On June 7, 1952 at Headingley, debutant Fred Trueman unleashed a spell from hell, and the Indian scoreboard at one stage read 0 for four. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the day of batting nightmare.
When Fred Trueman had been called to the telephone at the RAF base and informed of his selection in the Test team, he was certain that it was a prank. In his colourful vocabulary, he asked the caller to “bu**er off”. It was only when former fast bowler Bill Bowes had rang him up, the rookie fast bowler had finally been convinced, and had approached his commanding officer for time off – wheedled in exchange of tickets to the match.
Ironically, the Indians did not suffer from too many misgivings going into the first Test at Leeds. The batsmen were in form, especially Polly Umrigar. Ghulam Ahmed and Gulabrai Ramchand had been brilliant with the ball. They had won one, lost one and drawn the remaining of their nine warm-up matches.
Len Hutton tossed the coin, thus becoming the first professional to lead an English team. Vijay Hazare called correctly and India batted. Trueman did bowl quick and Alec Bedser got his leg cutters to talk, asking difficult questions, but Vijay Manjrekar’s 133 and Hazare’s 89 carried the team from 42 for three to 264 before a late order collapse limited the total to 289.
Ghulam Ahmed’s five for 100 restricted the lead of the home team to a manageable 41. In the pavilion, during the change of innings on June 7, Hazare supposedly announced that the batting order would remain unchanged.
Spell from hell
However, Madhav Mantri, the Indian wicket keeper who had batted at No 8 in the first innings, soon received summons from the captain, who asked him to pad up and go in at one-drop.
Trueman, who had taken three first innings wickets and given glimpses of his destructive pace, started proceedings from the Kirkstall End. His second ball was a bouncer which Pankaj Roy tried to hook but ended up skying it high for Denis Compton to move some yards from first slip, wait an eternity and pouch safely. Hurriedly strapping on his pads, Mantri managed to walk out and see through the over. India: 0-1.
In the next over, Bedser made a ball – according to The Times –“rear up like a cobra”, and all Datta Gaekwad could do was to fend it to gully where Jim Laker held on. India: 0-2.
Umrigar walked in at No 4.
Trueman’s first ball of the next over was a slower one which comprehensively fooled Mantri and ended up hitting his off stump. India: 0-3.
As the wicket-keeper walked back, he crossed the new batsman, Manjrekar. There was still no sign of the captain.
Later Mantri recalled that Manjrekar looked at him with a pale face and muttered in Marathi, “Mala bakra banola” (I’ve been made a sacrificial goat). Manjrekar meant that he was pushed ahead in the batting order so that the captain could allow himself from not walking into the mayhem.
The first ball Manjrekar faced was full, which he tried to drive through the covers, but succeeded in getting an inside edge onto his leg-stump. India: 0-4. In 14 balls, India lost four wickets without a run on the board and innings defeat looked a serious threat.
According to The Times, “The crowd danced and waved as if it were a cup tie while a young Yorkshire hero stood on the verge of a hat-trick. Here was a disaster produced by pace and panic."
The Yorkshire Post, reading the total as 0/4 on the teleprinter, called the ground to check if the score was four without loss and if there was an error in the copy received.
Hazare walked into the breach created by the fall of Manjrekar. Hutton crowded the Indian captain’s bat. Trueman turned and steamed in, producing a streak of lightning. However, Hazare survived, the ball missing the edge by what Trueman later termed, “A fag paper’s width.”
Umrigar did not last long, but from 26 for five, Hazare and Dattu Phadkar took India to 131, before Trueman sent the captain’s off-stump cart-wheeling five minutes before close of play. India finished the disastrous day at 136 for six.
As the teams departed for the rest day, darkest part of the night seemed to be over. But the nightmares continued throughout the tour. The first Test was eventually lost by seven wickets, and the margin of subsequent defeats kept increasing as the tour progressed.
All out for 98 in the first innings in response to 326, India was finally rescued by rain in the fourth and final Test at Oval, thus a series whitewash was averted. Trueman, who had to make a 17 hour trip from the RAF base in Germany to play the second Test at Lord’s, finished with 29 wickets in the series at 13.30, with a best of eight for 31.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)