August 16, 2002

Beaten black and blue - 1959

In the midst of one of the worst-ever periods in their cricket history, India toured England in 1959 only to end up with the kind of record team members see in their nightmares. Out of 33 first-class matches, the Indians won only six and lost 11 while not all of the remaining 16 were honourably drawn.


A generally young team was again sent on the tour. But unlike in 1952 when the wicket and weather conditions were against them, this time the sun, out in all its glory, seemed to be in their favour. However, the batsmen again found the pace of Freddie Trueman and Brian Statham too hot to handle.
All five Tests were lost, this being the first time that India suffered such a whitewash. Incidentally, it was only the third time in Test history that a team had lost all five matches. The record was even more unpalatable considering the fact that it was one of the best English summers for years and that the home team themselves were not very confident having just been thrashed in Australia during the winter.

In fact, they commenced their rebuilding process by trying out many new players and even then they were good enough to swamp India. Three of the matches were lost by an innings, two defeats were sustained inside three days and two more matches must surely have been concluded with two days to spare but for interference from the weather.

A generally young team was again sent on the tour. But unlike in 1952 when the wicket and weather conditions were against them, this time the sun, out in all its glory, seemed to be in their favour. However, the batsmen again found the pace of Freddie Trueman and Brian Statham too hot to handle. What was even more disconcerting was the fact that the batsmen surrendered their wickets tamely even to lesser-known new ball bowlers like Alan Moss and rookie Harold Rhodes and also to spin bowlers like Brian Close, Tom Greenhough and Ray Illingworth.

The selection of the team was made in the wake of the disappointing five-match home series against the West Indies that was lost badly. For various reasons, Ghulam Ahmed, Vinoo Mankad, Gulabrai Ramchand and Dattu Phadkar were not selected and there was a new captain in Dattajirao Gaekwad. Pankaj Roy was his deputy and it was obvious that the batting would revolve around these two, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Chandu Borde, Nari Contractor and Bapu Nadkarni. The bowling, meanwhile, was to hinge mainly on Subash Gupte, making his long awaited first tour of England, the medium pacers Ramakant Desai and Raman Surrendranath and the two all rounders Borde and Nadkarni.

It was, then, the collective failure of both the batsmen and the bowlers that led to the rout in the Tests. The fact that only Contractor (233) and Umrigar (230) topped the 200-run aggregate mark symbolises the batting failures. Despite arriving after his classic batting display against the West Indies, which saw him get 109 and 96 against Wes Hall and Roy Gilchrist in the final Test at New Delhi, Borde was a failure getting only 140 runs in seven innings.

Roy improved upon his dismal record of seven years before but still proved to be easy meat for the pacemen, as evidenced by his meagre return of 179 runs from ten innings. Gaekwad never really got going and India were further handicapped by Manjrekar playing in only the first two Tests before a knee problem ruled him out for the rest of the tour.

Fortunately, Abbas Ali Baig, a 20-year-old freshman at Oxford University, proved to be a worthy replacement. At Manchester, he scored a century in his first Test, becoming the first Indian to hit a century on debut abroad. Moreover, the fact that he did so on the same ground at which Ranji had achieved a similar feat against Australia back in 1896 added a touch of colour.

Umrigar was the only other century maker in the series. He scored 118 at Manchester in what proved to be his last Test innings in England, hooking and pulling his old adversary Trueman with gusto. But perhaps the most courageous knock was played by Contractor at Lord's when he carried on to make 81 in over four hours despite having one of his ribs broken by a ball from Brian Statham early in the innings.

The bowling failed to rise to the occasion. Gupte no doubt took the most number of wickets in the series - 17 - but these cost 34.64 apiece. Desai was harshly treated, his 12 wickets being obtained at an average of 50.16. The best bowler was Surendranath. Relishing the conditions that aided his swing bowling, he finished at the top of the averages with 16 wickets at 26.62 apiece. Nadkarni with his left-arm spinners was at best steady while the English batsmen negotiated Borde's leg-spinners comfortably.

On the tour, Umrigar was again the most commanding batsman. He got five centuries, three of them double hundreds - one knock of 252 not out against Cambridge University being the then highest score abroad by an Indian. He ended the tour with 1826 runs and but for a hand injury that ruled him out of the last few matches on the tour, would surely have crossed the 2000-run mark.

Gaekwad (1174), Roy (1207), Borde (1060) and Contractor (1183) were the others to cross the 1000-run mark, though given a full tour it is safe to assume that both Manjrekar (755) and Baig (673) would have made the four-figure mark too.

As far as the bowling was concerned, Gupte with 95 wickets finished top of the heap but considering his reputation, the figure fell below expectations. Surendranath, given a lot of work had 79 wickets while Borde (72) and Nadkarni (55) did reasonably well. Desai, however, was a bit of a letdown finishing with 45 rather expensive wickets.

As only to be expected in a one-sided series, England had things their own way. Peter May, Colin Cowdrey, Mike Smith and new boy Geoff Pullar got hundreds while Ken Barrington was a model of consistency. The old firm of Statham and Trueman mowed down the Indian batting repeatedly and even Greenhough's leg spinners caused the visitors some trouble. Ultimately, it was both technical difficulties and a lack of fighting spirit that saw India go down tamely.