The English stars in India

Over the years, the English batsmen, rather than the bowlers, would havefancied their chances in India

Partab Ramchand

December 19, 2001

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Every country has very characteristic cricketing conditions, and the good player learns to acclimatise quickly. The seaming conditions of England, the fast and bouncy tracks of Australia and South Africa, the blustery winds of New Zealand are all part of a cricketer's education.

Over the years, the English batsmen, rather than the bowlers, would have fancied their chances in India. The pitches, for long, were sleeping beauties, and the spin quartet were at their peak only in the 70s, while Kapil Dev did not play against England in this country before 1980.
Similarly, conditions in India are very different from anywhere else, and visiting players have looked upon these as the ultimate challenge. English teams in India have had some taste of success, with three of their nine Test campaigns here having been victorious. In addition, Mike Brearley's team won the Golden Jubilee Test in 1979-80.

But, in victory or defeat, the really outstanding English players have always adapted themselves admirably to Indian conditions and have come off well. For a batsman, patience, concentration and skill in playing spin bowling have been the chief ingredients for success. For the bowlers, the ability to bowl fast even on pitches that are not always encouraging is an exceptional quality, while good spin bowlers have also enjoyed success, despite Indians having the reputation of being among the best players of slow bowling in the world.

Indeed, in the very first series between India and England in this country, it was a spin bowler who would have garnered the Man of the Series award had it been in existence almost 70 years ago. A peerless artist with the ball, Hedley Verity took 23 wickets in the three Tests, including 11 in the final game, and, even though Indian batsmen were just cutting their teeth in international cricket, it was a notable achievement. Verity, of course, was the leading England spin bowler of his time, a master of the art and craft of control, flight and turn.

Forty-three years later, another left-arm spinner of a very different school, Derek Underwood, had a major role to play in shaping the next English triumph in India. Underwoord was a bowler who sent down fast deliveries that turned and kicked. That series saw him finish with 29 wickets in the five Tests. His forte was accuracy, and none of the Indian batsmen could take any liberties with him.

Skilful off-spinners, when not afraid to toss the ball up under favourable conditions and able to keep things tight under unfavourable ones, have also been successful, as the deeds of Roy Tattersall and Fred Titmus will testify. In 1951-52, Tattersall, then only in his second season of international cricket, took 21 wickets in five Tests and starred in England's only victory of the series at Kanpur, where he reveled in helpful conditions and took eight wickets for 125 runs.

Twelve years later, Titmus, then at the peak of his powers, took 27 wickets, a remarkable achievement on pitches that were loaded heavily in favour of the batsmen; more importantly, it came against a batting line up that included Dilip Sardesai, MAK Pataudi, ML Jaisimha, Budhi Kunderan, Chandu Borde, Salim Durrani, Hanumant Singh, Vijay Manjrekar and Bapu Nadkarni.

The fast men have traditionally dreaded bowling on Indian pitches. In the words of Brian Statham, who had a frustrating time on the 1951-52 tour, "the wickets were as useful to a fast bowler as a refrigerator is to an Eskimo." But that has not stopped a few of them from wreaking havoc, albeit in conditions more helpful than those that Statham encountered. One recalls Ian Botham running through the Indians during the Golden Jubilee Test, taking 13 wickets for 106 runs. Three years earlier, John Lever made his Test debut at New Delhi a memorable one with a match haul of 10 for 70, on his way to a series aggregate of 26 wickets. The tireless Bob Willis was not far behind with 20 wickets. And one cannot forget the inspired pace bowling of Neil Foster, who put in a match-winning performance of 11 for 163 at Madras in 1984-85.

Over the years, the English batsmen, rather than the bowlers, would have fancied their chances in India. The pitches, for long, were sleeping beauties, and the spin quartet were at their peak only in the 70s, while Kapil Dev did not play against England in this country before 1980.

Batsmen thus found run-making a fairly easy proposition. Both the artists and the artisans have struck gold in India. Those willing to graft, like Alan Watkins in 1951-52 and Ken Barrington and Geoff Pullar 10 years later, gave the Indian bowlers massive headaches. But the Indian wickets also encouraged elegant stroke-players like Tom Graveney in 1951-52, Ted Dexter 10 years later, and Colin Cowdrey, who scored successive Test centuries in 1963-64 after being flown over as a replacement to bolster a side plagued by injuries.

Batting against the spin quartet on tailor-made pitches was a tougher proposition, but that did not stop Tony Greig from scoring hundreds on both his tours here. Botham was another who got two Test hundreds in India. Other century makers have included Cyril Walters, Geoff Boycott, Dennis Amiss, Keith Fletcher, Tony Lewis and Graham Gooch. In 1984-85, Mike Gatting and Graeme Fowler got a double century each in the same match at Madras, the first pair to make double centuries in the same innings for England. As can be seen from the list, all have a very good international record, while some like Gatting have also been exceptionally fine players of spin bowling. Why, even in the debacle of 1992-93, attacking players like Graeme Hick and Chris Lewis got hundreds.

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