November 16, 2012

A rivalry of which nostalgia is made

India v England may have started off as a contest between subjects and rulers, but over the years it has evolved into so much more

It is not surprising that a series against England stirs the senses in India. In recent times, encounters against Australia have produced a little more vitriol, and cricket against Pakistan tends to consume everyone, often for the wrong reasons. But, in spite of the fact that the Empire is now a distant memory and the Commonwealth merely a reason to bring together some fine athletes, India v England has a gravity to it. India's first Test at Lord's was 80 years ago and the most significant one in recent times came in Chennai in December 2008, when England admirably returned after the Mumbai terror attacks and did both India and cricket a huge favour.

It is the history that does it for me. It is everywhere: in the crumbling books in our house, in sepia-toned photographs at cricket grounds, in magnificent literature in the anthologies (and even though cricket writers back then inevitably looked down on India, they still produced excellent prose). I sometimes wonder if they actually made up some of it, but even if they were tales, they were told enchantingly. There was a generation to whom India was a land they ruled, and so taking the odd liberty with the Indian way was thought to be okay. We'd bristle at any such suggestion now but in an era where rupees were few, and pounds unthinkable riches, where a visit to England got you a photograph in the local paper back home, even Indians seemed to accept being portrayed like that.

And it is the history that I turn to, now that another series has got underway. Mine begins as a little boy reading Sport and Pastime in a neighbour's house and imagining Tiger Pataudi making 64 and 148 in Leeds in 1967. He was a charming and handsome man who learnt his cricket in England and led India with pride. His father, of course, is the only man to have played Test cricket for both countries, but Tiger's story was more remarkable. His passing away last year was very sad, and increasingly we lose such bridges between our nations. I know the Anthony de Mello Trophy exists but there must be a way of making Pataudi that link between India and England. We will lose an opportunity if we do not do so.

And then 1971, on short-wave radio, all my heroes, Sunil Gavaskar, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, Farokh Engineer, and of course Abid Ali, had a role to play. We waited and waited as India crawled, stopped and crawled again. Last year, some of those romantics gathered in Mumbai to celebrate 40 years of that event. Sadly we listened too, in parts, to the "summer of 42" in 1974, and first saw television highlights with the distinctive BBC title music in 1979. The radio was a friend in 1976 too, when John Lever ran through India in Delhi. In the middle of a movie we heard someone listening in to the commentary and were reassured that Gavaskar was still batting.

That was when we were first aware that Vaseline could do things to a cricket ball, and a couple of smart alecks amongst us tried using it on a hard cork ball without much success. In later years, Tony Greig, captain of that side is reported to have said, "Vaseline no, lip ice maybe." Mike Selvey, who was on that tour and is now back as a very fine cricket writer, swears there was nothing to it.

And after the most dreadful series in 1981-82, only remembered for Geoffrey Boycott having had enough after breaking the world record, England returned in 1984 to run into Mohammad Azharuddin and the mystifying legspin of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. Siva, another colleague now, took 12 wickets in Mumbai and was so much fun to watch. I would give anything for footage of that Test, though I would rather it was without the audio track, which featured a certain young man also in his first Test.

Lord's 1990 was a great Test match, and I rub my eyes in disbelief at the fact that someone who played that game is playing this one in Ahmedabad

I will pause only once more, since more recent encounters find their way onto the 24-hour cricket channels with some regularity, for the Lord's Test of 1990, which had more drama in it than most full series can. Graham Gooch, also in India at the moment, made 333, and he smote the ball, as did Kapil Dev. In a moment of high drama, when India needed 24 to avoid the follow-on, Kapil chose to clear the boundary, where the giant mushroom-shaped media centre now stands, four times in four balls. Just visualise that. Narendra Hirwani is at the other end. In a team of No. 11 batsmen, he would bat at No. 11. India need 24 to make England bat again. Four blows, four sixes, and Hirwani gets out first ball of the next over. India still lost, but Azharuddin, then naïve and generous, played an innings no one can ever forget. It was a great Test match, and I rub my eyes in disbelief at the fact that someone who played that game is playing this one in Ahmedabad. I won't be surprised if Sachin Tendulkar approaches this one with the same excitement he showed so many years ago.

And now, our two nations, with so much in common, will make many more memories. These are very different, more equal times. An Indian company (Tata) is now among the largest private-sector employers in the UK, young English players want to complete their cricket education by coming to India, visitors travel and stay in a fair degree of luxury and can see as many Premiership games live as they could back home. But Indian lawyers still read judgements from British courts, and my hotel in Ahmedabad serves bangers and mash (the one in Nottingham did an Indian curry).

My three favourite India-England Tests since I started covering cricket are Lord's 1990, Leeds 2002 and Chennai 2008. Maybe I will be able to add to that list in the month ahead.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on November 19, 2012, 6:21 GMT

    Pataudi Sr objected to Douglas Jardine's tactics in the infamous 1932-33 Bodyline Series - in which he debuted with a ton at SCG - only to be dropped from the tour! He later led India on an England tour. Tiger too challenged the system by decoupling the "subjects & rulers" links & imposing a "will to win" attitude. This was most evident in 1971, when India won for the first time on English soil (after a similar series win in WI). I was there at The Oval to witness the epochal event! Although he wasn't in the team, there's no doubt they were Tiger's men. Yes, the Pataudi name epitomises this rivalry. But I'm not sure the Pataudi Trophy is the right choice. The de Mello Trophy already exists. Let's preserve it. Why not instead dedicate a Pataudi Oration - like the Bradman Oration or Cowdrey Lecture? Shakespeare in his oratory masterpieces proclaimed: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them"! Words of wisdom: He must have had Tiger in mind!

  • Jay on November 19, 2012, 6:13 GMT

    Harsha - Yes, Pataudi is a historical link between two great cricket-playing nations! Fresh from Oxford, Tiger made his debut against Ted Dexter's side in 1961. I saw him make his mark, in just his 2nd Test, at the storied Eden Gardens with attacking batting (64, 32) & agile fielding. India won the match, and the next one too with Tiger making a maiden century, to capture the series 2-0: a dramatic change from its previous "defeatist" mindset. Months later, at age 21, he was thrust into the hot seat as accidental captain on the ill-fated WI tour. It was an inflection point: Tiger became the change agent who led the transformation of Indian cricket into the modern era. Still, spare a thought for the many toiling Indian cricketers of the 30s, 40s & 50s: they are the true founding fathers of Indian cricket. Tiger built on it & propelled it in a positive direction. Coincidentally, his father was also one of the key founding fathers with a unique identity: played for both England & India!

  • Dummy4 on November 19, 2012, 3:41 GMT

    Simply brilliant, Harsha. Thank you for the nostalgia. And the trivia about a "certain young man's debut". That young man is a Hyderabadi and I am sure that you aren't referring to Mohammed Azharuddin.

  • Ashok on November 17, 2012, 19:35 GMT

    Harsha, My interpretation of this article is: over the last 80 years, England Vs. India matches have progressed from "the Ruler Vs. the Ruled" to Tests between 2 individual Nations who have a common bond thru' Cricket. This transition has enabled India to develop its own team which became #1 Test Nation too. Many commenters appear to be misreading. An independent India has not only progressed to high levels in Cricket but also in all Technologies which makes India amongst the top 10 Nations. I summarized in my earlier comments the "real McCoys" who led the Indian Cricket to what it is today. These older Cricketer were the pioneers to the modern Indian Cricket like Nehrus & Gandhis! Instead of Hazare, Umrigar & Mankad we have Pujara, Kohli & Ojha/Yuvraj. Yes thinking back to those days is nostalgic. Many younger commenters do not seem to be interested in this historical background. I found interesting to read your 3 favourite Tests & I am sure every one has his own -Test & cricketer!.

  • Mohammad Yusuf on November 17, 2012, 9:57 GMT

    Its so funny to hear, first India had rivalry with Pakistan only, then they added on Australia and now England. Lolz.

  • Rana on November 17, 2012, 7:01 GMT

    "Subjects and Rulers" ? Empire ? What is this -- 1948 ?! Weird to see the colonial hangover is still alive for some Indians even though the British empire is long dead and never coming back !

  • R on November 17, 2012, 6:52 GMT

    Harsha, please for God's sake stop writing like an "Anglo" Indian writer from the 60's and try and evolve. Writing long and complex words to indulge yourself or maybe because that's your USP in the cricketing world will work only so many times. Try and modernize your commentary, move with the times, talk about today's game. Its really silly to talk about the British Empire in an article about cricket in 2012 and its even sillier to try and prove that India has now arrived and become "equal" just because a couple of Indian companies have gone multinational. I am Indian, and India still has a long long way to go and a lot of hurdles to cross. Anyway try and stick to cricket and I am sure you will find your niche and your audience.

  • Aditya on November 17, 2012, 4:37 GMT

    It seems, India was perhaps fifth in the list, to have played England in Test matches for the first time, and hence enter membership to the I. C. C. Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the West Indies, must have played Test Cricket with England for the first time, before India did, probably. It might be that New Zealand was later in membership to the I. C. C.

  • Prasun on November 17, 2012, 3:50 GMT

    remember mankad's 184 at lords. The highest score by an Indian at lords till date, 1952 series. what a player !

  • Shrikanth on November 17, 2012, 3:10 GMT

    Hammond - I am not in the business of digging up past or scuffling feathers. But afirm response is necessary when someone utters falsehoods like "England is a relic". From what I can see England is one of the most tolerant, malleable countries on earth, which is why it has been the seat of so many cultural/political/scientific innovations over the past 400 years. What's often forgotten is that even the "corrupted" forms of cricket like 60 over/20 over games originated at Lord's! Not at Eden Gardens or Cape town.

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