really done too much with the ball during the closing stages of Saturday’s play, but one after the other the Indians had gifted their wickets away. They had finished at 302 just before close, and Gavaskar and Engineer had re-emerged to play out two final overs of the day after being asked to follow on.
What was the cause of the debacle that followed on Monday?
One explanation is that the covers had made the pitch sweat and as a result it had turned greener. The other was the cloud cover as well, making the ball do all kinds of things. However, one of the chief destroyers, Geoff Arnold, maintained that there was not much movement in the air. All the deviation was off the pitch.
Arnold made first ball go away and the next swing in to Engineer. The third was straighter. It trapped the batsman on the front pad and the finger went up. At the non-striker’s end, Gavaskar was not impressed. According to him, there was a lot of swing and a fair bit for the ball to travel to hit the stumps and the decision was not at all self-evident. Engineer, later claimed to have got a faint edge. However, some eyewitnesses vouch that the ball held its line and the bat was not remotely near getting a touch.
Soon after that, Old made one break in to Wadekar and the Indian captain lost his stumps. Viswanath started with a boundary and then snicked one from Arnold. Alan Knott flung himself in front of the first slip and pouched it with gloves and forearms ploughing through the turf. Brijesh Patel, always suspect against pace, bounce and swing, was greeted with all of that together. Old’s snorter lifted and moved away. Knott held another, much simpler, edge.
At 14 for four, the charged up Old greeted Solkar with a bouncer. The feisty all-rounder attempted a hook, missed, and was knocked on the head. The next ball was another short one and this time, Solkar’s hook came off. The ball flew over square leg for a six. And according to Gavaskar in Sunny Days, “Solkar came down the wicket to ask me to stay and help him save the game.”
Gavaskar did not manage to stay too long, though. Arnold swung one back and the Indian opener was trapped leg-before. India were 25 for five.
Abid Ali lasted seven balls before giving Knott another catch off Old. Madan Lal departed in the same over, three balls later — Hendrick, his hands itching for a bowl in these conditions, had to be content holding the catch.
Erapalli Prasanna batted for a quarter of an hour — pretty notable in these circumstances — and managed to squeeze a boundary as well. However, Old hit his stumps to end the token resistance. With the very next ball, the last of the 17th over of the innings, he castled Bishan Bedi. Bhagwath Chandrasekhar was absent, nursing the finger broken on the first day. India were all out for 42, in just 17 overs. No team had faced less number of balls in a completed innings since World War II. It remains India’s lowest ever score in Test cricket.
Magic moment? Yes, making an entire batting side disappear into the pavilion within the course of an hour and a quarter is indeed a kind of painful magic. Indian batting has often undergone serious debacles, but even a history littered with many tales of humiliation there has never been something similar to what took place that day.
“We have fallen a long way today before some fine seam bowling,” Wadekar admitted. The captain made the Indians train hard at the Nursery end, starting the session immediately after the match was over.
However, it did not help matters. In the third Test at Edgbaston, England lost just two wickets on their way to a win by an innings and 78 runs. The fans back home reacted in their traditional manner. The Victory Bat, erected at Indore to celebrate the team’s 1971 triumph, was defaced.
Wadekar never played for India again.
England 629 (Dennis Amiss 188, Mike Denness 118, David Lloyd 46, John Edrich 96, Tony Greig 106; Bishan Bedi 6 for 226) beat India 302 (Sunil Gavaskar 49, Farokh Engineer 86, Gundappa Viswanath 52, Eknath Solkar 43; Chris Old 4 for 67) and 42 (Chris Old 5 for 21, Geoff Arnold 4 for 19) by an innings and 285 runs.
(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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