June 24, 2000

Summer of 42 revisited

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For all the ignominious defeats that Indian cricket suffered in the international arena in the fifties and sixties, these unhappy events seemed to be a thing of the past by the time the seventies rolled around. Basking under the batsmanship of Gavaskar and Viswanath, with the spin quartet proving to be a deadly combination, with lucky skipper Ajit Wadekar at the helm of affairs, and with there being vast improvement in our close in fielding and catching, Indian cricket seemed set for a glorious era at the start of the decade. The India Rubber Year of 1971, when triumphs were registered in the West Indies and England for the first time, followed by a third triumph at home against England in 1972-73 gave us an aura of invincibility. The Indians were being hailed as the team of the seventies just as England had been the team of the fifties and West Indies the team of the sixties. But one shattering day at Lord's in June 1974 sent us all crashing down to earth with a sickeningly dull thud. And that day was today, 26 years ago.

Twenty six years! And somehow I remember that day as if it was only yesterday. India were touring England and had lost the first Test by 113 runs. But it was not the kind of defeat to press panic buttons as England were home only in the mandatory overs. In the second Test however things started to go radically wrong. Over the first two days England rattled up 629, their highest total at Lord's, their highest in all post war Tests and their highest against India. The famed spin trio had finally been mastered.

Still there was hope for the Indian batting was quite formidable - Gavaskar, Engineer, Wadekar, Viswanath, Brijesh Patel, Solkar, Abid Ali and Madanlal. By the end of the third day, however India had been bowled out for 302 and following on 327 runs behind, were two for no loss at stumps.

Sunday intervened and talk generally centered around the possibility of an Indian fightback. The wicket was good, the batting was strong and there was nothing in the England bowling line up - Arnold, Old, Greig, Hendrick and Underwood - to suggest that victory could be easily achieved. This was the background as Monday, June 24, 1974 dawned.

I remember the events vividly. I was on night shift for the newspaper I worked on and at 4 pm IST, I turned on my transistor to listen to the BBC commentary. Gavaskar and Engineer resumed the Indian second innings and as Arnold and Old started operations, I must have dozed off. About half an hour later, the crowd's roar which came through the radio loud and clear must have woken up and I heard the commentator say ``and that makes India 25 for five.'' Disbelieving what I had just heard, I rubbed my eyes and cleaned my ears. But I was already awake and there was nothing wrong with my hearing. For the commentator repeated the score and said that Abid Ali was walking out to join Solkar.

Abid Ali? Solkar? Whatever had happened to Gavaskar, Engineer, Wadekar, Viswanath and Patel inside little more than half an hour? Well, actually they had all been out. Arnold had dismissed Gavaskar, Engineer, Viswanath and Patel while Old had bowled Wadekar. It was the crowd's reaction to Viswanath's dismissal that had woken me up from my slumber. In absolute amazement, almost not believing what I was hearing, I listened to the commentary as the collapse continued unabated.

Abid Ali was out to Old. India 28 for six. Madanlal was then out in the same over as I recall. Thirty for seven. Solkar was as usual holding one end up but what was the use? Old bowled Prasanna and Bedi in the same over. Forty two for eight. Forty two for nine. Chandrasekhar, injured while bowling, was in no position to bat. Did it really matter? In just 77 minutes and off 17 overs, India were shot out for 42 with Solkar unbeaten on 18, the lone man to reach double figures. It was India's lowest total in Test cricket and the lowest in all Test matches at Lord's. And England, victorious by an innings and 285 runs, had won by their second largest margin of victory in all Tests, the end coming with shattering suddenness at 12.39 pm on the fourth morning.

The commentators, all experienced hands at the game, themselves were amazed at the events of the morning. I had still not fully comprehended the full impact of the defeat - which incidentally meant that England had regained the rubber - but I remember phoning up a few friends to discuss what had happened - as if to confirm that the match was indeed over. When I went to the office later that evening, the collapse was understandably the only topic that held everyone's attention. We planned on how to feature the shocking events, carried photographs of Old (5 for 21) and Arnold (4 for 19) with a separate boxed feature on the fall of each wicket. One way or another, it was a day to remember. After all, it is not just the glorious moments that one recalls. Some disastrous events also stay in one's memory - whether one likes it or not. And that just about sums up the events of that unforgettable morning (or evening) which became christened over the years as the summer of 42.