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The story of the not-so-boring drawn series
May 6, 2005
Sponsorship rows, haranguing speeches, time-wasting and sit-down protests - such prima donna antics don't just occur in the men's game. The women showed the men how to really do diva when, in 1986, India played their first Test series on English soil. It was an awkward, blushing first time as expectations were heaped high on a nervous Indian side and, prior to their departure, they were issued with a mandate which left no room for compromise: don't lose at all costs. The ruling was clear - if they did lose a match, their funding would suffer. No wonder they took their time.
But it looked as though India were going to come unstuck immediately when, in their very first Test, on a baking, sunny day at Collingham in Leeds, they were hurtling towards defeat - and crippling financial penalty.
England needed 254 to win and, with two hours to go in on the final day, they were well on course for victory thanks to an opening partnership of 149 between debutante Lesley Cooke and the new captain Carole Hodges. Then followed an extraordinary passage of play, where India bowled just eight overs in the penultimate hour, after complaining of dazzling windows on parked cars and took an exaggerated amount of time to readjust their field with a right- and left-hander batting together most of the time. Not only did the Indians complain about the windows, they actually sat down on the pitch and refused to continue until all vehicles in the car park were moved, despite the batsmen saying they weren't troubled by any glare; all of which made Des Haynes' tactics at Trinidad in 1990 seem manic.
A large crowd, swelled by anger and fuelled by ale from the temporary beer tent, began to jeer the Indians for their time-wasting tactics. It was to no avail. Cooke and Jackie Court came close; they blasted 104 from the final 20 overs - but England ended up just 25 runs short. The match fizzled out to a draw.
"We were robbed," England's Gill McConway told Cricinfo. "We had all sorts of gamesmanship from India - the imaginary glare and what have you. It was frustrating: we should have won. The umpires lacked the experience of dealing with individual situations and I felt very, very, very frustrated - but at least it gave us plenty of space in the newspapers."
The situation boiled over after the match - and worsened by the Indian players slow-handclapping the umpires as they left the field - as England's chairman Cathy Mowat made an ill-judged speech criticising the Indians, whose manager then threatened to boycott the rest of the tour, saying they would withdraw unless they had a public apology. But Mowat refused. McConway remembered: "Cathy being Cathy - and very stubborn - was determined not to give up or apologise." Rachael Heyhoe-Flint added: "Perhaps, for the sake of diplomacy, a private chat would have been better."
It was unlikely that they would have carried out their threat, said McConway later, but this was never put to the test thanks to England's president Audrey Collins' shrewd diplomacy: she smoothed the situation over with a quiet word and the series carried on. But so did the Indians' slow tactics. In the second Test at Blackpool, Sandhya Agarwal took six hours and 27 minutes to strike 132; her paint-drying hundred taking a whopping five hours. The pitch was slow - "a dreadfully boring wicket" according to McConway - and there was no life in it. Clive Lloyd, whose Lancashire side of fearsome pace bowlers had played there, turned up to the match and said: "Girls, we can't extract anything out of this pitch, so I don't know how you will."
The first wicket arrived with the score at 109 for 1; Julie May's only Test wicket and, in all, the Indians occupied the crease for 75 minutes shy of two of the four days before finally declaring on 426 for 9. England rattled up 350 for 6 and declared - only for India to drop anchor once more and take four hours to reach 176 for 2. The inevitable result: another draw.
The agonising Agarwal took stonewalling to painful new heights in the third and final Test at Worcester, occupying the crease for nine hours and 23 minutes, and eking out 190 runs from 523 balls in that time - a strike rate of 36.3. She may have broken Betty Snowball's world record by one run, a record which had stood since 1935, but she also broke the will of nearly every spectator. She was dropped on 114, with India on 232 for 6; which proved a match-turning moment after England had declared on 332 for 7. Gill Smith finally broke the monotony, inducing her to send a catch to Amanda Stinson. "It was rather painful, rather a long time," said McConway, before adding graciously, "but a fantastic achievement for her."
Their tactics forced England to adopt a different approach. But McConway, a slow left-armer, saw this as a great challenge. "It just meant you had to work out a strategy of tricking them out," she said. "You just had to keep tempting them, find greater variation. My fingers got quite sore." She responded well, ending with 7 for 34 from 42 overs, but the match, like the series, ended in an inevitable draw. Yet McConway was happy, as were both camps away from the matches. "Off the field both teams mixed very well," she said. "They didn't stick to themselves. It was an action-packed series and it was quite a lot of fun."
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