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The India I remember

A veteran cricket writer looks back a couple of India's earliest visits to England, featuring an incompetent prince-captain, a colossal allrounder, and more

John Woodcock

July 19, 2011

Comments: 32 | Text size: A | A

Vijay Merchant bats in the indoor nets of the Alan Fairfax Cricket School as his team-mates look on, London, April 21, 1936
Vijay Merchant with his team-mates at the Alan Fairfax Cricket School in London, in 1936 © Getty Images
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The first Test match between England and India that I saw was at Lord's in 1936; the first I wrote about was in 1952. On uncovered English pitches, India's batsmen, brought up in much blander conditions, had yet to become a force to be regularly reckoned with, and many years were to pass before England considered it incumbent upon them to send a full-strength side to tour India.

Of Lord's itself, pretty well all that remains as it was in 1936 is the pavilion, and even that now incorporates as the secretary's office what, until 1958, was the press box.

As Indian sides always will, those of 1936 and 1952 contained some fine natural cricketers. For no obvious reason their best batsmen in those days seemed more likely to be tall and wristy and elegant, like Mushtaq Ali and Rusi Modi, than small and wristy and insatiable, like Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.

It was during the Lord's Test of 1936 that artificial methods of drying the pitch after rain were first used, sacks and blankets being rolled into the surface to absorb the moisture. All Test matches in England were still of three days' duration, except for those against Australia, which were of four, unless it was all-square coming to the last, in which case they were timeless. On average, 120 overs were bowled in a full six-hour day, as against today's paltry 90.

This entirely different tempo is because of the way the game has been commandeered, in most countries and at most levels, by bowlers with long runs. The best fast bowlers have always been match-winners, but until recently they hunted in pairs, not in threes, even fours, as happens now and inevitably slows down the game.

In 1936, India were captained, as if by statute, by a prince - the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram - who shot more tigers than he scored first-class runs and was given a courtesy knighthood during the tour. Much his best allrounder, Lala Amarnath, he sent home for insubordination just before the Lord's Test and a few days after he had scored a century in each innings against Essex. "If a tour by Indian cricketers is to be successful, differences of creed will have to be forgotten," sternly wrote the editor of Wisden. Many years later Vizzy was to be found writing and commentating on an England tour, a benevolent and widely respected figure, while Amarnath was to go on and lead the first Indian side to tour Australia.

 
 
For no obvious reason India's best batsmen in those days seemed more likely to be tall and wristy and elegant, like Mushtaq Ali and Rusi Modi, than small and wristy and insatiable, like Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar
 

India had to wait until their 25th Test match before gaining their first Test victory, which came against England in Madras in February 1952. Two months later they left, full of hope, for their third tour of England, only to have a wretched time of it. Of the England side they had beaten in India only two were thought good enough to get a game against them at home, besides which a dismally wet summer put India at a hopeless disadvantage. For the first time they were given five-day Test matches - four of them - and they came to Lord's for the second after making, in the first, what is still the worst start to an innings in Test history.

Although he was doing his national service in the RAF, 21-year-old Fred Trueman was given leave to play in the Test matches in 1952, and his impact was the talk of the season. Beginning their second innings in the first Test at Headingley in reasonable shape - only 41 runs behind England's 334 - India lost their first four wickets in 14 balls without scoring a run, three of them to Trueman, the other to Alec Bedser.

There was a lovely rhythm to Trueman's bowling, and he swung the ball at a pace equalled at the time only by the two Australians, Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. On the pitches of that summer, Trueman and Bedser would have been a handful for the strongest of sides. In the event, in their last three innings of the series, India were bowled out for 58, 82 and 98.

That they gave England a game at Lord's was due to an astonishing performance by Vinoo Mankad, who after the Headingley collapse had been released by Haslingden, where he was playing as a professional in the Lancashire League. Having scored 72 on the first day at Lord's and then bowled 73 overs in England's first innings, in which he took 5 for 196, Mankad went in again and made what at the time was India's highest individual score in Test cricket - 184 in just under five hours. By the time England won by eight wickets on the fifth morning his bowling figures for the match were 97-36-231-5. He was India's first great allrounder, and until Kapil Dev came along 25 years later, the most effective.

Mankad was a sturdy and businesslike right-hand batsman and a slow, orthodox left-arm bowler with a low trajectory. Cricket being a symbol of eternity as it was played in India in those days, Mankad personified it. No one else has ever been on the field for anything like as long in a match at Lord's. Of the 24 hours 35 minutes for which the match lasted he spent 18 hours 45 minutes in the middle. He was 35 at the time and nothing like as physically fit as his counterparts today. It was a prodigious effort.

But apart from that, and the emergence of Trueman, and the fact that England were being captained by a professional for the first time in England, the series of 1952 made few headlines. Len Hutton, whose 150 in the Lord's Test took second place to Mankad's tour de force, went on to become one of England's most successful and canniest captains. That neither he nor Don Bradman ever set foot in India was a great pity, albeit a reflection of the times. Had they done so, Brian Lara's 400 might well not be the highest individual score in Test cricket.

John Woodcock was cricket correspondent of the Times from 1954 to 1988

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 7:34 GMT)

where is india you know, i am only reading england you knowwhere is india you know, i am only reading england you know

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 5:27 GMT)

I do not aree with the last comment gere. Actually he speaks less of these batsmens record since they did not play in India.

Posted by masks on (July 21, 2011, 16:59 GMT)

@Trapdaar Woodcock does not say that Bradman did not pay against India...he says he did not play a test in India on Indian pitches.

Posted by chand31290 on (July 21, 2011, 16:47 GMT)

to see my country progressed so much makes my chest swell with pride. GO INDIA GO!

Posted by vverma on (July 20, 2011, 21:47 GMT)

On the old vs young debate: If you want the younger generation to respect the older generation (Bradman and Hutton) then try not to disrepect what the younger generation (Lara and Tendulkar) has achieved. Being older makes one knowledgeable but not necessarily wiser and definitely does not give one the nous to compare genius of the caliber of Bradman and Lara. My understanding is that old people have fond memories of their youth and everything associated with that period, so they are biased. In the same way that England is an old country, past its prime and so it remembers the past fondly. How cricket was a gentleman's game in those days and the like. India on the other hand is a young country and does not have fond memories of its slave past. So we prefer to live in the present. I do not mean to disrespect Bradman or Hutton, but hearing ad nauseum about how they are inarguably better than Lara and Tendulkar is , well, nauseating.

Posted by Truemans_Ghost on (July 20, 2011, 14:39 GMT)

The slips and bat-pad fielders in that photo were very close in. You will note how upright their stances were too.

Posted by Bobby_Talyarkhan on (July 20, 2011, 13:33 GMT)

"Every reification" as Adorno said "is a forgetting". The amnesia of large parts of contemporary youth shows their lack of education, if education is defined as the inter-generational transmission of knowledge. Instead of imbibing the love of cricket and respect for the generations on whose shoulders they stand, they imagine that they are the masters of the universe who know and have seen everything. Truly, the more information there is available, the less knowledge and wisdom there seems to be. As the sage CLR James wrote many years ago - "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?"

Posted by Bobby_Talyarkhan on (July 20, 2011, 13:28 GMT)

Some excellent contributions here from several people who make the valid point that cricket is about appreciating our history not denigrating it. Of course India was a British colony - every country which plays test cricket was a British colony. There is nothing uglier in the modern world than the breast-beating, tub thumping nationalism which dehumanises "the other" reducing her/him to an ethnic/racial category with biologically determinist overtones aporetic to cultural variation - be it of the colonialist or anti-colonialist variety. Patriotism, as Orwelll said, is "the last refuge of scoundrels". Cricket was taught to us by our colonial masters - but on the cricket field we were all equals even when we were a colony. That is the greatness of cricket - it was one of the things which taught us Indians and others that we could look other cultures in the eye, competing with them on level terms. It also bonded us in a shared community with every part of the world which loves cricket.

Posted by Trapdaar on (July 20, 2011, 12:51 GMT)

In fact Bradman did play against India (Just check the stats on cricinfo), and that's one of the reasons behind his colossal average.

Posted by Percy_Fender on (July 20, 2011, 11:00 GMT)

It was such a pleasant surprise to read on the early years of India in cricket from John Woodcock, who must be in eighties now. The likes of Woodcock and Jim Swanton, took pride in their objectivity in covering cricket unlike so many we have who feel the need to be subjective. They wrote in simple language as well, perhaps not too encouraged to dwell on prose as some others were, because of the rattling of the old typwriters that they had for company. But what they wrote could be read years later as we are privileged to do of this piece. It would seem as if they were talking about something that happened yesterday.When India are on the verge of taking on a worthy contender to the premier spot in cricket, it is just as well that the many who express themselves through 'comments' know how India came out of the colonial and princely mindset in their fledgling years to be where they are today.John himself was a fine sportsman for I think Oxford University.What a pleasure to read him again.

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