A now familiar scenario at the end of India's recent Test matches overseas © Getty Images
A now familiar scenario at the end of India’s recent Test matches overseas © Getty Images

 

If a miracle does not somehow deliver the Indians from cruel defeat at Sydney, it will mean the sixth overseas Test loss in a row. Only the third time in the nation’s 79 year history of Test cricket will the team have managed a wretched sequence of this length. Arunabha Sengupta revisits the earlier occasions and desperately attempts to find hope amidst despair.

 

As the Indians stare down the barrel of a massive defeat at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), they are on the doorsteps of a rare – for want of a better word – achievement. If some miracle does not deliver the team from the fast closing jaws of their sixth consecutive overseas Test loss, the sequence will rank alongside the darkest streaks to ever soil the pages of Indian cricket.

 

The run of six successive defeats on foreign shores, which seem increasingly unavoidable with each delivery of the ongoing Test match, will be only the third wretched sequence of this length in the nation’s 79 years of Test cricket.

 

The last such nightmare had ended way back in 1968. Those had been days when the fans, upsetting their body clock by staying up into the wee hours to follow the fortunes of the travelling team, heard heart-breaking tidings about crushing defeats on crackling transistor sets. However, they were spared the current agony of watching their heroes succumb again and again with the cruel pictures beamed live into sleep deprived eyes.

 

The early days of debacles

 

The first sordid series of defeats took place way back, between 1948 and 1952. The sides trampling the touring Indians then were the same as today, but in reverse order of obliteration. Lala Amarnath’s men were comprehensibly outplayed in four of the five Tests during their first visit to Australia. After rain washed the second Test match, the Don Bradman-led Invincibles made short work of the visitors in the final three.

 

The relaxed schedules of those good old days meant that the next tour took place only in the summer of1952, when Vijay Hazare’s men visited England. The interim years did not result in any change of fortune. Against a fire breathing debutant called Fred Trueman, Indians collapsed to 0 for 4 in the opening Test at Leeds on their way to a humiliating defeat. Vinoo Mankad waged a lone battle at Lord’s, making 72 and 184 and picking up five wickets, but his efforts could not alter the result. At Manchester, Trueman continued his scary path, capturing eight for 31, making it half a dozen overseas losses in a row. It was at The Oval that the march of defeats was finally halted with the feet of fate sinking in the swampy outfield. A lion-hearted display by the weather allowed no further play after India had been bundled for 98 in reply to England’s 326.

 

The long period of torture

 

The next saga was the most tortuous in history, encompassing 17 Test matches, four tours, five captains, seven innings defeats and a total of 8 ½ years.

 

It started with Trueman continuing to hurl his terror-tipped thunderbolts at the Indian line-up, this time partnered by Brian Statham, during the sad summer of 1959. Dattajirao Gaekwad’s team, in the second Test led by stand-in skipper Pankaj Roy, were shot out for low scores innings after innings as they bit the dust at Nottingham, Lord’s, Leeds, Manchester and The Oval.

 

Three years down the line, Nari Contractor took the Indian team on the ill-fated tour of the Caribbeans and ran into the might of Garry Sobers and Rohan Kanhai and the menace of Wes Hall.

 

After severely one-sided contests at Trinidad and Jamaica, Charlie Griffith felled the Indian captain with a near fatal blow to the head during the tour match against Barbados. A young Nawab of Pataudi (jr) made his debut by leading the side in the next test, but the bottom line remained consistent, with heavy defeats in the remaining three encounters.

 

Pataudi’s next overseas assignment was the English summer of 1967. The team was thoroughly outplayed in the three Tests by a home side packed with hardened pros like Geoff Boycott, Ken Barrington, Dennis Amiss, Tom Graveney, Ray Illingworth and John Snow. By then the long-suffering countrymen had probably accepted an away test as a synonym for defeat.

 

With the frequency of Test matches increasing, Tiger Pataudi had to contend with his next tour, in the tough Australian conditions, after a gap of only five months. However, when he sustained an injury early on, Chandu Borde captained the side during their abject surrender at Adelaide. When Pataudi returned for the second Test at Melbourne, the result was a loss by an innings.

 

The third Test at Brisbane witnessed rather powerful winds of change. ML Jaisimha, flown in to bolster the batting, the captain himself, Rusi Surti and Erapalli Prasanna produced sterling performances, and the Indians fought bravely and hard before succumbing to a far stronger side by the slim margin of 39 runs. And while they relapsed into the routine of one-sided capitulations in the final Test at Sydney, definite signs of improvement were growing prominent.

 

When the battered team crossed the Tasman Sea for the following series in New Zealand, the long litany of losses came to an abrupt end. For the first time in history, Indians triumphed in an overseas test with a five wicket win in Dunedin.

 

Hoping for tomorrow

 

Now, the 2011 defeats at Lord’s, Trent Bridge, Headingley, The Oval and Melbourne, followed by the current sorrowful saga of Sydney, threatens to catapult Indian cricket from the last few yards of a golden era back into the dark ages of the fifties and sixties.

 

However, can the persisting fan cling on to the last brittle straw of hope? Even if the shoulders of the Indian players Down Under slump in despondency, the persisting follower strives to detect a glimmer of hope, a faint spark of silver lining around the most threatening dark clouds … if only to sustain the eternal fascination for the game.

 

As in the last occasion, will Sydney draw the serialised horror story to a conclusion and winning ways will start again? Will the turnaround be preceded in this test itself with a stunning rearguard action?

 

Disclaimer: The writer, an incorrigible optimist who learnt to dream with the team of the nineties and noughties, will be the happiest if by some marvel of destiny the last unfinished row of the following table is wiped clean and the flow of cricketing history is altered from SCG itself.

 

Sequence

Defeat Number

Captain

Opponent

Margin of Defeat

Venue

Date

1

1

Lala Amarnath

 Australia

233 runs

Melbourne

Jan 1, 1948

1

2

Lala Amarnath

Australia

Inns & 16 runs

Adelaide

Jan 23, 1948

1

3

Lala Amarnath

Australia

inns & 177 runs

Melbourne

Feb 6, 1948

1

4

Vijay Hazare

England

7 wickets

Leeds

Jun 5, 1952

1

5

Vijay Hazare

England

8 wickets

Lord’s

Jun 19, 1952

1

6

Vijay Hazare

England

inns & 207 runs

Manchester

Jul 17, 1952

2

1

Datta Gaekwad

England

inns & 59 runs

Nottingham

Jun 4, 1959

2

2

Pankaj Roy

England

8 wickets

Lord’s

Jun 18, 1959

2

3

Datta Gaekwad

England

inns & 173 runs

Leeds

Jul 2, 1959

2

4

Datta Gaekwad

England

171 runs

Manchester

Jul 23, 1959

2

5

Datta Gaekwad

England

inns & 27 runs

The Oval

Aug 20, 1959

2

6

Nari Contractor

West Indies

10 wickets

Port of

Spain

Feb 16, 1962

2

7

Nari Contractor

West Indies

inns & 18 runs

Kingston

Mar 7, 1962

2

8

MAK Pataudi

West Indies

inns & 30 runs

Bridgetown

Mar 23, 1962

2

9

MAK Pataudi

West Indies

7 wickets

Port of Spain

Apr 4, 1962

2

10

MAK Pataudi

West Indies

123 runs

Kingston

Apr 13, 1962

2

11

MAK Pataudi

England

6 wickets

Leeds

Jun 8, 1967

2

12

MAK Pataudi

England

inns & 124 runs

Lord’s

Jun 22, 1967

2

13

MAK Pataudi

England

132 runs

Birmingham

Jul 13, 1967

2

14

Chandu Borde

Australia

146 runs

Adelaide

Dec 23, 1967

2

15

MAK Pataudi

Australia

inns & 4 runs

Melbourne

Dec 30, 1967

2

16

MAK Pataudi

Australia

39 runs

Brisbane

Jan 19, 1968

2

17

MAK Pataudi

Australia

144 runs

Sydney

Jan 26, 1968

3

1

M.S. Dhoni

England

196 runs

Lord’s

Jul 21, 2011

3

2

M.S. Dhoni

England

319 runs

Nottingham

Jul 29, 2011

3

3

M.S. Dhoni

England

inns & 242 runs

Birmingham

Aug 10, 2011

3

4

M.S. Dhoni

England

Inns & 8 runs

The Oval

Aug 18, 2011

3

5

M.S. Dhoni

Australia

122 runs

Melbourne

Dec 26, 2011

3

?

M.S. Dhoni

Australia

?

Sydney

Jan 3, 2011

 

(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but cleanses the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two. His author site is at http://www.senantix.com and his cricket blogs at http:/senantixtwentytwoyards.blogspot.com)