Ian Botham did not play the North Zone match at Jammu, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm of his Indian fans. The Test series was excruciatingly boring, but just like Tony Greig on the two previous tours, Botham became the darling of the Indian crowd    Getty Images
Ian Botham did not play the North Zone match at Jammu, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm of his Indian fans. The Test series was excruciatingly boring, but just like Tony Greig on the two previous tours, Botham became the darling of the Indian crowd Getty Images

In 1981-82, India and England were engaged in one of the most boring Test series in history. India, after going 1-0 up in the Bombay Test, decided to shut shop and play for mind-numbing draws for the rest of the 6-Test series. In between all that, England played all five zones, the last of which was against Central Zone at Indore. Unfortunately for the Central Zone bowlers, Ian Botham decided that January 22, 1982, would be his day. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back one of the fastest First-Class hundred.

England s 1981-82 tour of India might not have happened in the first place. When Test & County Cricket Board (TCCB) announced their squad, they included the two Geoffs Boycott and Cook both of whom had played cricket in South Africa during their ban, and had thus became blacklisted (along with 126 others across sports) by UN.

The incident came after Robin Jackman had been denied entry to Guyana earlier that year. The Bourda Test was cancelled as a result. West Indies had also refused to host the New Zealand cricket team after the latter s rugby team had toured South Africa.

The Indian Government took a stance against Boycott and Cook. TCCB Secretary Donald Carr responded by letting know that they would not drop any of the squad members. It was a bold decision, more so because India were scheduled to tour England the following summer, but was probably not a justified one.

Wisden explained the scenario in no uncertain words: The Cricket Boards of both countries feared that cancellation might lead to a black-white split in cricket … there was ceaseless activity in London, Delhi and Bombay to ward off that disaster.

The entire thing went into doldrums. BCCI were unable to take a decision in the absence of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was in Mexico. She was cornered by journalists when she transited in Heathrow. She told them that India would come to a decision within a week.

That was October 26. The Englishmen were supposed to leave for India in ten days time.

Thankfully, four days after Mrs Gandhi s promise, Indian Foreign Minister PV Narasimha Rao announced that India were fine with the tour even if Boycott and Cook were included.

The British media lauded the Indian Government and BCCI. Frank Keating wrote in The Guardian: Hurray for Mrs Gandhi. Good sense and good politics. It was an awful dilemma for the Indians and they have solved it honourably and bravely.

The Times editorial, too, was vocal in support: The cricketing authorities in India have consistently made clear their wish that the tour should go ahead. They have not been the ones making the difficulties. The indications were clear and valid.

The tour

Keith Fletcher had not played Test cricket since 1976-77. He had, in fact, quit international cricket. However, TCCB recalled him out of nowhere as a replacement for Mike Brearley, the man who had near-miraculously won the 1981 Ashes (albeit with more than a little help from Ian Botham).

Fletcher s men started on a high: they brushed aside CCI President s XI, Indian Under-22s, and Indian Board President s XI before West Zone held them to a hard-fought draw thanks to a fourth-innings 77 not out by Suru Nayak.

At Ahmedabad, India became the last of the Test-playing nations to host an ODI. They scored 156 for 7 in 46 overs and had England down to 61 for 4, and later 126 for 5, when Botham joined Mike Gatting. Botham reverse-swept Dilip Doshi, smashed Roger Binny for two sixes, and finished things in a hurry.

England went into Bombay with 4 wins and a draw from 5 matches. India won a low-scoring Test (only one innings went past 180) inside four days thanks to a terrific all-round performance from Kapil Dev (50-ball 38, 50-ball 46, 1 for 29, 5 for 70).

However, it was really a first-innings spell from Dilip Doshi (4 for 9 from 5 overs), an hour s batting from England, and questionable umpiring that decided the innings, and indeed, the series. There were vehement protests against the umpires, especially KB Ramaswami.

Then began the draws. Sunil Gavaskar batted for 708 minutes for his 172 at Bangalore. India took almost seven sessions to bowl a shade over 150 overs at Delhi, and batted at 2 an over at Calcutta. And at Madras Gundappa Viswanath and Yashpal Sharma batted throughout the second day; Gavaskar did not declare till it was well into Day Three.

In the meantime, India had rubbed further salt to England s woes in the second ODI, where Dilip Vengsarkar masterminded a steep chase at Jullundur. India needed a steep 162 in 36 overs (after Gatting hit Ravi Shastri for four sixes in an over), but Vengsarkar steered them home with a 107-ball 88 not out. To quote Wisden, the end came in an eerie half-light at 5.17, only minutes before sunset.

The land of the Colonel

Four days after the Madras Test, the Englishmen arrived in Indore, the land of CK Nayudu, to take on a strong Central Zone side. The Yeshwant Club Ground had been renamed to Nehru Stadium to match its counterparts across the nation.

However, the ground boasted of a stone statue of CK. It need not have, for there must have been a blade of grass somewhere on the ground The Grand Old Man of Indian Cricket had trod upon in his halcyon days.

CK was no ordinary cricketer. And Indore was no ordinary city. Indore was the home of Holkar. Starting 1944-45, Holkar had reached the Ranji Trophy final 9 times in 11 attempts, winning it 4 times. CK led them in 8 of these seasons.

When India won back-to-back series in West Indies and England in 1971, Indore erected the Vijay Balla (Victory Bat) made of concrete; the bat was defaced in 1974 when India were whitewashed in England.

No, Indore was not a Bombay or a Calcutta, but when you visit Indore, Indian cricket speaks to you from unexpected nooks and corners.

Towering over everyone was CK, the first Indian cricket superstar, not a prince who played his cricket in England, but one a commoner who emerged as a natural leader.

In 1926-27 Nayudu had smashed Arthur Gilligan s men for a 2-hour 153 (13 fours, 11 sixes) at Bombay Gymkhana. So impactful was the innings that it hastened India s Test status.

Botham was a batsman in the same mould. He was in the right city, too.

The onslaught

The hosts boasted of a strong outfit: they were led by Parthasarathy Sharma, former Test player and still in the thick of things; they also boasted of an excellent spin pair from Uttar Pradesh.

Gopal Sharma, a promising off-spinner, was named 12th man at Madras (as he would be, in the last Test at Kanpur). He would go on to play 5 Tests.

Partnering him was Rajinder Singh Hans, a man who lost out to Doshi and Shastri in the race for Bishan Singh Bedi s successor in the Indian team. Hans had taken 9 for 152 in the 1977-78 Ranji Trophy final against Karnataka, still a record in Ranji finals.

Scyld Berry noted that it was the first match on the tour that did not boast of a capacity crowd. In fact, it was barely half-full. Who could blame them? The tour, after all, was approaching an end, and the cricket had not been very excitable.

Anil Mathur, the left-arm seamer, removed Chris Tavare early, and followed with the wicket of Cook for good measure. Cook drove one to mid-wicket; Sanjeeva Rao caught it diving forward. Cook, under the impression that Rao might have caught it on the bounce, waited till he was given out, but showed no dissent on his way back.

Gopal Sharma struck next over, having Fletcher caught-behind. It was 1.25 in the idyllic afternoon. Botham picked up his 2 lb 2 oz bat and walked out to join Gatting at 87 for 3, uttering you d better be ready to Bob Taylor, scheduled to come next.

There was not a single cloud in the sky, but despite the bright sunshine, a breeze blew across the ground. It was cold enough for Botham to don his MCC sweater.

The sun shone on the dry outfield as Botham strode into the playing arena. The ground also hosted football, hockey, and basketball, which meant that the outfield was barely green, and as a result, lightning quick.

Gopal had claimed Fletcher with the fourth ball. Botham blocked the last two balls. Gatting played out a maiden to Mathur at the other end.

Two singles off Gopal s next over saw both batsmen open their accounts. The third ball sped past mid-off on a bone-dry outfield. The fifth yielded another four before Botham retained strike. Another boundary came off Mathur s over.

Botham had raced to 15 from 11 balls without any fuss.

Then he cut Gopal hard, and edged it. Unfortunately, first slip made a mess of it, went for it on the rebound, and still grassed the chance.

He played out a cautious maiden, the calm before the storm.

On came Mathur. Botham smashed a four and blocked the next one before giving some humpty to the hapless seamer.

Berry wrote in Cricket Wallah: Botham stepped down the pitch and lofted the ball far above the height of St Ann s Tower, more to that of a steeple. A boundary followed the next ball.

Drinks were called after the over. Botham had meanwhile raced to 30 from 22 balls, leaving Gatting behind on 2. He was looking ominous, but it was nothing compared to what was to follow. When the drinks trolley arrived, Botham sent another message, insisting Taylor be ready.

Gopal resumed after drinks. Botham cut and off-drove the first two balls for fours (the first was a no-ball), swept the third for six. Gatting happily played out three dot-balls.

Botham s 45 had come in 26 balls. Captain Parthasarathy Sharma, Parath to friends, replaced Mathur with Hans. After all, Hans s balls would leave Botham…

On came Hans, and was met with an outrageous reverse-sweep for four. A single off the next ball meant he had reached his 50 in 28 balls. Gatting gave back the strike, and Botham responded with a four and a six before retaining the strike. 61 from 31.

Gopal Sharma s next over went for 10, of which Botham scored 9 from 5 including a reverse-swept four. 70 from 36.

On came Hans. Botham stepped out uninhibitedly, the swish through the air almost audible. Unfortunately, it made no contact with the ball. It could have been the most important stumping of his life, but Vedraj Chauhan missed it completely, letting go four byes.

Most men would have been shaken, but not Botham. The fourth ball went for four to square-leg. Hans unleashed a flat dart on leg-stump, but Botham made room and lofted it straight over Hans s head. Six. Botham retained strike off the last ball. 81 from 42.

Berry wrote: At this point Hans, as a Sikh, might have remembered that he carried a dagger with him to deal with just such an attack.

A desperate Parath took the ball himself. Nothing changed. The first ball soared over long-off. The second was smashed to square-leg for four. The next two balls fetched a two and a single, which was when the world remembered that Gatting had actually been around since before Botham.

Gatting diligently blocked the last two balls, and remained on 3. Despite being capable of carnage, he preferred to watch it. Botham was on 94, from 46 balls.

They continued with Hans, who bowled over the wicket. To his credit, he found Botham s bottom-edge twice in the first two balls. Unfortunately, it was Botham s day, and the ball beat Chauhan on both occasions and raced to the fence.

The hundred had taken 50 minutes and 48 balls, and had included 14 fours and 5 sixes. The second fifty had come off 16 minutes and 20 balls.

Note: ACS mentions that Botham had scored his hundred from 45 balls. However, Berry had copied the score-sheet in Cricket Wallah, which gives a ball-by-ball scoring of Botham s onslaught.

But he was not done. Hans s next ball disappeared over long-on, and the one after, over square-leg. Hans shifted to an off-stump line, and Botham s eyes lit up, for there was no slip: he comfortably steered it to the third-man fence. He tried a flick to keep strike off the last ball, but missed.

Botham stood on 118 from 52 balls. Seven overs back he was on 15 from 17. Dear reader, I leave the honours of the calculations to you.

Now Gatting decided to give it a go, lofting Parath over long-on for six. He gave the strike back, and Botham immediately slapped the next ball for four. A swing and miss followed, and the next ball, hit high enough to acquire snow on its way down, landed into the hands of Sunil Chaturvedi at mid-wicket for a 55-ball 122, 16 fours, 7 sixes.

Note: Once again, there is some confusion, for some sources mention that Botham had faced 53 balls.

As Botham took the long strides back to the pavilion, Gatting led the applause before Nehru Stadium joined in. As he reached the ropes someone threw an orange peel at him. Botham picked it up, tossed it in the air, swung his bat, and middled that as well.

Somewhere, in another world, the lips of a Colonel probably curled into a rare smile.

What followed?

– Gatting amassed 111 with 14 fours and 3 sixes. With Taylor and Graham Dilley getting runs, England declared on 436 for 7. The 10 dismissed men of Central Zone scored between 12 and 59, and the hosts reached 311. Cook (104*) and Tavare (81) played out time after that.

– England were humbled by India in the deciding ODI, at Cuttack. Set to chase 231 in 46 overs, Gavaskar (71 in 87 balls) laid the platform on which Sandeep Patil (64 in 55) made merry. The finishing touches were provided by Yashpal and debutant Ashok Malhotra, and India reached home with 4 overs to spare.

– Botham came to his elements in the last Test at Kanpur with a 214-ball 142, but Kapil went one up, his 116 coming off just 98. Despite the two magnificent innings, only 16 wickets fell in another drawn affair.

Brief scores:

England XI 436 for 7 decl. (Mike Gatting 111, Ian Botham 122, Bob Taylor 40, Graham Dilley 52; Anil Mathur 3 for 82) and 210 for 1 (Geoff Cook 104*, Chris Tavare 81) drew with Central Zone 311 (Anil Bhanot 40, Vedraj Chauhan 59, Aslam Ali 48; John Emburey 3 for 94).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)