The abysmal showing and the humiliating experiences of the Indian team in England in 1974 brought back hideous memories of the 1936 tour. On the field the visitors went down to heavy defeats; off the field there were numerous seamy incidents making it arguably the worst tour ever undertaken by an Indian team.
Sunil Gavaskar put it all succinctly when he wrote in Sunny Days: "It was a totally disastrous series and the tour was one of the worst I had made. There was no such thing as team spirit. Instead there were a lot of petty squabbles that didn't do anybody any good. The many incidents that gave the team such a bad name didn't help. It was all extremely frustrating."
And yet when the team landed in England in April, there were no indications that the tour would end in such an unmitigated disaster. The nucleus of the 1971 side seemed very much intact. The captain was still Ajit Wadekar, the spin quartet was at it peak and the batting remained strong. Sure, the Indians would be touring in the wetter first half and not in the drier second half as was the case in 1971. This was one factor reckoned to be against the visitors. But not even the most cynical Indian cricket follower could have bargained for what really happened.
England won the first Test at Manchester by 113 runs. But the end came in the 13th of the 20 mandatory overs so it was after a game fight that India went down. But in the second Test at Lord's, India touched an all time low. They conceded 629 runs, which was the highest England total at the game's headquarters and the highest by them against India. On the third day, India replied with 302. Following on, the Indian batting touched rock bottom. In just 77 minutes, they were bowled out for 42, their lowestever Test score and the lowest-ever total at Lord's. The margin of defeat, an innings and 285 runs was the second biggest that India have suffered. From one disaster the Indians stumbled on to another.
In the third Test at Birmingham, India went down by an innings and 78 runs inside three days and after taking only two wickets. This was only the third time that a team was winning a Test after losing only two wickets, the earlier occasions being in 1924 and 1958. To cricket fans who had seen their team pull off two great away triumphs in the West Indies and England in 1971 and then follow it up by defeating England at home in 1972-73 it was too much to swallow. The batting had crumbled, the fielding had wilted and the famed spinners had been mastered.
As if the heavy defeats were not bad enough, stories of rifts between players and factions in the team made the rounds. There were also unsavoury incidents concerning the team at a party hosted by the Indian High Commissioner in London. And around this time, shiplifting charges were made out against Sudhir Naik.
In India, the mood was predictably ugly and there were stories of Wadekar's house being stoned and the 1971 Victory Bat, erected at Indore to commemorate the triumph three years before, being defaced. As it to symbolise the lack of team spirit and the factionalism, the players came back in batches.
Predictably enough, there were very few gains. Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath and Farookh Engineer did reasonably well under the circumstances. Gavaskar's 101 in bowler-friendly conditions at Old Trafford is considered to be among his greatest knocks. Generally, however, the batsmen came a cropper against the swinging ball, their technical limitations being exposed. Even Eknath Solkar, the eternal fighter, found it difficult to get runs, averaging less than 20 while Wadekar with 82 runs in six innings, was a total failure.
The bowling too was a disaster with the spin quartet anything but menacing. Compared to the 37 wickets that Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Sinivas Venkatraghavan took three years before, this time the four of them shared just 15 and at enormous cost.
The tour results also showed the team in poor light. Out of 18 matches, three were won, four lost and 11 drawn. The team also lost both the one-day internationals at the end of the tour incidentally the first two such games that India played. Gavaskar lived up to his reputation by getting 993 runs at an average of 41.37. Naik, Wadekar, Viswanath and Solkar all topped the 700-run mark. But for younger players like Brijesh Patel and Gopal Bose, the tour was a disaster.
Bedi emerged as the leading wicket-taker with 53 but Chandra's tally fell from 50 in 1971 to 26 this time and Venkat's decline was even sharper 63 to 18. And all of them including Prasanna, were very expensive. Abid Ali's all-round showing was a minor silver lining.
Against such weak-kneed opposition, England had a whale of a time in the Tests. Mike Denness got hundreds in successive Tests, John Edrich, Dennis Amiss, Keith Fletcher and Tony Greig also hit centuries, David Lloyd hammered an unbeaten 214 in only his second Test and Geoff Arnold (4 for 19) and Chris Old (5 for 21) caused the debacle at Lord's. The rout was total, complete and absolute and there could not be any excuses for such a feeble showing.