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England in India flashback: 1984-85

England celebrate Pongal

Neil Foster and Graeme Fowler remember England's Test victory in 1985 at Chepauk, which sealed their last series win in India to date

Nagraj Gollapudi

November 21, 2012

Comments: 8 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Fowler celebrates his double-century, India v England, 4th Test, Chennai, January 15, 1985
Fowler gets to his double on day three © Getty Images
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At first England did not understand why India seemed to be in attack mode as soon as they elected to bat. Sunil Gavaskar, the India captain, took 10 runs off Neil Foster's first over. It seemed like the 1983 world champions, had set out to play a long one-day international, not a five-day match.

The Chepauk pitch had true bounce and good carry. Foster was playing his first match of the series, thanks to injuries to Paul Allott and Richard Ellison. (It was either Foster or Jonathan Agnew for England.) The two teams were level one match each.

Foster, 23, had been working hard in the nets and had proved he was worthy of selection with five wickets against South Zone in the warm-up game before the Madras Test. He was keen to not "stuff it up".

Graeme Fowler, the England opener recalled an incident early in the game that served to get Foster going. "Fozzie got Gavaskar caught at gully. Gavaskar had punched it up his glove and was given not out. He rubbed his arm guard but he obviously had nicked it. That might have made Fozzie reply more aggressively."

Gavaskar didn't last much longer - he was bowled in Foster's third over, having made all of India's 17 runs till then.

"After that, India played more aggressively than they should have done," Foster said. Krishnamachari Srikkanth, who had come into the side for Anshuman Gaekwad, edged one, and so did Dilip Vengsarkar. Mohammad Azharuddin and Mohinder Amarnath tried to repair the damage, but Foster returned after lunch to get Amarnath nicking an away-swinger, and then got the better of Ravi Shastri. India were all out for 272 in 67.5 overs.

Foster finished with 6 for 104, beating his previous best of 5 for 67 in Lahore in 1984.

"The wicket was green. I bowled well," he rememberd. "Once I got the rhythm and the ball was swinging, I kept testing the Indian batsmen by bowling in the right areas. They lacked patience."

The second day was Pongal, the harvest festival in Southern India. "'Has your pot boiled over?' is the traditional greeting for this festive time. The pot had boiled over all right, and there was an alarming smell of burning in India's kitchen," David Frith, then editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly wrote in his match report.

Fowler and Tim Robinson, the architect of England's win in Delhi, returned unbeaten at the close of the first day, having survived a few tricky overs towards the end. The next morning Fowler was still edgy.

"At one point early on, I played and missed against Ravi Shastri and the ball brushed my back foot," he said. "My bat was miles away from the ball. [Syed] Kirmani couldn't pouch it cleanly - the ball bounced off his gloves. He dived forward to catch it, juggled and ended up rolling on the floor. I always wondered whether I'd have been given out if he had caught it." Kirmani had no doubt he had spilled the most expensive catch of the match. "The wicket was turning very slow. They had ample time to play their strokes. That drop cost us 200 runs," Kirmani said.


Neil Foster celebrates taking the wicket of Mohinder Amarnath, India v England, 4th Test, Chennai, January 13, 1985
Foster gets key man Amarnath © Getty Images
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England and Fowler grew in confidence after that. "We decided to keep it dead simple: we were not going to push the balls into any gaps. We were either going to defend or just wait for the bad ball," Fowler said. "Having bowled India out cheaply, we knew we had the extra time to overtake them." Without doing anything spectacular, the two raised a 178-run partnership.

Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, the hero of the first Test, in Bombay, where he had made his debut as an 18-year-old, had been read well by England in the third Test, in Calcutta. The other two spinners - Shastri and Shivlal Yadav - failed to dominate either.

When Robinson was out, the new man in, Mike Gatting, set about reinforcing the strategy of consolidation. "We were very deliberate about the shots we played; there were no half measures," Fowler said.

The heat was getting to the batsmen but the exhaustion seemed to help keep them from playing rash strokes, Fowler said. When he was on about 70, though, he found the opportunity to loft Yadav for a six over wide long-on that went on to hit the barrel of the lens of Graham Morris, the England photographer.

Later, a few runs short of his third Test century, Fowler nudged to the off side and set off for a single. Sivaramakrishnan threw wide and Fowler earned four overthrows to get to the landmark.

Fowler and Gatting enjoyed each other's company. Shastri was bowling the final over of day two. "The first ball, Gatt swept to deep backward square-leg," Fowler recalled. "The ball was just trickling, so I started walking down the wicket for a single." Gatting stayed put, though. "Halfway down, I shouted, 'Gatt, I thought you wanted a single.' He said I had done enough for the day. 'You get back up that end, I'll play this over,' he said.

"That was an incredible thing for him to do, as it was the last over of the day, with people around the bat, and there was lots of pressure. So I bowed my head, closed my eyes and counted the next five balls. But when I got to three, I heard the umpire say 'Over'. I had actually fallen asleep," Fowler says with a chuckle. For the second straight evening he returned unbeaten. He was now on 149.

Before the tour there had been the inevitable comparisons to Graham Gooch, who was serving a ban for playing rebel cricket in South Africa. Fowler knew Gooch had scored 127 in Madras on the previous tour.

"[People saying I didn't deserve my place] hurt me a little bit, because there are two opening batsmen and I could be the other one," he said. He galloped from 182 to 194, hitting two sixes and then became the first England batsman to get a double-hundred in India. He was soon joined by Gatting, who went on to overtake Fowler's score.

"We had completely different styles," Fowler said. "He used his feet a lot and he was brilliant at sweeping. "He used to sweep to defend, unlike most batsmen, who use it as a get-out-of-jail shot or when they are attacking."

The two told each other that they would bat for half-hour periods to keep their focus. "We did it in a very patient manner. We knew we could get drinks every half hour," Fowler says. The plan worked. As the day went along, Gavaskar dispersed his field, allowing the batsmen to relax.

England finished with a 380-run lead. For the first time in 610 Tests, two Englishmen had scored a double-century in the same match - not to mention the same innings. The 241-run partnership for the second wicket is an English record against India that still stands. England's 652 for 7d is still their highest total in India.


Mike Gatting plays one through the off side during his double-century, India v England, 4th Test, Chennai, January 15, 1985
Gatting helped himself to a double too © PA Photos
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Gavaskar's team had about ten and a half hours to prevent the visitors from taking the series lead. They had to reckon with Foster, who had climbed shirtless to the roof to shed his nervous energy during England's batting, and who now returned with a fierce spell of fast bowling that fetched him three wickets for five runs in the space of 18 deliveries.

Gavaskar failed again, caught in the slips. "It bounced, it left him and he edged it," Foster recollected. "In the first innings he really missed the ball - it wasn't a particularly good ball. In the second, he was out to a good ball." Dilip Vengsarkar was caught brilliantly down the leg side by the wicketkeeper, Paul Downton.

"When you are in that sort of a situation where you have got a lot of runs to play with, the temptation can be to over-attack," Foster said. "But I don't think I did that. I had to work harder for my wickets in the second innings."

England's march was stalled for a couple of sessions as Azharuddin and Amarnath stayed resolute again. "Azhar had been a thorn. We just did not have any answer for him," Foster said. "He was a very passive sort of guy - smiled at you on the field as well.

"Mohinder was a resilient fellow and would really get stuck behind the ball." He remembered the pair well in stark contrast to the rest of the Indian batsmen. "It was a good wicket and that is how we managed to score our runs," Foster said. "I know one or two good balls had got rid of a couple of good players, but there were one or two poor shots as well. Kris [Srikkanth] was out hooking, for instance: when you are a long way behind, that is not the way to get out."

Returning after tea with the old ball, Foster lured Amarnath into a hook too and had him caught in the deep. Azharuddin, though, completed his second century in two matches and held fort for India on the penultimate evening. India were 134 behind when they started the final day.

The new ball was available but Gower chose to keep going with the old one, and was proved right when Azharuddin and Shastri were caught bat-pad to the spinners, Pat Pocock and Phil Edmonds. England were on the verge of inflicting an innings victory but Fowler dropped Kirmani when India were still 38 behind. Diving forward at deep cover point, Foster's only reward was a scraped elbow.

England knocked off the 33 runs they needed for the win. It was one that would seal the series; the final Test, in Kanpur, ended in a draw. It was the first time an overseas team had come back after losing the first Test to win a series in India.

"We did not have star performers, but we gelled really well," Foster said of the win. Fowler agreed about the team camaraderie, remembering in particular the Christmas fancy dress party, where Foster, wearing a saree, was adjudged the best-dressed woman.

His other favourite memory from Madras is of the celebrations at the team hotel. The hotel manager had had a chocolate cake and a bottle of champagne placed in Fowler's and Gatting's rooms but not Foster's. "He was running all around the hotel, thinking somebody had nicked his cake," Fowler said. "I offered him a big slab of mine, but he refused, saying, 'I want my own.'"

Thanks to MCC Library at Lord's.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Valavan on (November 22, 2012, 20:40 GMT)

Guys you know i was in the stadium on 3rd day, i was very young and gatting became my hero after this game. cricinfo please publish

Posted by ooper_cut on (November 22, 2012, 9:10 GMT)

I remember this series for Azhar's debut. Scoring 3 centuries in as much matches, the headline in Indian Express read "Azhar, Cricket's new wonder boy".

Posted by   on (November 21, 2012, 16:35 GMT)

Too often when you see Broad, Anderson or KP get hot under their collar and brandish their ego, you yearn for guys like Foster and Fowler Perennially on the selectorial guillotine yet unfailingly modest, patient and never devoid of purpose. Not ignoring the talent of the present bunch but we Indians tend to always appreciate a bit of modesty - a reason why Dravid or Pujara find a shade more favor than Ganguly or Kohli (perhaps unfairly so). Times have changed, outward show of confidence comes as a package with IPL moneybags and endorsement deals... but these recounts bring a smile and remind you why the game is so beautiful!

Posted by   on (November 21, 2012, 13:32 GMT)

Fowler and Foster were two prime examples of talented cricketers who suffered from the in-and-out selectorial policies of the TCCB in the 1980s. Gooch-Fowler could have been a good opening combination from 1985 onwards and...if only for central contracts back then...Foster could have been a world class bowler if he wasn't crocked through overplaying or dropped for a couple of mediocre matches.

Posted by   on (November 21, 2012, 13:27 GMT)

@O-bomb. At the time, it was thought that the typically slow Indian pitches discouraged the development of home-grown quicks - Kapil Dev being the exception (and what an exception!) - and that if India were to succeed internationally, they had to provide pitches that encouraged youngsters to turn to seam bowling.

Posted by o-bomb on (November 21, 2012, 12:14 GMT)

Interesting to see it was England's pace bowlers that did the damage in this test. Edmonds and Pocock only got 3 wickets between them.

Posted by   on (November 21, 2012, 10:53 GMT)

Twin double-centurions, a bowler with eleven wickets in the match and Foster said "we did not have star performers"? That's modesty for you... Lovely rewind, thank you Mr Gollapudi!

Posted by   on (November 21, 2012, 10:45 GMT)

Superb story. I was too young to remember this tour but I have read about it in Gower's autobiography. The tours in those days seem to be so much fun, with off field stories, parties etc. Now international tours are so dull, and have little context, with just 1 fc game before the tour. And they had Pongal too, so sweet to hear that term. And nice to see Tamil Nadu produces so many players for the national side. I wish Fowler was given more of a chance too. Also Gooch never made 150 in Madras, if we are talking about Test Matches.

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