July 14, 2014

Mesmeric Sachin, soporific Boycs

Memorable innings in England-India Tests down the years

Mohammad Azharuddin
At Lord's in 1990, India's captain, Azharuddin, achieved the almost impossible: he upstaged a triple-century (Graham Gooch's, see below), with a sublime hundred of his own, full of frolicky flicks, the bat wafting wand-like in the way Ranji must have patented around 100 years previously. Azhar's 121 couldn't prevent an Indian defeat, but it remains top of the Lord's honours board for elegance.

Graham Gooch
Gooch's 333 at Lord's in 1990 was the monolith to Azharuddin's minaret, but it was mighty effective: backed up by his second-innings 123, it helped England pull off a comfortable victory, sealed by Gooch's direct-hit run-out. It was the first triple-century I ever saw in the flesh: nonetheless, the innings radiated effectiveness rather than elegance. And although Gooch hit 43 fours and pile-drove three sixes, the first memories are of the straightforward chance behind he survived on 36, and of tea being taken with him stuck on 299.

Vinoo Mankad
At Lord's in 1952, India batted again 302 behind after England passed 500: Mankad, their left-arm spinner, really deserved a rest after bowling 73 overs and taking 5 for 196. Instead, he opened the innings and cracked 184 at a fair rate (he batted only four and a half hours in all). According to Wisden, "The fourth day was memorable for the visit of the Queen and more wonderful batting by Mankad." He couldn't save India, but Mankad - who also top-scored with 72 in the first innings - had chalked up one of the greatest all-round performances in any Test.

Kevin Pietersen
England's eventual clean sweep in 2011 started at Lord's, where their big total revolved around 202 not out from the elephant in the current team's dressing room, Pietersen. Shrugging off a poor run and a disputed catch when he had 49, KP really got going once he'd reached 130, and powered to a memorable double-century to light up the 2000th Test match - and the 100th between England and India.

Sachin Tendulkar
He went on to make 100 international hundreds, but Tendulkar's first - at Old Trafford in 1990, not long past his 17th birthday - was one of the best. It certainly confirmed what many had suspected: here was a very special talent indeed. This ton, studded with 17 fours, ensured that India would not lose after being set a stiff target of 408. "After several of his colleagues had fallen to reckless strokes," tutted Wisden, "Tendulkar held the England attack at bay with a disciplined display of immense maturity."

David Gower
England's imposing total of 633 for 5 at Edgbaston in 1979 owed much to a big partnership between the old (Geoff Boycott, nearly 39) and the new (David Gower, just 22). They put on 191, and after Boycott was out for 155, Gower sailed on to his maiden double-century, many of his 24 fours coming from those effortless-looking cover drives.

Sunil Gavaskar
Rather surprisingly, only four of Gavaskar's 34 Test hundreds came against England - but they tended to be important ones. At The Oval in 1979 few fancied India's chances of chasing 438 for victory - but perceptions changed as Gavaskar batted on and on... and on. They might have got there had time not become a factor: from 366 for 1 India declined to 423 for 8, but held on in the end for the draw. Gavaskar's contribution? A tremendous 221, in 490 minutes. "It was a perfect innings, a masterpiece," said his team-mate Yajurvindra Singh. "Every ball was played on merit, and the head and feet movement and strokeplay were extraordinary."

Michael Vaughan
England's Vaughan was at the peak of his powers in 2002, a year in which he hit 1481 Test runs, with six centuries. Three of them came in the four home Tests against India, including 197 at Trent Bridge and 195 at The Oval. "If only the game could seem this simple all the time," recalled Vaughan, who never did reach 200 in a Test.

Vinod Kambli
Sachin Tendulkar's partner in a massive schoolboy stand, Kambli seemed to have arrived as a Test player with a superb 224 against England in Mumbai early in 1993. Kambli's innings, in only his third Test, was "full of daring strokeplay executed with a joyfulness that rippled round the ground", according to Wisden, and when he followed it with 227 against Zimbabwe in his next Test it seemed the sky was the limit. But then that sky fell in: within two years Kambli's Test career was over, not helped by a liking for the fast and flashy life, something his old school pal could never be accused of.

Geoff Boycott
The idea of a player scoring 246 and immediately being dropped seems preposterous these days: but that's what happened to Boycott after his highest Test score, at Headingley in 1967. The selectors felt he hadn't stepped on the accelerator enough against an admittedly modest Indian attack, and left him out of the next match (something similar had happened to Ken Barrington two years previously). The incident remains a sore point with the man himself - and when he returned, he admitted to being "terrified in case I played a maiden over". For more details, see this Rewind article.

Sourav Ganguly
After a long international apprenticeship - he had played a one-day international in Australia in January 1992 - Ganguly finally got a Test chance at Lord's in 1996. And he made it count, with a resolute 131 (and 136 in the next match, at Trent Bridge). "I think the hundred at Lord's changed me totally," he said later. "I realised that I had it in me to excel at this level." Another promising youngster made a handy debut in that match at Lord's too: Rahul Dravid started with 95.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2014. Ask Steven is now on Facebook