13

It took them eighty-four years, but India have made it to the 500-Test mark alright. It has not been a smooth ride. Rarely in their history have India been the finest contemporary side in Test cricket, but they have provided tough competition to the best at times. India are yet to win Test series in Australia or South Africa. India have never achieved a ‘golden age’ the way West Indies had in the 1970s and 1980s or Australia several times before peaking in the 2000s or England in the 1950s. India do not have an overseas record to match South Africa’s; nor did they strike gold as early and consistently as Pakistan have.

Despite everything, however, India have had their moments. They won three consecutive series in the early 1970s, two of them against a very strong England side. They created an aura of indomitability at home starting the 1990s. And they kept rising through the ranks slowly in the past decade, eventually making it to the top of the ladder before coming down with a loud crash. Thankfully, things have turned around yet again.

Here, then, is a list of India’s greatest moments in their 500-Test (499-Test, to be specific) history.

1. Thirty minutes of mayhem at Lord’s, 1932

Nobody gave India a chance when they took field that day at Lord’s in 1932 to play their first Test. To make things worse, they lost the toss, and Douglas Jardine opted to bat. At the top were Herbert Sutcliffe and Percy Holmes: nine days before the match they had added 555 against Essex, registering a new First-Class record for the opening wicket.

Of the 25,000 present at the ground, not many would have had a clear idea about Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh, who opened bowling for India in their first Test. There was perhaps a gasp or two, of surprise or awe, when both men bowled with remarkable hostility, surrounding the batsmen with three slips and three short-legs.

The score read 8 when Sutcliffe failed to keep a Nissar yorker out. The ball hit leg-stump off the inside edge. Three runs later Nissar sent Holmes’ off-stump cartwheeling.

Frank Woolley, that legend of Kent, played one wide of mid-on and called Wally Hammond for a second run. Unfortunately for him, manning mid-on was Lall Singh, a man who batted low down the order and did not bowl.

Lall Singh was a specialist fielder. Woolley had no chance. England slumped to 19 for 3.

Hammond, bettered by perhaps only Don Bradman among contemporaries, hung around grimly in the company of captain Jardine. Eddie Paynter and Les Ames helped, and England recovered to 259.
Nissar took 5 for 93. Amar Singh fared worse, with 2 for 75 and 2 for 84, but he top-scored in the fourth innings with a rollicking 51.

England won by 158 runs. It was not a Test to be proud of, but India were there, playing Test cricket, scaring the team that would regain The Ashes in Australia that winter.

2. Dexterous India rule roost, 1961-62

True, England were without Ray Illingworth and their new-ball bowlers, Fred Trueman and Brian Statham. They were, however, still a formidable side. But Ted Dexter’s men, boasting of Tony Lock, Geoff Pullar, Peter Richardson, Peter Parfitt, Barry Knight, and David Allen, were a formidable lot. Towering above them all was, of course, Ken Barrington, arguably England’s greatest middle-order batsman.

Barrington started in spectacular fashion, with 151*, 52*, 21, 172, and 113* in the 5 innings in the first 3 Tests. All 3 were drawn.

Things finally came together at Calcutta, where three men scored sixties before Chandu Borde (4 for 65) and Salim Durani (5 for 47) secured a 168-run lead. Borde added 61 with his first-innings 68, and England were set a massive 421. They collapsed to 233.

But there was another Test to go before India could celebrate. At Madras a 20-year-old Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi scored 103 before Durani took 6 for 105 to give India a 147-run lead. Vijay Manjrekar shepherded the second innings, and chasing 338, England crumbled against Durani (4 for 72).

There was no single hero in the series: Manjrekar got 586 runs at 84; Polly Umrigar, 254 at 51; ML Jaisimha, 399 at 50; Pataudi, 222 at 44; Durani, 23 wickets at 27; and Borde, 314 runs at 45 and 16 wickets at 29.

3. “The day the elephant came to The Oval”, 1971

That was precisely the title of the opening chapter of Mihir Bose’s A History of Indian Cricket. The story is well-documented: before we go into why this was probably the greatest moment in India’s cricket history, let us re-live the Test in brief.

India were back from a victorious tour of West Indies. While it was their first win against them, home or away, it cannot be denied that it was probably the weakest 20th-century side in the history of the islands: they did not win a series between 1966 and 1973.

The first Test at Lord’s was hard-fought, India squeezing out a 9-run lead. When stumps were drawn they were 145 for 8 chasing 183. England held the upper hand, but only slightly. England set India 420 in the second Test at Old Trafford. India were 65 for 3 at stumps on Day Four, but rain washed out the entirety of Day Five.

England batted well again at The Oval and secured a 71-run lead. Then, before they knew what had hit them, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, with 6 for 38, bowled them out for 101. India did not take any risk. They took 101 overs to chase 173, but made sure they were there in the end to seal a 4-wicket win on Day Five.

Till then England were never a happy hunting ground for the Indians. They had played 19 Tests in England 1971, drawing 4 and losing 15. They were whitewashed 0-3 in 1967 and 0-5 in 1959. In the series prior to that, in 1952, they had managed to save a match due to rain, but were blown away by Fred Trueman and Alec Bedser for the rest of the series.

India had traditionally been poor travellers. They did not win an overseas Test till 1967-68, and that was in New Zealand, the weakest of contemporary teams, as were West Indies earlier that year.

The England team was no ordinary side. Ray Illingworth’s men had regained The Ashes in Australia earlier that year, and would retain them at home the year after. They had also beaten Pakistan just before the India series.

But most importantly, this had more to do India beating England. Wars had been waged across the frontier with both Pakistan and China, but defeating England on English soil had a different meaning for the Indians.

It will be apt to Farokh Engineer from his interview with The Times: “India was a colony of England, and to beat your masters at their own game was a bit of a feather in the cap. Victory in a Test series was joyous, but to beat England in England was a phenomenal feat at the time for us Indians.”

There was no reason for Indians to be in awe of the Englishmen anymore. India have pulled off more stunning victories, but few as significant and impactful. With one blow Wadekar’s men had put decades of colonial hangover to dust.

There was a postscript: the Indian fans had ‘loaned’ Bella, a baby elephant, from Chessington Zoo for the occasion. It was, after all, Ganesh Chaturthi.

4. Error 406: spinners not found in Queen’s Park Oval, 1975-76

Things were going as planned for West Indies. Clive Lloyd and did Viv Richards had both slammed hundreds in the first Test, while Andy Roberts and a young Michael Holding shared 9 wickets. India lost by an innings inside three days.

Richards scored another hundred in the second Test, but both Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath responded well. Trailing by 161, West Indies finished on 215 for 8. Bishan Singh Bedi had match figures of 8 for 126, but Srinivas Venkataraghavan turned out to be the weak link.

Richards smashed 177 in the third Test as well, taking West Indies to 359. Roberts missed the Test, but Holding claimed 6 for 65 as India conceded a 131-run lead. Alvin Kallicharran scored a hundred, and Lloyd set India 403 on a pitch that offered turn. West Indies, after all, had three spinners in Albert Padmore, Imtiaz Ali, and Raphick Jumadeen: what could go wrong?

India got off to a solid start, reaching 134 for 1 by stumps. Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath continued the next morning. On a pitch that offered nothing for them, neither Bernard Julien nor Holding could break through. When Gavaskar was second out for 102, the score read 177.

Mohinder and Viswanath then added another 159. Lloyd spread out the field. However, after Mohinder was run out for 85, Brijesh Patel walked out and ran frantically, bringing the target closer and closer. By the time Viswanath was run out for 112 India had wrapped up the match.

India’s fourth-innings total read 406. No other side had chased as much for a win. The record stood till 2003, and has been bettered only twice.

On a side note, the Indian chase changed the course of cricket history, for a frustrated Lloyd shifted focus to an all-pace attack. Cricket would take a new course over the next quarter of a century.

5. Avenging thy neighbours, 1979-80

It had been 27 years since India had won a Test, let alone a series, against Pakistan. There was a halt for 17 years, and when cricket had resumed, Pakistan had thrashed India in 1978-79. The series had ended the career of EAS Prasanna, while neither Bedi nor Chandra saw till the end of 1979. The Indian spin attack now had a new look in Dilip Doshi and Shivlal Yadav.

The Pakistan team that toured India in 1979-80 was definitely among their strongest in history. While Mushtaq Mohammad had been left out, Asif Iqbal’s men still boasted of Javed Miandad, Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Wasim Raja, Majid Khan, Sadiq Mohammad, Wasim Bari, Abdul Qadir, Iqbal Qasim, Mudassar Nazar, and Sikander Bakht. There was no real chink in the side.

Both sides went about it cautiously. Nobody had an upper hand at Bangalore. Sikander’s first-innings 8 for 69 gave Pakistan a 147-run lead at Delhi, and they eventually set India 390. But young Dilip Vengsarkar rose to the challenge, scoring 146 not out in a fourth-innings response of 364 for 6.

The momentum had shifted to India. They were bowled out for 160 in the second innings at Bombay, but a first-innings lead of 161 meant they were in control. Karsan Ghavri led the rout as Pakistan crashed to 190. There was not enough play at Kanpur for a result.

During their long, illustrious, overlapping careers, Gavaskar and Kapil had seldom clicked together for India. The Madras Test was one of those rare occasions. Kapil’s 4 for 90 restricted Pakistan to 272 before Gavaskar carved out 166 in 373 balls while Kapil scored a rollicking 84 in 98 balls. Continuing with his terrific form, Kapil routed Pakistan with 7 for 56 before Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan secured a 10-wicket win.

Asif desperately tried to win the dead-rubber at Calcutta, declaring 59 behind, but Imran’s lion-hearted effort went in vain.

The series was claimed. It could well have been another home series, but one must remember here that this was one of the strongest teams (not only Pakistan) to tour India. At the same time, if one ignores the Kerry Packer era and New Zealand, this was India’s first series win in seven years, home or away.

It is perhaps time Indian fans gives the triumph the acknowledgement it so richly deserves.

6. Day at the Coliseum, 1980-81

Just like the Pakistan series a year ago, India were easily the underdogs in the series against Greg Chappell’s men. They reached their nadir against South Australia, when they were set 122 and were skittled out for 78. Little did the Australians know that the scoreline would reverse in a few days.

The first Test was over in a flash, Dennis Lillee taking 7 wickets and Len Pascoe 6. India were bowled out for 201 in each innings, a total overhauled by Chappell alone (204) in Australia’s only innings. Set 331 in the second Test, India were 8 down with half an hour left. Doshi, the last man, had no pretension of batsmanship. But Ghavri and Yadav saved the Test.

Viswanath scored a dazzling 114 in the final Test, but Allan Border’s gritty hundred gave the hosts a 182-run lead. Australia were set a mere 143 after Gavaskar’s infamous spat with Lillee when he almost instigated a walkout.

The already-small target looked smaller, for Yadav had been ruled out of the Test with a broken toe; Doshi had a hairline fracture on his instep; and Kapil had pulled a thigh muscle and did not take field on the fourth evening.

But Doshi came on, and by stumps Australia were 24 for 3. “If I were a betting man, I would put my money on India,” confessed Lillee that night. Kapil spent a night on painkilling injections and bowled on the fifth morning to take 5 for 28; Australia crashed to 83.

7. Stopping the juggernaut, 2001-02

In a way India of the 2000s were similar to Pakistan of the 1980s: they were the only ones who gave it back to the champions of the era.

However, things had looked different on India’s 1999-00 tour Down Under, when they sank without a trace. And with Anil Kumble ruled out of the series and Steve Waugh’s men winning a record 15 Tests on a row, few gave India a chance.

India were bowled out for 176 and 219 at Mumbai. They had their high, reducing Australia to 99 for 5 in the first innings, but Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist raced to respective hundreds and killed the Test. The juggernaut kept rolling. It was now 16 in a row.

Despite Harbhajan Singh’s hat-trick and 7 for 123, the second Test at Calcutta seemed to take a similar route. Australia scored 445. India were bowled out for 171 on the third morning, VVS Laxman top-scoring with 59 from No. 6. Waugh enforced the follow-on. When India lost their first wicket at 52, Sourav Ganguly promoted Laxman.

The rest is too well-documented for a repetition: Laxman set a new Indian record, amassing 281; Rahul Dravid supported him brilliantly with 180; Harbhajan took 6 fourth-innings wickets for 73; and Sachin Tendulkar stepped in with 3 quick wickets for 31. India won by 171 runs, exactly what they had scored in their first innings.

But… why remain content with winning a Test when you can clinch a series? Harbhajan took 7 again, this time at Chennai, to restrict Australia to 391. Tendulkar secured 126, two others got eighties, two others sixties, and India got themselves a 110-run lead.

Harbhajan outdid himself again, taking 8 for 84 and stretching his haul to 28 wickets from 2 Tests. Set 155, India were on course at 101 for 2 before panic struck. From 135 for 7 it could be anyone’s game, but debutant Sameer Dighe kept his calm and saw India through.

8. Taking on terrorism, 2008-09

Cuttack, November 26, 2008. Kevin Pietersen’s men had put up 270 for 4, but Virender Sehwag led the charge with 91, three others got fifties, and India romped home in the 44th over. India led 5-0 in the 7-ODI series.

Unfortunately, the last 2 ODIs never happened, for on the same day, twelve terrorists went on a rampage in Mumbai, killing 164 and injuring over 300. Cricket took a backseat.

The remaining ODIs were cancelled, but after a detour of home, England agreed to play the rest of the series, though they had to be relocated from Mumbai and Ahmedabad to Chennai and Mohali.

Whatever happened after that was irrelevant, but let me still narrate the tale in brief. Andrew Strauss set it up for England with 123 and 108. India were set 387. Unfortunately for them, Sehwag set about it in cavalier fashion: by the time he fell for a 68-ball 83 (68 of these runs came in boundaries) India had raced to 117. India lost two more wickets, but Tendulkar, first with Laxman, then with Yuvraj Singh, marshalled the chase.

Seldom has a Test been celebrated with such exhilaration. Seldom has the outcome of the Test mattered so little. Seldom has a run-chase of such intensity reduced to such irrelevance.

The phrase “in the end, cricket was the winner” has been reduced to a cliché several year ago. On that day, however, nothing could have been truer: they battled each other, India and England, and between them they fought a war as big as anything cricket has ever encountered.

9. Top of the world, 2009-10

In the 2000s, under Ganguly, Dravid, and MS Dhoni, India crossed won hurdle after another. They drew in Australia (in the absence of key bowlers, but ICC rankings do not take that into consideration), won series in Pakistan, England, West Indies, and New Zealand. South Africa remained unconquered, but they had won their first Test there.

Despite that there was little recognition of their consistency till then. Australia’s defeats against England and South Africa meant they had slipped down a bit. They also lost to India in India. When Sri Lanka came over in 2009-10, India needed to win the series 2-0 to pip Australia to the No. 1 spot.

Dravid, Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir, and Tendulkar all got hundreds on a featherbed in Ahmedabad, but the effort was drowned by 275 from Mahela Jayawardene, aided by tons from Tillakaratne Dilshan and Prasanna Jayawardene. Sri Lanka’s 760 for 7 was a humongous total.

India regrouped to amass 642 at Kanpur, Gambhir, Sehwag, and Dravid all getting hundreds. S Sreesanth claimed 5 for 75 in the first innings; Sri Lanka never recovered, and were bowled out for 229 and 269.

Dilshan got back with 109 at Mumbai. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s 393 was drowned by India’s 726 for 9. Dhoni got a hundred, but all that was irrelevant, for Sehwag biffed his way to a 254-ball 293. Despite Kumar Sangakkara’s hundred, Sri Lanka succumbed to another innings defeat, Zaheer Khan claiming 5 for 72 after Harbhajan’s first-innings 4 for 112.

However, India were yet to win a series in Australia or even draw one in South Africa…

10. Titans clash in historic draw, 2010-11

South Africa have always been difficult to conquer at their den. In fact, barring Australia, no other side has managed to do that on a consistent basis. Given the ordinary travellers they have been over ages, India were not expected to fight in the series.

The disaster began before the first Test at Centurion. An injury ruled Zaheer out of the Test. For some inexplicable reason, the selectors picked Jaydev Unadkat, uncapped and 19 — not only for the squad, but also in the XI.

India were never in the Test. Morne Morkel (5 for 20) bowled them out for 136 in the first innings. Tendulkar scored a hundred in the second innings, but Dale Steyn followed his 3 for 34 with 4 for 105, and that was that. In between all this, the five South Africans scored 62, 77, 140, 201*, and 129; they declared on 620 for 4. Poor Unadkat bowled 26 overs for his nought for 101.

India hit back at Durban, the ground where they were bowled out for 100 and 66 fourteen years back. They did not do much better (Steyn, with 6 for 50, restricted them to 205), but Zaheer snared three quick scalps as Harbhajan polished off the tail. India bowled out the hosts for 131.

Laxman was left to play a role not too different from Johannesburg 2006-07: there was a lead, and he had to shepherd the tail to stretch it as much as he could. He had got 73 that day, adding 70 with Zaheer for the eighth wicket. He got 96 here, once again adding 70 with Zaheer for the eighth wicket. Set 303, South Africa added 63 for the opening stand before being bowled out for 215.

The series had been levelled: could India claim it?

Jacques Kallis scored 161 to take his side to 362 in the decider at Cape Town. What followed has been discussed by scribes in their respective eloquent styles. This is too limited a place for that.

It should suffice to say that the Steyn vs Tendulkar contest was one of the greatest cricket has seen. Neither man emerged on top, Tendulkar scoring 146, Steyn taking 5 for 75; India’s lead was restricted to a mere 2.

Harbhajan came to forefront, taking out the South Africans one by one. The openers added 50, but wickets fell quickly, and they were soon 130 for 6. But Kallis stayed firm, remaining not out on 109 and adding 103, 54, and 56 for the next three stands thanks to India’s oddly defensive approach. Harbhajan finished with 7 for 120.

So near, yet so far; but then, even South Africa had refused to go for a win, deciding to settle for a drawn series.

India might have gone for the chase (340, all of it in a single day) but shut shop once Sehwag got out cheaply. They finished on 166 for 3, ending the series with an honourable draw. Years later, AB de Villiers would write in his autobiography that India had saved the Test.

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