With the England-India Test series to get under way on November 15, Arunabha Sengupta looks back at a dozen magical highlights in the history of Test encounters between the two countries.
India-England Test matches have had a chequered history. The very first Test at Lord’s eight decades ago saw some scintillating excitement and that has recurred quite often as the two countries have subsequently met over the years. However, at the same time, there have been some monumentally boring series like the one played in 1981-82 which – according to a witticism – made several players so sick at heart about Test cricket that they went on rebel tours to South Africa.
Listed below are some magical moments for India in the eighty years of Test cricket versus England.
On their first day in Test cricket, the Indian team found themselves in the most famous cricket ground of all, facing an English side full of established stars. Losing the toss, they were confronted by the formidable opening pair of Herbert Sutcliffe and Percy Holmes, followed by Wally Hammond, Eddie Paynter and Douglas Jardine. However, under glorious sunshine, and in front of 25,000 people, Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh used the unfamiliar quick wicket to excellent effect, the former bowling at great pace and capturing a flurry of wickets in the initial 20 minutes, reducing England to 19 for three. Douglas Jardine and Les Ames led a fight-back to take the score to 259. Batting failures and inexperience ultimately saw India lose a hard-fought game, but Nissar’s five for 93 and Amar Singh’s supporting role in the first innings remains talked about even today.
2. India’s first Test victory at Madras 1951-52
The moment of history in Chepauk took 19 and a half years in coming, although the number of Test matches played during that barren period was a paltry 24. Vinoo Mankad captured eight wickets in the first innings on a largely unhelpful track, following which Pankaj Roy and Polly Umrigar scored centuries to obtain a huge lead. After Dattu Phadkar and his new ball partner Ramesh Divecha had got rid of the openers, Mankad and Ghulam Ahmed made excellent use of a wearing track, picking up four wickets each.
The match could not have ended more appropriately. Mankad ran in with three short steps, and let the ball loop in the air, descend in the slow inviting arc on the off stump – Hilton, unable to control his instincts, came out for the drive and was beaten by the wicked turn, and ‘keeper Sen collected the ball and whipped off the bails. The two decade wait ended with a victory by an innings and eight runs. Mankad finished with 12 wickets in the match, 34 in the series to go with 223 runs. And the only way the Indians – they were paid Rs 250 as match fee - celebrated was by patting each other on the back.
3. Mankad’s Test, Lord’s 1952
Vinoo Mankad was released by his Lancashire League club to play the second Test at Lord’s in 1952 after contractual problems had seen him miss the first Test. It was his first First-Class match of the season. Mankad opened the innings and within half an hour had launched Roly Jenkins over the sight screen for six. He top-scored with 72 in the Indian total of 235.
England piled up 537 in reply, in which Mankad bowled 73 overs to take five for 196. And when India proceeded on their uphill task, he opened the innings again, after 31 overs of bowling that day, and batted four and a half hours to score 184. India lost, but Mankad went up on the Lord’s honour board for both batting and bowling – the only visiting cricketer other than Keith Miller to have done so.
4. Bapu Nadkarni’s runless 21.5 overs
It was the first Test at Madras of the five-match 0-0 stalemate played out in 1964. India scored 457 in the first innings with twin centuries by Budhi Kunderan and Vijay Manjrekar. In response, England, plagued by illnesses, adopted safety first measures. Ken Barrington, stonewaller par excellence, and Brian Bolus played through the afternoon session of the third day scoring 27 runs.
Nadkarni, brought on after lunch, bowled over after over with his slow, low-trajectory left arm spin, and neither batsman made any attempt to score - even half volleys and long hops were studiously patted to fielders. Nadkarni went through 21.5 overs without conceding a run, and ended the day with figures 29-26-3-0. The next day he was criminally expensive in contrast, conceding two runs from 3 overs, ending with 31-27-5-0.
5. BS Chandrasekhar’s match-winning spell at The Oval, 1971
Having obtained a first innings lead of 71, England had started confidently enough in the second innings of the third and final Test, before Bhagwat Chandrasekhar spun his web to trap the innings before it could take off. He deflected a Brian Luckhurst drive on to the stumps, catching John Jameson short of his ground. And a few minutes later he struck twice, in successive balls, just before lunch. John Edrich’s bat was still in the air when the ball hit the stumps. And the very next delivery saw Keith Fletcher gobbled up by Eknath Solkar at short leg.
After lunch, Ajit Wadekar crowded the bat with a battery of close in fielders and the English batsmen obliged with snicks and edges. Chandrasekhar finished with six for 38 from 18 overs – one of the greatest spells by an Indian spinner bowling abroad. Playfair Cricket Monthly wrote “On a pitch which gave him little if any assistance Chandra had vindicated a vanishing breed of bowling in a fashion which can only be described as astonishing.”
6. Sunil Gavaskar’s double hundred at The Oval, 1979
A target of 438 to win was almost unanimously accepted as unreachable, but Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan added 213 for the first wicket, and then Dilip Vengsarkar stayed with the legendary opening batsman till 365.
India seemed to be heading for an incredible victory, but captain Srinivas Venkataraghavan decided to send Kapil Dev and Yashpal Sharma ahead of the experienced Gundappa Vishwanath. The move backfired. Gavaskar finally succumbed to Botham after an epic effort, having scored 221 immortal runs in just over six hours – then the second highest score on the fourth innings by any batsman in Test history. He was the fourth out for 389, and after the frantic last few overs, India finished with 429 for eight when time ran out.
7. Sandeep Patil’s 24 in an over, Old Trafford 1982
Making a comeback into the team at Manchester, Patil batted at No 7 and launched one of the most brutal rear-guard actions after coming in at 136 for five.
Adding 96 with Kapil Dev in an hour, he raced to 129 not out, in the process taking 4,4,4,0,4,4,4 off a Bob Willis over - the third delivery being a no-ball. Two were cover drives, two fierce square cuts, one swivelling hook and another short ball flat batted over the bowler’s head. It took him nine balls to move from 73 to 104.
8. The three hundreds of Mohammad Azharuddin, 1984-85
Two rather reckless shots at Delhi had cost India the second Test match in 1984-85, and had seen Sandeep Patil and Kapil Dev dropped from the following game at Calcutta. While Kapil was soon back in the fourth Test, Patil never played in a Test for India again.
The man who took his place in Calcutta did so in style. In fact style and wristy genius were stamped over everything he did at the crease. A patient 110 on debut was followed by 105 in the next Test at Madras, and finally, he hit 122 in the final Test at Kanpur. It was a world record sequence, and a star had risen in the glittering sky of Indian batsmanship.
9. Dilip Vengsarkar’s third hundred at Lord’s, 1986
No visiting batsman had ever done this before, and throughout his innings Dilip Vengsarkar had batted in such sublime form that he looked destined to score his third hundred at Lord’s in as many appearances. Yet, when Derek Pringle had got Kiran More leg before and the ninth wicket fell at 303, the elegant batsman was still five runs away from the milestone.
But, Maninder Singh survived the last ball of the over, and Vengsarkar brought off a glorious on-drive to move to 99 before dabbing one and scampering across to bring up his third Lord’s hundred. India triumphed by five wickets. In the following Test at Leeds, in unplayable conditions, Vengsarkar scored 61 and 102 not out when the next highest in the match was 36. Once again he found himself tantalisingly on 99 when Maninder Singh walked out and survived three balls of an over.
10. Kapil Dev’s four successive sixes to avoid follow-on
With Narendra Hirwani at the other end, four balls to go of the Eddie Hemmings over, and with India requiring 24 to save the follow-on, the equation was elementary to Kapil Dev. He went about it in the only way that made sense.
Hemmings ran in four times, and on each occasion Kapil hit him harder, higher and straighter than the last. The balls landed in various sections of the crowd sitting above the sight screen. The hitting was as brilliant, spectacular and effortless as ever seen. And Hirwani obliged the historic occasion by falling leg before to Angus Fraser second ball, underlining the necessity of the rampage. India saved the follow-on by one run.
11. Sachin Tendulkar’s 103 in an emotional victory, 2008, Chennai
In a gesture of heart-touching solidarity, Kevin Pietersen’s Englishmen were back in the country to play two Tests after leaving in haste following terrorist attacks in Mumbai. For the entire cricketing community, the first Test at Chennai was a statement for the game, and it lived up to the occasion.
Set 387 for victory, India rode a 68-ball 83 by Virender Sehwag. And as the ball turned square on the last day, Sachin Tendulkar produced a gem of an innings, playing out of his skin, bringing off a boundary to reach his century while simultaneously sealing the match. For a good one or two days the critics carping about his match winning prowess were silenced.
12. Rahul Dravid carries his bat at The Oval, 2011
Rahul Dravid, at age 38, had taken up the unaccustomed role of an opener and was still there batting on 146 when the innings ended some 300 or so runs behind England. He had been at it for over six hours, had negotiated 266 balls and had looked impeccable all along. The Englishmen had all but given up trying to dismiss him, preferring the easy wickets that tumbled at the other end. It was only after the fall of the seventh wicket that Dravid had chanced his arm and lofted the ball, but even that had been carried out with on-drives signed with way too much perfection of technique to give a whiff of a chance to the fielding side.
However, then Shantakumaran Sreesanth flashed his bat at a half-volley to throw his wicket away with scant respect for the efforts of the man at the other end, refusing Dravid the opportunity to add a few more runs. The professional turned and walked back to the pavilion without a word, mentally preparing himself to come out to do open the innings yet again in a few minutes.
(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)