'We shocked India by being resilient'
October 31, 1984. Delhi was burning. Indira Gandhi, India's prime minister, had been assassinated by two of her bodyguards.
Five hours earlier, David Gower and his England squad had checked into a hotel in the capital. Friends, family and others had told them to be wary of travelling in India, but they were not prepared for chaos of this order on the first day of the tour.
"It was a massive shock," said Tim Robinson, the former England opener who made his debut in the series. "For most of us it was our first visit to India and within hours of landing, there was chaos. We could see from our rooms fires burning and dense black smoke all around and sirens going. We were obviously quite perturbed about what was happening and what we had got ourselves into."
The England squad was whisked away to Sri Lanka, where they played a couple of warm-up matches before returning to India to play a few more practice games ahead of the first Test, in Mumbai.
England were overwhelmed by the wizardry of L Sivaramakrishnan, the 18-year-old Indian legspinner in the match, and Robinson's Test career started ignominiously. In the first innings he tried to sweep Sivaramakrishnan and was given out caught down the leg side when his bat was nowhere near the ball. In the second innings he seemed to have hit the ball but was given lbw. "It was pretty hard to stomach when you know you haven't hit, and it left a bit of a sour taste, especially as we felt there were decisions that went against us," Robinson, now an ICC-appointed umpire, said.
Robinson had shown a lot of character while scoring his first century of the tour, against West Zone in Rajkot. Later in that match, he watched Dilip Vengsarkar make a splendid double-century. "It was a rough place for a tourist, but I remember Vengsarkar got a hundred. I enjoyed watching how he set about building his innings, his concentration and the way he went about playing our spinners. That made a big impression on me. He certainly set an example," Robinson said.
As he fought the warm conditions, the slow bowlers and the pitch, Robinson muttered to himself. "Whenever I would play a loose shot I would rebuke myself and tell myself, 'Geoff Boycott wouldn't get out to such balls. He would bat on'." Robinson channelled his batting idol to focus on the ball.
By the time England returned to Delhi for the second Test, Robinson and the rest of the team were in a better frame of mind, despite being 1-0 down.
After nine unsuccessful attempts, Sunil Gavaskar finally won a toss against England . But in the first two sessions, spinners Pat Pocock and Phil Edmonds got crucial breakthroughs.
"It was the first inkling we felt the Indian camp was unhappy, with rumblings between Gavaskar and Kapil Dev," Robinson said. But Kapil managed to pull India to a respectable 307, so when England lost Graeme Fowler for 5, the pressure was on Robinson.
"After the early wicket we had to consolidate. But we also had to bear in mind that this was going to be our best chance to get a big score in the match. We had to just keep going and occupy the crease." That Thursday, the second day of the Test, Robinson remained unbeaten on 53. The next day was a rest day but he made sure he remained focused. "I had a few runs now under my belt and I had to make it count."
Robinson applied the Boycott method once again and even started to pick the ball from Sivaramakrishnan's hand. "To this day I really can't explain, but I started to read him with time. That was a big difference from the first Test, where all of us could not do that. I started to pick his googly, his legbreaks and the change of pace. He tried everything but I could just play him."
Disciplined and methodical by nature, Robinson played with a straight bat throughout. "The sweep was a good shot to keep the score ticking over. I had put in a lot of work in the warm-up games, playing that shot."
In a Cricketer magazine piece on Robinson, titled the "Nottingham Rock", Chris Cowdrey, who too made his debut in the Bombay Test, recollected his team-mate's powers of concentration. After Robinson got to his maiden Test hundred in Delhi, Cowdrey asked him whether he remembered who was at the non-striker's end when he got to the milestone. Robinson said he didn't care; he had a century and it was great to know he would return to bat on Sunday morning.
A seaming delivery from Kapil caught the edge of his bat and went to Gavaskar at slip early on the fourth morning, but Robinson's eight-and-a-half hour-vigil, spread over three days, had allowed England to post a vital 111-run lead.
"It was a good score because the wicket had started to deteriorate a lot. So we had a good chance to bowl them out cheaply and have a chance to square the series," Robinson said.
India had to promote Manoj Prabhakar to the top of the order to replace Anshuman Gaekwad, who was unwell. However, Gavaskar batted solidly, and at lunch England thought the match would end in a draw.
Things changed when Gavaskar played a suicidal cut shot off a delivery Robinson reckoned was too close and too full to play. "Gavaskar's wicket gave us hope. The problems in the Indian camp came out in the open when one or two of their batsmen played poor shots," Robinson said. Kapil hit a six and then holed out in the deep. Pocock and Edmonds took the last six wickets for 28.
With 125 to chase in the final two hours, England were anxious. The Delhi mist was closing in. Robinson remembers how Kapil marked a specific spot with his bowling studs. "The wicket was crumbling fast and there were holes. He marked this patch where the holes were. I told the umpires, but they were not prepared to step in, so I went in and put in half a dozen marks so Kapil couldn't figure out which mark to pitch on."
Robinson was run out for 18 this time but Mike Gatting, who had got a century in the first ODI, which was played between the Tests, and Allan Lamb made sure England did not lose heart.
"A lot of people had written us off straightaway after the loss in the first Test. So for us to bounce back immediately like we did was a great effort. We were helped by the performance of the Indian team," Robinson said. "A lot of things were against us: the build-up to the Test series, what had gone on in the first Test, and all that had happened to us when we first arrived. But it only gave us more strength, and the team work was enforced and became stronger as the series went along."
England travelled to Kolkata to celebrate Christmas and a series-winning victory at Chennai. "What probably shocked India was the fact that having been so average in the first Test, they thought we would roll over and be easy game. We shocked them by being resilient and we bounced and we meant business. We were a good team."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo