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August 20, 2009

Samir Chopra

The Oval Test (but not the one you have in mind)

Samir Chopra

Everyone is talking about The Oval, so I might as well get into the act. But not by talking about the fifth Ashes test, but about a match that took place 38 years ago. The 1971 Oval Test remains the only Test match whose scores are committed to my memory. England 355 all out. India 284 all out. England 101 all out. India 174 for 6. India wins by six wickets as Abid Ali hits the winning runs. India's first Test win in England.

It's a little strange, really. I didn't see this match live (or even hear any radio commentary). The only parts of it that I've seen on television highlight reels are those clips that feature BS Chandrasekhar's 6 for 38 (one of those few Indian bowling figures that I also know by heart). It just happens to be one of those matches that is hard to forget, whose memories, by virtue of being so frequently imprinted by the written word, are now locked away securely, impervious to the ravages of time.

But I've seen a little bit more this weekend. And a tiny video clip reminds me of how much the cricketing world has changed. And what makes this clip puzzling is that it is not clear to me whether the change is for the better or worse.

Pay attention, then, if you will, to the closing moments of this Test in this linked YouTube video, pay attention from 3:15 onwards. India need two runs to win. It's 170 for 4. Farokh Engineer and Ali are at the crease. After hearing out Engineer's advice that he stay calm and knock off the single required, Ali square cuts for four. As the crowd invades the pitch, the players scramble for the pavilion, but only after the obligatory scramble for stumps.

Here is where things get interesting. Ali is rushing off, but without a stump, and so, tries to take a stump from Alan Knott, presuming that stumps are victor's booty. Knott, however, is having none of it, and a little tugging match ensues (there are some verbals but obviously, we can't hear those). Finally, Ali, who was not expecting this resistance, turns and sprints for the bowler's end, where the stumps are still standing. Knott turns and gives the stump to the umpire coming up behind him. After this, the video shifts to scenes of the milling crowd carrying Engineer on their shoulders, and then cuts to a black and white photograph of the Indian team. I do not know what happened to Ali and whether he managed to get himself a little souvenir.

I've played and replayed this little clip and still don't know what to make of it. I know a similar scene would not occur today. For one thing, a losing team simply does not bother with the stumps. Secondly, it is hard to imagine a losing team's player actually resisting a winning team's player's attempts to obtain a trophy even if the stump happened to be in his possession. It is even more unlikely that the player, having successfully resisted the invading marauder, would then turn around and hand the stump over to the umpire.

So, what was Knott up to? Was he disapproving of the process of trophy-grabbing? Was he simply collecting stumps to make sure they didn't go to the crowd? Would Knott have resisted an Australian player's attempts to obtain a trophy? Were crowd invasions a new enough thing in England at the time that the "right thing" for Knott to do was to make sure they stayed with the umpires after the game was over?

These questions might seem trivial, but answers to them would be useful I think, in figuring out English players' perceptions of various opposition teams, the proprieties of souvenir hunting, the changes in crowd behavior as a function of the success of teams other than Australia in England, and lastly, the changing standards of player behavior on the field (on what was considered proper and what wasn't).

Knott's actions appeared to be petty and ungenerous to me, but perhaps he knew of no other way to react, and perhaps my perception of his actions as such, reveal a great deal of how much the cricket world has changed since that memorable day in 1971.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Satadru Sen on (August 24, 2009, 0:29 GMT)

An interesting moment, I thought also. My sense of it is that the ritual of the winning team helping itself to the stumps had not come along at that point in the game's history - in fact, I don't recall it being common at all in my childhood, whereas it's an expected thing now. Abid was probably getting carried away by the carnival atmosphere of an unprecedented win, and setting a precedent of his own in the process. And poor Alan Knott, having lost the Test, was probably trying to save the Order of Things.

Posted by Gautam Govitrikar on (August 22, 2009, 20:59 GMT)

Samir, I have to disagree with you. The umpire came running to collect the stumps himself and Alan Knott was just doing hit bit to help him. Lets not make an issue out of a non-issue!

Posted by Sridharan on (August 22, 2009, 4:18 GMT)

Yes Samir, The Oval Test, which India won in 1971 will be remembered by those cricket loving Indians; It was special because that series, followed after India registering their maiden test series win in West Indies and also we saw Sunil Gavaskar emergin as a bright star in Inida Cricket Horizon; What a superb bowling spell from Chandra, who mesmerised the Endglish batsman with his 6 for 38 bowling figures; It was a sepcial day -July 24,19971 being Ganesh Chaturthi.

Posted by John on (August 22, 2009, 1:07 GMT)

Alan Knott, if you know anything about him, you would respect him as one of a bygone era of gentlemen and what a cricketer. Oh to be in a time Machine.Look at other videos if you get the chance, the opposing team getting a century , you will see genuine applause and congratulations. True gent.

Posted by Vijay on (August 21, 2009, 22:17 GMT)

If you need an explanation Samir, look at the video again and look at the umpire right from the beginning of the run...he seemes scared because of so many people coming in. So probably Knott took the stump and gave it to the ump so the ump could protect himself. Now, look at the ump as soon as he receives the stump...see his posture, and u'll realize what happened there.

Posted by Brian on (August 21, 2009, 21:00 GMT)

Well i really must support the under tones of this article. To say someone is a good bloke is well and good, but to whom are we good. The social superiority complex of certain countries and the way they play the game still today can leave a lot to be desired, but quite honestly some 37 years ago it was just plain horrid. Certainly to souvenir a stump may not have been the best of behavior, but i will bet good bloke or not, if he had refused Ian Chappell a stump he would have been dressed down in no uncertain terms. The part of this article that is encouraging is that India could come back and win after a poor first innings. There is still hope for the fifth test. Looks like a good toss to have one, hands up all those who are sick of these crappy test pitches damaging the profile of test cricket, don't worry about T20, we are killing test cricket in so many other ways it is not funny.

Posted by Karthik on (August 20, 2009, 15:09 GMT)

Agree - pretty useless article. Have seen some really good ones from Samir and this certainly was way below par.

Posted by omar hussain on (August 20, 2009, 14:53 GMT)

I watched this match on television.Samir you got it all wrong!Alan Knott was the nicest fellow you could meet and very upright.It was not common in those days for stumps to be taken as souvenirs rather it was looked upon as vulgar.I believe Knotty simply thought the stumps should be given back to the umpire!I swear Alan Knott had no malice which you seem to imply.You are slurring a genuine honest to goodness fellow.

Posted by Roy Hay on (August 20, 2009, 10:22 GMT)

With the Ashes in the balance it's time to remember a cricket match which happened in 1882. Not the Australian victory at the Oval in the only test that year which led to mock obituary bemoaning the death of English cricket, but another which took place a few days before on 29 July 1882. That day Scotland beat Australia at cricket! It is said that Billy Murdoch’s tourists were so incensed by that loss, that they went out and thrashed the English in response a month later.

The story is not entirely simple, however. Australia was to play a three-day match against the Scots but hammered them by an innings and 18 runs inside two.

But that was not the end of the affair. The canny Scots, faced with the prospect of returning money to a sell-out crowd for the third day, persuaded the Aussies to play a one-day match on the Saturday, and this time the Scots got up, thanks largely to its captain, Leslie Balfour who scored 73 runs. It is nice story.

Posted by Tim on (August 20, 2009, 5:55 GMT)

I watched the clip, and I don't know what the heck you are talking about, other than trying to make an issue where there wasn't one.

This is the least interesting or useful cricket article I have ever read.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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