India v England: Highs, Lows, And Standout Men Over The Years
After wrapping up the one-day and T20 internationals, India now face the ‘test’ against a quality English team.
It remains to be seen how Virat Kohli and team will fare in the crucial 2018 series.
We revisit the past to identify the bright spots, the dull flames, and much more in the India-England test rivalry that has existed for over eight decades.
The Indian cricket team has embarked on its eighteenth test tour of England and will play in a five-test series commencing on 1 August.
The first tour was held back in 1932 and the last was in 2014. In the intervening decades, India has played 57 tests in England, winning six, losing 30, and drawing 21. Fifty-seven tests is remarkable, given that India has only played in 522 tests in its entire history. So, over 10 per cent of our test matches have been played in England and against England.
It all began in 1932 – our first tour after being granted test status. We played a solitary test on that tour at Lord’s, which we lost by 158 runs. But that was not the first tour of England by an Indian team.
The first tour by an all-India team (before getting test status) was actually way back in 1911. The 1911 side was a truly pan-Indian team with a remarkably diverse composition. The team was captained by the maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh. He was the grandfather of Captain Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab.
The team played 23 matches, of which 14 were granted “first class” status. The team actually managed to win two of the 14 games, drawing two and losing 10. The star performer on the 1911 tour was a man named Palwankar Baloo, a left-arm orthodox spinner. Hailing from the southern town of Dharwad, Baloo was India's first “Dalit” star in sport. On the tour, Baloo was a huge success, taking 75 wickets in 14 matches.
Interestingly, the man who kept wickets to Baloo was a Brahmin named K S Sheshachari from Madras. A Brahmin-Dalit collaboration on the cricket field as early as 1911!
For the next 20 years, India did not engage in much international cricket. There were no more tours of England until 1932 when India made its test debut. Since then, India has toured England on 16 more occasions. While we have won on just three of those, many Indian cricketers have dazzled on the English cricket fields with brilliant individual performances, many of which were career-defining.
Let’s examine some of the individual highs and abysmal team lows in England over the past eight decades.
Vijay Merchant is universally regarded as one of India’s greatest ever batsmen, with a first-class average of 71.64 (second only to Don Bradman in cricket history). However, he played in only 10 test matches, six of which were in England in 1936 and 1946.
On these two tours, Merchant scored 527 test runs with two hundreds at an average of 47.9. Merchant was a star in 1936 with 1,745 first class runs in the summer at 51.32. Ten years later in 1946, Merchant exceeded himself with 2,385 runs in a very wet summer at an average of 74, with seven hundreds. His success as a young opener in 1936 prompted C B Fry to remark – “Let us paint him white and take him with us to Australia as an opener.”
Vinoo Mankad was inarguably India’s greatest all-round cricketer until the debut of Kapil Dev in the late 1970s. While he had a long and illustrious first-class career from 1935 to 1962, Mankad’s career-defining performance in tests came in 1952 at Lord’s. Though the match was won by England, the test is remembered to this day as Mankad’s test.
Interestingly, Mankad was a professional in the Lancashire Leagues when India toured England in 1952, and was released only for the tests. At Lord’s, in what was his first first-class match for that season, Mankad hit 72 in the first innings, 184 in the second, and took 5-196 in 73 long overs. An all-round performance for which there is hardly an equal in test history.
Bhagwath Chandrasekhar was arguably India’s finest leg-spin bowler until Anil Kumble came along in the nineties. In a career with 242 test wickets at an average of 29.74, Bhagwath’s most brilliant performance was in England at the Oval in the final test of the 1971 season.
The series stood poised at 0-0 after two tests. In the third and final test, Chandra bowled England out for 101 with a match-winning spell of 6-38 in England’s second innings, setting up an attainable chase for India after India had conceded a first innings lead of 71.
This was both India’s first test victory as well as series victory on English soil. The team returned home to a ticker-tape parade welcome.
Sunil Gavaskar’s 221 at the Oval in 1979 is probably his most famous, if not the most brilliant, performance in tests. It took him 443 balls and is the third-highest fourth-innings individual score by anybody in the history of test cricket.
India was set an improbable target of 438 by Mike Brearley on the last day-and-a-half. Gavaskar’s innings brought India to 429-8 at the close of play on the final day, just nine runs short of what would have been the highest fourth-innings run-chase at the time. Gavaskar got out when the team was at 389-3, scoring 221 of the 389 runs while he was at the crease.
The 2002 tour of England was at the beginning of what was a purple patch (2002-2004) in Rahul Dravid’s glorious test career.
In a series that India drew 1-1, Dravid scored a mammoth 602 runs in four tests with three centuries. His match-winning 148 at Leeds on a lively wicket at number three set up one of the most brilliant Indian batting performances overseas. India scored 628-8 in that match and won the game by an innings and 46 runs.
Year 1936 was India’s second test tour of England. While the loss of 0-2 in tests was hardly a surprise, the series was a particularly unhappy one. India was captained by the Maharajakumar of Vizianagaram (popularly known as Vizzy). Vizzy was both an untalented cricketer and an unpopular figure in the team.
The tour was marked by infighting, with Lala Amarnath being sent home by Vizzy for “disciplinary” reasons. It was also alleged that Vizzy offered opener Mushtaq Ali a gold watch to run out Vijay Merchant, and gave another player, Baqa Jalani, a test cap at the Oval in return for having insulted C K Nayudu at the breakfast table.
India won just four of the 28 first-class matches on tour, in contrast to the nine games that they had managed to win four years earlier in 1932.
Year 1952 was another forgettable tour of England, one that is best known today as the series in which the great Fred Trueman made his test debut. Trueman in his debut series took 29 wickets in four tests at an average of 13.31. Most memorably, at Leeds in the first test, India was reduced to 0-4 in the second innings.
India lost the series 0-3 with one drawn test. Mankad’s brilliance at Lord’s in the second test was India’s best memory on an otherwise forgettable tour.
After the great victory in 1971 by Ajit Wadekar’s team, much was expected when India toured England again in 1974. But the team came a cropper, losing all three test matches that it played. The tour is ignominiously remembered as the “Summer of 42” – a reference to the 42 all out in the second test at Lord’s, which remains India’s lowest test total ever, as well as the second-lowest test total for any team post-Second World War.
Gavaskar’s 101 at Old Trafford in the first test was one of the few bright spots for India on the tour – an innings that he personally regards as one of his finest ever.
India was the number-one-ranked test team in the world in 2011 when they toured England after winning the cricket world cup at home and completing season four of the Indian Premier League. The first test was one of the most widely watched in the history of the sport, as it was the 2000th test played.
However, the Indian team’s performances were particularly dispiriting and also hit by injuries. The series progressed from bad to worse, and a whitewash seemed almost imminent after the first test. The tour was particularly difficult for Sachin Tendulkar and V V S Laxman. Rahul Dravid, however, was very successful, with a series aggregate of 461 runs that included three centuries, all in a losing cause.
In 2014, the Indian team fared only marginally better than it did back in 2011. While in 2011, the team had found it particularly difficult to handle the Duke ball in the hands of Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, in 2014, the team also struggled surprisingly against the spin of Moeen Ali, who rather inexplicably took 19 wickets at 23 in only his second test series.
The series loss was particularly underwhelming after a brilliant performance in the second test at Lord’s, where Ajinkya Rahane and Ishant Sharma fashioned a great win.
So that brings us now to the summer of 2018. It is only for the third time in the last eight decades that India will be playing in a five-test series in England, after 1959 and 2014. While one is tempted to place Virat Kohli’s team as narrow favourites, being the number-one test side, the memory of 2011 must be fresh when a similarly strong Indian side failed miserably to make an impression.
England does pose a unique challenge to touring teams with its Duke ball and its rather eccentric climate. It is a country where India has often flattered to deceive, but it has also held host to some of India’s greatest moments in cricket, not least of which are the 1971 test win and the world cup win in 1983.
An appetising couple of months await cricket lovers in both countries and elsewhere.
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