December 13, 2001

The mirage of a promising series

Rarely could a contest that promised so much have produced so little as the 1981-82 series between India and England. The Indians had performed very well at home over the past few years, and their feat of sharing a rubber in Australia for the first time the previous season had generated considerable interest. The Englishmen, for their part, had come back in dream fashion during the summer to win the Ashes after a fascinating contest with Australia. Naturally, the stage seemed set for a battle royal.


Kapil Dev and Dilip Vengsarkar provided some entertaining batting along the way, and Ravi Shastri, with 'a 30-year-old head on 20-year-old shoulders,' came of age as a utility man during the series. But the inability of Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Pranab Roy, Kirti Azad, Ashok Malhotra and Sandip Patil to make the most of their opportunities was a handicap that India could ill afford.
What was served up to an unsuspecting public, however, was a damp squib. Five of the six Tests were drawn, all of them in a row after India wrapped up the first Test in four days. The cricket was of the comatose variety, the batting uninspired, and the bowling little better.

Moreover, it was largely slow-motion cricket, with a negative strategy being blatantly pursued by both sides. Even slow bowlers took their time in sending down their overs, and time was wasted at any available opportunity. Symbolizing the tardy approach was the England over rate on the third morning of the fifth Test at Madras, less than 10 per hour. Laborious batting, ridiculously slow over rates, and defensive tactics ruined the series as a spectacle, despite the fact that there were dynamic players on both sides, including two of the leading all-rounders in the game in Kapil Dev and Ian Botham.

The England super-star came to this country riding a crest of success following his unbelievable feats in the Ashes series. He did not disappoint, topping the Test averages with 440 runs at 55.00. Only in bowling was he some disappointment. But then, on slow, placid pitches, it was almost next to impossible for any bowler to pick up wickets easily, and his figures of 17 wickets at 38.82 must be viewed in this perspective.

Graham Gooch and David Gower were the other enterprising players. The former topped the aggregates both for the Tests (487) and the tour (967) and generally was in rip-roaring form. Gower was less consistent, but he did get 375 runs in the Tests and 755 on the tour. Geoffrey Boycott and Chris Tavare were predictably more cautious in their approach, but they also finished among the runs. Boycott, making his first tour of India at 41, played only in the first four Tests, but this was enough for him to achieve his primary objective of becoming the highest run-getter in Test history. In the third Test at New Delhi, he surpassed Gary Sobers' tally of 8032 runs, also completing his 22nd and last century in what turned out to be his penultimate Test. He also had the satisfaction of heading the tour figures, scoring 701 runs at an average of 77.89. The inability of skipper Keith Fletcher to strike form and the failure of Mike Gatting, however, meant that the batting had loopholes and could be pierced.

The much-vaunted England bowling of Bob Willis, Botham, John Lever, Derek Underwood, Graham Dilley and John Emburey was blunted by slow pitches, and the Indian batsmen had no difficulty in negotiating them. Sunil Gavaskar ended up with his usual packet of runs ­ 500 runs at 62.50, including a mammoth 172 in the second Test at Bangalore, for which he batted 708 minutes ­ the longest innings by an Indian in first-class cricket. In fact, he was on the field for all but four balls of the match, opening the innings and being ninth out. Gundappa Viswanath, after a slow start, got a century and a double century, finishing with 466 runs at 58.25. His 222 in the fifth Test at Madras was the highest by an Indian against England.

During that match, he and Yashpal Sharma also became the seventh pair of batsmen to bat throughout an uninterrupted day of Test cricket. Indeed, it was only the second time that England had failed to take a wicket during a complete day's play, and the two became only the second Indian pair after Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy (during their record 413-run opening partnership) to bat unbeaten through a day's play in Test cricket. The third-wicket partnership of 316 runs between Viswanath and Yashpal was the Indian record for that wicket against all countries.

Kapil Dev and Dilip Vengsarkar provided some entertaining batting along the way, and Ravi Shastri, with 'a 30-year-old head on 20-year-old shoulders,' came of age as a utility man during the series. But the inability of Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Pranab Roy, Kirti Azad, Ashok Malhotra and Sandip Patil to make the most of their opportunities was a handicap that India could ill afford. Patil was a major disappointment, especially after his heroics in Australia, and was dropped midway through the series, as was Srikkanth, who had been hailed as a bright new star with his swashbuckling approach.

The Indian bowling, in the hands of two medium-pacers and two left-arm spinners, lacked variety. With the exception of Dilip Doshi, the attack could do little on the unhelpful pitches. Shastri was still on the learning curve, while Kapil Dev and Madan Lal, after their purple patch at Bombay when they dismissed England on their own for 102, could achieve little. Doshi, however, bowled with his heart on his sleeve and finished with 22 wickets at 21.27 apiece ­ a splendid record, given the circumstances. The tour also featured a one-day international series in which India performed commendably, winning by a 2-1 margin. The first match of the series at Ahmedabad was, in fact, the first one-day international in India.