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England in India flashback: 1972-73

Eight for nothing

When Chandra took the best figures of his career, only for India to lose the match to England

Nagraj Gollapudi

November 8, 2012

Comments: 21 | Text size: A | A

Bhagwath Chandrasekhar bowls, 1974
Bhagwath Chandrasekhar took nine wickets in the match © Getty Images
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"Not just confident, we were a little bit over-confident," Ajit Wadekar said of the Indian team's mindset on the eve of the 1972-73 home series against England, who were led by Tony Lewis.

India were perhaps encouraged in their complacency by the fact that, for England, it was not a tour many wanted to be on. Ray Illingworth, who was England captain when Wadekar's Indians won the series in England the previous year, six months after their historic win in West Indies, had decided not to make himself available, and so had Geoffrey Boycott. Lewis, who was 34 years old, had enjoyed a successful three years as captain at Glamorgan, but he took up the England job knowing he was not going to be in it for long.

"The side involved several experiments because the selectors were building up to the next Australian tour in 1974," Lewis recalled. "That left some older players back home. The selectors choose an embryo team." Indeed, no one in the England squad had played in India. Only Alan Knott and Derek Underwood had played more than 20 Test matches. Only Knott had made a Test century.

The teams started the series with contrasting mindsets. "We had not had much practice, not having a camp where we could have been together, which would have helped team bonding," Wadekar said. "We did ask for a camp but the BCCI did not take it seriously. After our return from the wins the previous season, our feet were not on the ground."

England did well to draw the three warm-up matches before the first Test in Delhi, but their ambitions were modest. "The dominant feeling was a defensive one," Lewis wrote in his book Playing Days. "We should make the Indians fight for their runs and we should be happy with a draw in the first Test. It would buy time until we are on top of our game in foreign conditions."

Lewis had made his first-class debut 17 years before and now stood on the brink of not only playing his first Test but also leading England. However, an injury now put his place in doubt. "I had pulled a small muscle in the middle of my calf fielding during the warm-up match in Indore. Bernard Thomas, the team physio, had strapped me from ankle to knee. He had put layers of rubber padding under the heel in my shoe so that I wouldn't pull the muscle again," he recollected. He had asked his deputy, Mike Denness, to be prepared to fill in, but Lewis passed his fitness test come match day.

He had his team in his head. He told Norman Gifford and Jack Birkenshaw that they would be benched in favour of the first-choice spin combination of Pat Pocock and Derek Underwood. The pair took it in their stride and even showed good spirit, telling their captain that they were prepared "to offer a special service to anyone who admits to being a Test batsman". They even had business cards printed, reading "Messrs Gizzard and Birkenshaw Ltd - Net Bowlers".

Wadekar elected to bat first. The pitch was brown but Geoff Arnold, the England fast bowler, made good use of seam-friendly conditions in the first session. India were 20 for 3 in no time.

"It was overcast. The pitch was rolled mud without any grass. The ball after pitching made some indentations, which assisted in some movement," Arnold recalled. Ramnath Parkar was caught in the deep, hooking. Sunil Gavaskar, who had been among the heroes in the series in England, did not last long, edging to slip, and Wadekar was beaten by the swing. Arnold also got Dilip Sardesai immediately after lunch.

"Horsey [Arnold] got good movement with his pace," Wadekar said. "I was trying to play him on the back foot, trying to put it in the off side, but the ball came in sharply and I got an inner edge and got bowled. He was swinging the ball extremely well."

India finished on 173, a low score, but England had to tackle the might of the Indian spin trio of Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, Bishan Bedi and S Venkataraghavan.

They started well: the opening pair of Barry Wood and Dennis Amiss seemed comfortable, raising a half-century stand. But as the ball lost its shine, the spinners came into play and Chandrasekhar imposed himself steadily.

When Lewis walked in, he was nervous. "It felt strange to be Welsh and yet playing for Englnad. All my life at home, England has been the opposition," he wrote in his diary. He lasted just two balls, adjudged lbw to Chandrasekhar. Lewis felt he was robbed. "It was disappointing because I couldn't possibly have been out. Even Tiger Pataudi, who I think was a spectator in the press box, said I couldn't have been out," he said. "Chandra was bowling these googlies, which came in to the bat. I swept one of them from outside the off stump. And, you know, if the ball hits the pad outside off and you are playing a shot, you can't be out. So it was a bit of a shock for me; that lasted for a few days."

Only Tony Greig, who was enjoying his first tour of India, gelling with the excited crowds, played the Indian spinners confidently. He read Chandra, who finished with career-best figures of 8 for 79, better than his team-mates. According to Lewis, Greig's long stride helped him stretch further and get to the pitch of the ball, unlike the rest of the England batsmen, who would plunge forward too late. Greig was instrumental in England gaining a 27-run lead.

By now the pitch was taking increasing amounts of turn. England had already seen S Venkatraghavan, not a huge tweaker of the ball, bowl from the around the stumps and get good spin. When their turn came, Pocock and Underwood dominated the Indians, with a tight line and no width. "We had done our research and we worked quite hard and made it difficult for them," Lewis said. The only significant resistance England encountered was a 103-run partnership for the sixth wicket between Farokh Engineer and Eknath Solkar.

With 207 for victory England had to go for the win. "It was very tense with the ball doing much more for the spinners," Lewis said. "And there was plenty there to keep India optimistic and going hard for victory, and they probably expected to [win]. But we batted particularly well."


Tony Lewis sweeps on his way to 70*, India v England, 1st Test, December 1972
Tony Lewis during his 70 in the second innings © The Cricketer International
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His top order failed him again, though. Bishan Bedi got to the landmark of 100 Test wickets, accounting for Amiss and Keith Fletcher, who was out for a duck.

England needed 101 runs with seven wickets in hand on the final day - Christmas Monday. Lewis, unbeaten on 17, spent a restless Sunday night. He had started off on an edgy note, taking six overs to get off the mark. The first run, a push toward mid-off, had seemed endless to him: as if the stumps at the non-striker's end had been pushed back to the boundary rope. But he remained positive.

Lewis had been the highest run scorer in a Commonwealth team led by Richie Benaud to Pakistan in 1968. He had been brought up on uncovered pitches and was used to the turning ball at Glamorgan. And he had Greig for company. The two milked the slow bowlers, steering clear of doing anything flashy.

"If you have a haze of close fielders, you play the strokes through them and pretend as if the fielder is not there," Lewis said. "By staying there and taking the singles, we knew that Wadekar would eventually feel the heat of not having enough runs and withdraw a bit."

Engineer kept up a steady chirping from behind the stumps, but Lewis was not to be distracted. He eventually entered the history books as a winning captain on Test debut. "It was quite a mature performance from a team that was totally underrated. It could be that the Indians had underestimated us," Lewis said.

"They were overjoyed," Wadekar remembered. "They never expected to take the series lead. We never expected Arnold and England to play so well. We were taken aback. Our batting did not click and our senior batsmen did not perform, but we managed to bounce back and win the series."

As he sat quietly sipping champagne after the match, Lewis raised a toast to the man in the corner - Thomas, who had a glass of orange juice in hand - for the Christmas miracle. "What I do every Christmas morning is wake up with a smile on my face," Lewis said. "Even now. It lasts forever. It has been 40 years."

Thanks to the MCC Library at Lord's

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by indianpunter on (November 10, 2012, 5:11 GMT)

@nutcutlet. I have said it before on this forum. I love your objectivity and reasoning. However, i cant muster much enthusiasm about this series, which i fear will be a damp squib, with India dishing out dust bowls to the leaden footed english batsmen ( bar Bell).The bad old days of the 90s, it would seem so, again. I fear that Indian cricket is going to take a retrogressive step this series. A step which will see India s performances abroad, wither again. And, this will be Tendulkar's waterloo too.

Posted by   on (November 9, 2012, 5:11 GMT)

@bonobo: Even till early 1970s, a lot of English player would not prefer travelling to India to play. It was only in 1976-77 when a full strength English team travelled to India, after they had been grovelled by the might of the Windies in 1976. Tony Greig, Underwood, Amiss, Willis were all there.

Posted by bonobo on (November 8, 2012, 23:00 GMT)

I always find it interesting, how modern players, with three formats and excessive touring, are lambasted if they choose to sit one out. But back in the day it was quite common for players to choose not to tour.Like Illy, the England captain even. I understand some circumstances are different, that when you toured back then it was three months on the road, whilst now people fly back and forth. But it would be good to see a bit old school tolerance and sense applied, when guys today want to take a time out

Posted by Dannov747 on (November 8, 2012, 20:40 GMT)

Nvm, got it now xD I really like these flashback articles.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (November 8, 2012, 20:38 GMT)

@aby_prasad: thank you. Very best wishes! Let's hope that the series is full of high quality play & top levels of sportsmanship from the players on both sides. @Snehil Taparia: You're right! It's always fun trying to make converts to the cause, but the one-eyed brigade keep us on our toes & test our sense of humour! BW.

Posted by Nampally on (November 8, 2012, 20:24 GMT)

I see this article as a lesson to the Indian selectors to have a balanced set of spinners rather than fill it up with out of form & "Past it" guys. Yes England fought back & shocked an over confident India by chasing the runs down. That is the second lesson - don't be too cocky. Yes, there are some Indian fans who keep on harping a 4-0 win for India even before the series has started. Similar outpouring also occurs from some English Fans. There are also sensible guys who know that Cricket is a game of "glorious chance". So bit of humility on both sides helps in getting a meaningful forum. India had a chance to select a balanced set of spinners.Instead they leant towards picking their favourites in the squad. If the XI is also based on personal bias, India cannot win the first 2 Tests. The squad for the next 2 tests has to focus on Form & performance. On the other hand, England has a good team but the batting relies on top 4.It will be close series if the batting of both teams shows up!

Posted by Nampally on (November 8, 2012, 20:05 GMT)

A fine flashback article, Nagraj! Chandra was a fine leg spinner with high arm action resulting in lot of bounce off the wicket. He was one of the guy who trapped even the best batsmen in his leg trap with amazing fielders like Solkar in the cordon. I thought India will develop Rahul Sharma into a second Chandra. But Dhoni calmly killed that hope by benching Rahul about 20 times. Rahul is a quick leg spinner too(Not as quick as Chandra) who had the potential of being like Chandra. India squandered a great chance. The present squad with Dhoni should watch the video of Chandra, Bedi, Venkat acting in trio under Pataudi & learn what spin bowling is. Bedi was great with his accuracy & very difficult to hit. Venkat mostly had to play a second fiddle to these 2. India should take a page from the past & use a similar combo with Ashwin, Ojha & Rahul - vs. England. Replace Harbhajan with Rahul - right arm wrist leg spinner to have a balanced XI. Even Tiwary is a better choice than Harbhajan.

Posted by Dannov747 on (November 8, 2012, 16:32 GMT)

Eight for nothing? What? Such a misleading title... Great article though.

Posted by aby_prasad on (November 8, 2012, 15:44 GMT)

@nutcutlet., have to admit u are not just right, but overwhelmingly right. i apologise on behalf of him..i mean as an indian fan.

Posted by Match-winner on (November 8, 2012, 14:00 GMT)

I agree with Nutculet. Even for a second if you do take the message that you did out of this article, do you think that's going to shatter the confidence of the Indian Cricket team or give the English team a morale booster? Come on, it was a tripdown the memory lane, which ended highlighting that the Indians bounced back to win the series, so let it be what it was - a trip down the memory lane of England Vs India series'...

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