August 14, 2007

England '07: Comprehensive but not emphatic

How does India's series victory in England rank s with other away wins



India's 1971 victory against Ajit Wadekar's team was an epochal achievement as they were up against a stronger English side © Getty Images

Picking out India's greatest series win away from home isn't really an arduous task. Once you leave out facile victories against enfeebled Zimbabwe or emerging Bangladesh, there are depressingly few to sift through, with this against-all-odds win in England being only the eighth in 75 years of trekking to various outposts of the commonwealth.

The success in New Zealand (India won 3-1 in 1967-68) and last year's victory in the Caribbean can be discounted straight away, because of the sheer mediocrity of the opposition. Even the win in the Caribbean in 1971 , which helped break the mental shackles and empower a new generation led by Sunil Gavaskar, came against a team that was no longer the force that it had been in the '60s.

Pakistan in 2004 was similarly celebrated - India had never even won a Test there prior to that tour - but many of the big names in the opposition came up with miniscule performances under pressure, and there were farcical selections like that of the hapless Fazl-e-Akbar in Rawalpindi.

England in 1986 was the most emphatic of the lot, with India dominating a series that they should have swept but for some sedate batting at Edgbaston. Kapil Dev led the way with some incisive spells, and there was magnificent swing bowling from Chetan Sharma and Roger Binny to buttress resplendent batting from Dilip Vengsarkar.

Even then, you couldn't overlook the fact that it was an English team in disarray, one coming to the end of the laidback David Gower era and about to embrace the rather more corpulent and bristly Gatting one. Ian Botham, on the verge of breaking Dennis Lillee's tally of 355 wickets, was banned, having paid the price for living in a country that didn't share the Rastafarian fondness for cannabis.



Fans celebrate India's series win in 1986, perhaps the most emphatic of them all © Getty Images

This triumph, more than two decades on, may not have been as conclusive, but it was founded on the same bedrock of hard work and discipline that characterised that '86 outfit.

No batsmen made big runs, with Dinesh Karthik's 263 leading the way, and it was all the more creditable because Rahul Dravid - a central figure in India's greatest successes - had a poor tour. An under-rated seam attack set up the victory in Nottingham, and the batsmen held their nerve in a series decider, as they had in Rawalpindi.

England were missing the talismanic Andrew Flintoff, but the bowling still posed a considerable threat until its limitations were exposed on an Oval featherbed. The Indian batsmen just played the swing better, and neutralised Monty Panesar, who had the worst series of his short career.

They also won without a coach, and in the aftermath of the disarray that followed the first-round exit at the World Cup. There had been widespread calls for a purge, and those that survived knew that the axe lay in wait if they stumbled again.

Given those circumstances, should it be regarded as India's best away win? In a word, no. What their predecessors achieved at this very ground in '71 was of colossal importance to the development of the game in India. On the field too, India had to overcome a side superior to Vaughan's outfit.

With South Africa rightly banished, England were then the best team in the world, and they had proved it with victory in Australia. For Ajit Wadekar's team to beat such a side, and that too after conceding a 71-run lead at The Oval , was an epochal achievement, and it was no surprise at all when Wisden labelled Bhagwat Chandrasekhar's 6 for 38 the Indian bowling performance of the century a few years ago.

Until India go to Australia and win a series there - they came agonisingly close last time - '71 will always be the pole star for touring sides. The only triumph to eclipse it came at home 30 years later, when VVS Laxman's magical bat inspired a come-from-behind victory against the only modern side fit to compare with [Don] Bradman's Invincibles and [Clive] Lloyd's West Indian legends.

Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo