September 8, 2002

Profligate middle age - 1990

By the start of the 1990 season, England were fast losing ground in international cricket, particularly on their woeful record at home. In successive summers since 1986, England had lost to India, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and Australia. And even though they narrowly defeated New Zealand in the first half of the 1990 summer, the series against India in the drier second half, had all the makings of a close contest.

The Indians, in the process of rebuilding under a new captain in Mohammad Azharuddin, had a number of exciting new players, including 17-year-old Sachin Tendulkar and 19-year-old Anil Kumble and this was nicely balanced by the experience of the captain, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Navjot Sidhu, Manoj Prabhakar and Kiran More.

Few, however, could have bargained for what was in store. By the end of the three-Test series, the contest was being hailed in glowing terms by Wisden: "The theatrical impresarios of London's West End would have been proud to have put on a spectacle like this. The patrons went away delighted by what they had seen. The show was a winner."

The batting in the series was spectacular. Centuries, a near double century, and even a triple century, flowed in a season that was marked by excellent weather. In the dry conditions, the Indians matched the home team in every department. Not for the first time, though, the tourists lost the series through one batting collapse - in the second innings of the first Test at Lord's. But even in defeat, the Indians shone and in the remaining two Tests, their batting was as sparkling as England's.

The bowling, however, was another matter but then England's was little better. Under the circumstances, the batting provided the glorious aspect of the rubber and for the spectators there was much to savour.

The feast started early. By the second day of the series, the England captain Graham Gooch had made 333 in the first innings, the first triple hundred in Test cricket since 1974. For good measure, Gooch in the midst of his annus mirabilis, scored 123 in the second innings. The total of 456 was the most any batsman had made in a Test. Allan Lamb and Robin Smith too got hundreds in the first innings when England declared at 653 for four.

On the face of it, India would have been hard pressed to reply with anything substantial. But the visitors did, thanks to Ravi Shastri's 100 and Azharuddin's 121, during which he exhibited oriental artistry at its best. Audacious, wristy strokeplay got him to three figures off only 88 balls. But the most dramatic entertainment was yet to come. Despite these heroics, India were 430 for nine, still needing 24 runs to avoid the follow on in the pre-lunch session on the fourth day.

Narendra Hirwani joined Kapil Dev and survived the last ball of Angus Fraser's over. Kapil faced Eddie Hemmings and Wisden records the sequence of events that followed: "Kapil played the first two balls of the following over of Hemmings defensively, then ripped into the next four and drove each one for six. Three of them were enormous, clattering the scaffolding, one was simply big; all were magnificent. With the very next delivery Fraser had Hirwani leg before." Kapil who went from 53 to 77 during this purple phase became the first to hit four successive sixes in a Test.

After such heroics, it does seem unbelievable that India lost the match by 247 runs but credit must be given to Fraser, who with a match haul of eight wickets, in rather trying circumstances, was almost as much a hero as Gooch.

More spectacular batting followed in the second Test at Manchester. Gooch got a third successive three-figure knock, shared an opening partnership of 225 with Michael Atherton (131) while Smith got his second century in as many Tests.

England led off with 519 but again India made a fitting reply. Sanjay Manjrekar got 93 and Tendulkar 68 but it was Azharuddin who again provided the razzle dazzle with a superb 179 with 21 fours and a six. Between lunch and tea on the third day, he scored 100 runs, in the process becoming the first Indian to score as many in a single session in a Test.

India's reply was a fitting 432 but Lamb now got his second successive hundred in Tests and England declared early on the final morning at 320 for four. A victory target of 408 was never really on the cards though a draw was. But India faced defeat when they were 183 for six. There were 2-1/2 hours left as Prabhakar joined Tendulkar. However, Indian supporters need not have worried. For the little man and the gritty all-rounder, some ten years his senior, figured in an unbroken seventh wicket partnership of 160 runs to take India to a honourable draw.

Wisden records: "Tendulkar remained undefeated on 119 having batted for 224 minutes and hit 17 fours. He looked the embodiment of India's famous opener Gavaskar and indeed was wearing a pair of his pads. While he displayed a full repertoire of strokes in compiling his maiden Test hundred, most remarkable were his off-side shots from the back foot. Of the six centuries scored in the fascinating contest, none was more outstanding than Tendulkar's. At 17 years and 112 days, he was only 30 days older than Mushtaq Mohammed was, when against India at New Delhi in 1960-61, he became the youngest player to score a Test hundred. Tendulkar held the attack at bay with a disciplined display of immense maturity."

In the final Test at the Oval, it was India's turn to put some pressure on England. Batting first, India piled up their highestever total against England 606 for nine declared. Shastri led the way with 187, Azharuddin this time was restricted to 78 but Kapil came up with 110 at No 8.

England's reply of 340 was not enough to avoid the follow on but in the second innings, in conditions that remained ideal for batting even on the last day of the series, they scored 477 for four. Gooch with scores of 85 and 88 took his tally to 752 an easy record for a three-Test series. Atherton got 86 and David Gower remained unbeaten with 157. The bat's dominance over the ball was complete but no one was complaining.

As only to be expected, the Indian batting figures made for eyepopping reading while the bowling figures had to be gone through with a great deal of sympathy. Azharuddin, who was named as one of Wisden's cricketers of the year, topped the Test averages with 426 runs at 85.20 and Shastri, Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and Manjrekar were not far behind. On the tour, Azharuddin again headed the averages (770 runs at 77.00) but it was Tendulkar who scored most runs (945) and not far behind was Manjrekar with 814.

This time Vengsarkar's scores in the Lord's Test were restricted to 52 and 35 but the veteran did reasonably well with 158 in the Tests and 576 runs in first class games. In bowling, Hirwani took most wickets both in Tests and on the tour but like all the bowlers, had to pay out heavily for them.

Outside the Tests, the Indians did have a fairly successful tour, winning both the Texaco Trophy one-day games and finishing with a record of one win, two losses and 10 draws in 13 matches. But the entertainment they provided in the Tests was all pervading.