September 8, 2002

Coming of age

With two countries scheduled to tour India early in the 1986-87 season, the Board of Control for Cricket in India had no option but to send the Indian team on its 1986 trip to England in the first half, even though they had toured in the first half on the previous tour, four years before.

This meant that the Indians would have to again play in the cold, rain-affected half of the English season. But unlike on the two previous tours of England in 1979 and 1982, this time the bowling was strong enough to bowl out the home side. Also, the attack was built on seam, so very ideal for the prevailing conditions. The batting remained good enough and the result was an emphatic triumph in the three-match series.

India won their first ever Test at Lord's, followed it up with another victory at Leeds and there were times in the third Test at Edgbaston when the tourists seemed set for a clean sweep before rain halted play and the match was left drawn.

The 1986 Indian team to England has to be among the most balanced in 70 years of Test cricket. Unlike previous teams with a positive record, the strength of the bowling was not based on spin. Kapil Dev, Roger Binny, Chetan Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar were the medium pacers and the first three did their job in exemplary fashion in the Tests. Madan Lal, called up from the Lancashire league, filled in admirably for the injured Chetan Sharma at Leeds.

However, while the main thrust of the attack centered round seam bowling, the two spinners Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri also had a role to play. The former particularly dealt severe blows and in fact headed the Test averages.

But bowlers can accomplish their job if only the batsmen give them a total sizeable enough to defend. And in this regard, the team was well served by the presence of Sunil Gavaskar, K Srikkanth, Mohammad Azharuddin, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath, all-rounders Shastri, Kapil and Binny and the new wicketkeeper Kiran More. Except for Vengsarkar, no one was in really rip-roaring form but the batting jelled together at vital times.

Speaking of crucial moments, India came good every time there was a crisis. In the first Test, for example, after England had led off with 294, India were 264 for eight when More, in his first Test joined Vengsarkar who was on 81. The stage seemed set for an engrossing duel for the first innings lead that would be a great psychological boost. More (25) helped Vengsarkar add 39 runs and the lead was taken.

But Vengsarkar was on 95 when joined by Maninder. The No 11 batsman held on to make six runs, saw Vengsarkar reach his century and the two were finally associated in a partnership of 38 runs. It was the tall Bombay batsman's third successive hundred against England at Lord's, a unique achievement for a visiting batsman.

A lead of 47 runs meant that the game had reached a vital stage but early on the fourth morning, Kapil irrevocably swung the match India's way with an inspired spell that removed Graham Gooch, Tim Robinson and David Gower even before the arrears had been wiped off. Midway through the following day, India were celebrating their first victory at Lord's in 11 Tests. Kapil hastened the five-wicket victory by hitting Edmonds for 18 runs in an over - three fours and the six over mid-wicket with which the game was won. Incidentally, it was also Kapil's first victory in 21 Tests as Indian captain.

A second - a much more emphatic victory by 279 runs - came two weeks later. Here the dominance of Indians was complete. They took a stranglehold on the game at the end of the first innings and thereafter only the margin and when that victory would come about were being discussed.

Vengsarkar top scored with 61 in India's first innings total of 272. Then Madan Lal, preferred in place of Prabhakar who was already in the squad, and Binny got among the wickets quickly and England were dismissed for 102. In bowler-friendly conditions, Vengsarkar, then in the midst of his Bradmanesque run, brought all his class, skill and experience into play.

Coming in at nine for two, he steadied the innings and in the company of the later order batsman and the tail he serenely progressed to another hundred, which he reached again in the company of last man Maninder. This time he remained unbeaten with 102 in a total of 237. England's victory target was an improbable 408 and they succumbed meekly for 128, some 75 minutes after resumption of play on the fourth morning.

With the rubber in their pocket, it only remained to be seen whether the Indians could make it a clean sweep. And when England lost their first two wickets without a run on the board on the first morning of the third Test, hopes were high. A captain's knock by Mike Gatting (183 not out) however helped England get to 390.

Consistent batting down the order saw India post the same total, only the fourth time this had happened in 1048 Tests since 1877. Chetan Sharma, with a bag of six for 58 that saw him become the first Indian bowler to take ten wickets in a Test in England, bowled out the home team for 235 early on the final morning. A victory target of 236 was on the cards, considering the strength and form of the Indian batsmen. But from 101 for one, they slumped to 105 for five.

Rain, however, took a hand with India 126 for five at tea and on resumption, Azharuddin and More took the final score to 174 for five at final draw of stumps.

Away from the Tests too, the Indians had a successful tour. The two match one-day international series was shared while the visitors became the first Indian team not to lose even a single match on a tour of England. Out of 11 first-class matches, three were won and eight drawn.

Vengsarkar predictably headed both the Test and tour averages and was deservedly named among Wisden's five cricketers of the year. Amarnath and Azharuddin performed well enough to cover up for the comparatively lean form of Gavaskar, Shastri, Sandip Patil and Srikkanth. And this time the bowling figures for the tour and Tests matched the batting, symbolised by Maninder heading the Test figures with 12 wickets at just 15.58 apiece.

For England, there was little to rejoice and only Gatting's form with the bat, Pringle's all-round capabilities and Edmonds' spell on the final day of the third Test providing some sources of comfort. England in fact changed captains in mid-stream, Gatting taking over from Gower after the first Test but this did not result in any change in England's fortunes.