Learning to crawl
Sir Pelham Warner's comment best summed up the Indian sojourn of England in 1946. "Their grace on the field was equaled by their manners of it." Viewed from any angle the quality of play they provided, the overall results, the gate receipts the 1946 tour was a whopping success, wiping off the memories of the unhappy tour 10 years before.
The Indian team itself was a fairly strong one. Adorning it were players of the calibre of Vijay Merchant, Lala Amarnath, Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Hazare, Vinoo Mankad, Rusi Modi and the captain - the senior Nawab of Pataudi. The side was managed well by the genial Pankaj Gupta, who was a welcome change after the autocratic Brittain-Jones.
In such a congenial atmosphere, the Indians played up to potential, and this was reflected in the results. Out of 29 first-class matches, the visitors won as many as 11, lost only four and drew 14. Further, this was achieved in one of the wettest English summers on record. If India lost the Test series, they certainly were not disgraced. After all, the first Test was won by England thanks largely to the batting of one man, the second ended in a thrilling draw, and it was possible to argue that India was in a stronger position in the rain-affected final Test at the Oval, which was also left drawn.
The first post-war Test in England at Lord's was thankfully played in bright sunshine and was watched by large crowds. India, after being bowled out for 200, did well to get England at 70 for four, all the wickets being taken by Amarnath. And what a prize bag it was too Sir Len Hutton, Cyril Washbrook, Denis Compton and Wally Hammond!
Joe Hardstaff and wicket-keeper Paul Gibb (60) got the innings back on track with a fifth-wicket stand of 182. Hardstaff hit 205 in 315 minutes with 16 fours. India, 228 runs in arrears, put up a better display in the second innings, but they found Alec Bedser, in his first Test, tough to handle. The tall Surrey swing bowler had a match haul of 11 wickets as India were all out for 275, leaving England to get only 48 runs for victory. The home team got these without losing a wicket.
In the second Test at Old Trafford, Mankad and Amarnath, taking five wickets each, bowled out England for 294. Merchant (78) and Mushtaq Ali (46) brought back memories of their famous stand at the same ground 10 years before by putting on 124. Astonishingly, however, India thereafter lost 10 wickets for 46. England stretched their lead of 124 by declaring the second innings at 153 for five. India, set to make 278 runs in three hours, lost wickets at regular intervals, and the last pair - Hindlekar and Sohini - had to bat out the last 14 minutes to draw the match with the score 152 for nine.
At the Oval, India, after a delayed start, led off with 331, thanks in the main to Merchant's 128. England were 95 for three when further rain stopped play. From England's point of view, the main gain was Bedser, who in his first series took 24 wickets in three Tests, a harbinger of many great deeds over the next decade.
In keeping with their good showing in the Tests, the Indians' record in the first-class games was admirable. None impressed more than Merchant, who scored 2,385 runs at an average of 74.53 with seven hundreds. His batting was a veritable lesson in how to bat in the generally difficult conditions encountered on the tour.
Vijay Hazare was not very far behind. The two were already in the midst of a run-getting rivalry in the Pentangular and Ranji Trophy tournaments in India, and happily they carried this to England too. A week after Merchant hit an unbeaten 242 against Lancashire, Hazare scored 244 not out against Yorkshire. Hazare's aggregate was 1,344 runs at an average of 49.77. Rusi Modi was another to top the 1,000-run mark, finishing with 1,196 runs at 37.37.
But in a way, perhaps the biggest success of the tour was Mankad, who had the rare distinction of completing the double the only Indian to do so on a tour of England. In scoring 1,120 runs at an average of 28.00 and taking 129 wickets at 20.76 apiece, Mankad proved that he was among the leading players in the world. Indeed, as a left-arm spinner, he had no equal. Amarnath, with 800 runs and 56 wickets, lived up to his reputation, while Hazare did his bit with the ball too, finishing second in the averages with 56 wickets.
In addition, the Indians performed feats that were either eyecatching or have stood the test of time. Against Sussex at Hove, they hit up 533 for three declared on the first day with all four batsmen Merchant, Mankad, Pataudi and Amarnath crossing the three-figure mark. But it was the feat against Surrey that is the most famous. The Indians, batting first on a Saturday, were 205 for nine. Last man Shute Banerjee joined number 10 Chandu Sarwate, who had yet to score. The Surrey captain deferred the tea interval in the hope of taking the last wicket quickly.
He had to wait till Monday morning.
With batting that was of the highest order, Banerjee and Sarwate rewrote the record books. Against an attack that included Bedser and Alf Gover, the two set up the highest last-wicket stand in England and the second-highest 10th-wicket partnership of all time, putting together 249 runs in 190 minutes. Moreover, it remains unique in that it is the only time in first-class cricket that numbers 10 and 11 have hit hundreds. While Banerjee got 121, Sarwate remained unbeaten with 124.
Mushtaq Ali, who was a member of both the 1936 and 1946 teams, maintains in his autobiography Cricket Delightful that, man-to-man, the 1936 team was the stronger side. But many veteran critics gave the palm to the 1946 side, and on results it is difficult to argue with this view. Also, the popularity of the side is best illustrated by the touching gesture of Leveson Gower, the 73-year-old president of the Surrey Cricket Club, who came all the way to the London docks to wish the team farewell. He made it clear that he had come in his personal capacity because he wanted to say goodbye to those who had given the lovers of cricket such great joy. "They gave pleasure on and off the field, and never has there been a more popular team," he said echoing the view of many.