Twenty winters ago, India had met England for the last time at the Eden Gardens.A home team severely hammered abroad had won by eight wickets, setting off on an unprecedented winning spree., setting off on an unprecedented winning spree. Arunabha Sengupta wonders if another such turn of events will come around as the spin formula seems to have been decoded by England.
Two decades have passed since India met England for the last time at the Eden Gardens. The circumstances were somewhat similar – even if not exactly identical. Indians had lost 4-0 in Australia a year earlier. Earlier that year, they had undertaken a difficult tour of South Africa and had been beaten 1-0.
Even if the margin of defeat was small, losing to a country just back in the game after a 22 year hiatus was seen as a major failure.
Besides, there was no World Cup to retrieve from the kitty – to allow the shiny dazzle of the recent past to compensate for the dark, sombre losses. Accusing fingers were pointed with zeal as merciless as ever – at the team, and in particular towards captain Mohammad Azharuddin.
The Eden Test of January 1993 was the first of the series and proved to be the watershed moment for Indian cricket.
Azharuddin responded to all the pressure and criticism by scoring 182 runs dripping with grace and class, and proceeded to unleash his newly forged attack of three spinners on the English batsmen. Anil Kumble, Rajesh Chauhan and Venkatapathy Raju spun India to an eight wicket win. And the team kept winning. They won all the matches of the series, eight home Tests in a row, and 14 of the next 22 Tests played in India in the five following years, losing just two.
The Indian fan ardently hopes that history will repeat itself and the course of Indian cricket history will go through another fascinating turn. The home team does enjoy a 3-1 advantage over England in the nine times they have met at the ground. There is at least some reason for being optimistic.
However, times have changed and past history is not really a great source of optimism.
Twenty winters ago, the formula of spin domination on turning tracks had been set into motion. Teams from distant lands walked in to be tied into knots and choked to death by the combination of spinning balls and dusty wickets. After the recent Wankhede Test, however, the tale of turning triumphs seems to have come a full circle. The resolute batting of Alastair Cook and the incredible innings by Kevin Pietersen have together blunted the threat of the Indian spinners, and the less than impressive showing of Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh do not promise much in the way of miracles. To cap it all, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann hijacked the happy ending that had been the monopoly of the Indians for all these years.
The rise of India as a giant on home wickets also synchronised with Sachin Tendulkar’s emergence as a colossus of his times. Now, 20 years later, the master chugs along the last few miles of his extraordinary journey, and the current stretch seems to be ridden with multiple bumps. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, two other batsmen with fantastic records in home wins, are no longer there to drive nails into the coffins of foreign teams already stung by the venom of the tweakers. There is Virender Sehwag at the top of the order, but his form has been dodgy for long.
India does need something special to execute another about turn in their fortunes and get back into the upward swing.
Twenty years ago, Eden Gardens had been the venue where this turn had been accomplished, starting a run of success seldom matched in Test history.
One hopes there will be something equally special on show as the two sides face each other today
(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)