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After severe and depressing losses to Australia and the West Indies in successive home summers, the tide turned for English cricket during the 1976-77 tour of India and Sri Lanka. For the first time in five ventures since the Second World War, England beat India on their own soil.
The margin of England's victory in the series was decisive -- three-one. And the extent of England's superiority in achieving these three wins was no less convincing -- an innings and 25 runs, ten wickets and 200 runs. M.C.C. were undefeated in the eight other first-class matches on the tour although only one of them was won.
A historic aspect of the English triumph in the Test series was that no other touring side in India had ever before clinched the rubber over the first three Tests. As India came back to win the fourth and strongly contest a highly exciting final Test (the only one to be drawn) there was no evidence of slackening effort on the part of the tourists.
In analysing the series, it must be pointed out that India looked as weak as they have ever done in their 42 years in international cricket. What slight potential they had as a team they did not realise until after the series was decided.
India's shortcomings however, must not be allowed to detract from England's achievement. To an equal extent at least, England's superiority came from dedication to the task on hand, zest, determination, a thoughtful approach and a bond of brotherhood between the players.
They were inspired by their flamboyant and articulate captain, Tony Greig, and team management, under Ken Barrington, must also take credit for the excellent spirit and discipline that prevailed.
Greig's charisma enabled him to extract maximum effort from his players. In planning and matters of strategy, he was fortunate to have such shrewd and experienced aides as Barrington, Brearley, Fletcher and Knott. Their contribution to tactics was conspicuous.
As usual, M.C.C. were afflicted with injuries and illnesses, not a few of which struck on the eve of, or sometimes during, a Test match. Yet there was only one instance of a doubtful starter not answering roll call on the morning of a Test.
This record not only spoke volumes for the players' determination to rise above handicaps but also was testimony to the skill and tirelessness of the team's physiotherapist, Bernard Thomas.
M.C.C.'s major advantage on this tour was that only four years separated it from the last trip to India. The party therefore included a high percentage of players who had gone there in 1972-73 with Tony Lewis and were therefore familiar with the conditions.
Undoubtedly, the main factor in England's superiority was the bowling, supported by fielding of a standard that has not been touched recently, if ever, by English Test sides. Though Test pitches, with the exception of Chepauk in Madras, were slow and tailor-made for spinners, England placed heavy reliance on pace and seam.
There was always a case for playing another spinner besides Underwood and Greig, but the inner council was mindful of India's traditional weakness against pace and as much of the fact that in 1972-73 the quicker bowlers captured 48 Test wickets to the spinners' 32.
This time, Willis, Lever and Old between them took 56 to 29 by Underwood and ten by Greig (most of them when he was functioning as an off-spinner). Perhaps England got by without another specialist spinner because of the tremendous effectiveness of Underwood, the highest wicket-taker on either side.
No longer could it be said of Underwood that he was principally a bowler for English conditions and that he had to be taken abroad like an umbrella in case it rained. He exploited the conditions even more than India's own celebrated spinners.
Accurate as always, he bowled with immense craft and wit -- slower than before and with greater variation. That the Indians never mastered him is borne out by the fast that he claimed as many as nine wickets in the last Test.
No less vital to England's success were Willis and Lever. Troubled by a chest infection in the first fortnight, Willis reached his peak after the first Test and, carefully nursed thereafter, always remained an explosive and potent force. Elimination of the initial curve in his run-up to the wicket seemed to have improved his rhythm and his effectiveness. His 20 wickets in the series stamped Willis as a bowler of genuine pace and indisputable class.
Lever, who had not played for England before this tour, was picked because of his impressive fitness record and his stamina. True to expectations, he was always on hand to bowl and he played in ten matches, more than any other bowler in the party. And he proved more than a willing workhorse.
With 44 wickets, he topped the aggregates for the tour. In Test matches he was second only to Underwood, with 26 wickets, including ten in the opening Test. To set the seal on such a brilliant début, he scored 53 and helped to raise England's total to winning proportions.
A rogue ball which swung extravagantly gave Lever a haul of seven wickets in the first innings of the First Test and though he could not have failed to realise that his success then was brought about by freak circumstances, he drew tremendous confidence from it and remained a sharp prong in England's attack. His left-handedness provided an important variation.
Lever's triumphant first tour was marred by the vaseline controversy, of which he was the central figure. This was unfortunate. He showed tremendous courage and character in standing up to the emotional stress which this issue must have placed on him.
Lever's contributions with the bat too were not insignificant. He distinguished himself on every occasion when the tail was required to contribute or to resist. Batting at number nine, he played sensibly and very straight, always proving a firm obstacle to the Indian bowlers.
Old, whose fitness was in considerable doubt when he was picked for the tour, often snatched an important wicket. The second Test was his most outstanding. Selvey, who played in only the final Test, as a last-minute replacement for the injured Old, was pushed into the background once Lever staked his claim and it was for this reason alone that he did not make a mark.
Left even further in the background was Miller, who played as a front-line off-spinner in the last Test of the previous summer and not without success. Greig now did the off-spinning in Test matches and even in the subsidiary games Cope always seemed to get greater scope. Miller had less than his fair share of opportunities in a country where a spin bowler of so much promise could have advanced his skill.
The neglect of Miller, who was always prepared to experiment with variations in flight and pace in the manner of the classical spinner, must be the one major criticism of M.C.C.'s policy on this trip.
Without meaning any slight on Cope, they seemed to show him preference because of his greater accuracy, even though his mode of attack was more stereotyped. To Miller's consolation, however, his batting ability gained some recognition during the tour. He scored two fifties and passed 40 on one other occasion in seven innings.
Where batting was concerned, England finished the tour with almost as many problems and question marks as when they began it. Although Amiss was at the top of the Test averages and Brearley fourth, the highest opening partnership after four Tests was only 39. Almost every innings got off to a bad start. Then Amiss or Greig usually put England on course with dogged batting. When momentum was required, it was invariably provided by Knott, with his own brand of unorthodox batsmanship.
The promise of secure batting strength raised by an enormous total of 585 for five declared in the tour's opening match was not fulfilled.
Brearley, who made a double century on that occasion, was late making an impression in Test matches. Fletcher, who started with a century, did not shine again till he played a masterly innings in the second innings of the final Test. To be fair to him, Fletcher's fortunes were affected by a sprained ankle which took considerable time to mend.
Woolmer never came to terms with the slow, turning pitches. The two new recruits, Barlow and Randall, were also disappointing. In a week's net practice before the tour proper commenced, Barlow batted as if he had played on Indian pitches all his life. Furthermore, he scored centuries in his first two innings of the tour; but he was not equal to the demands of Test matches, lost his place after the first two and faded into the background.
Randall made his Test début in the electric and awe-inspiring atmosphere of Calcutta's Eden Gardens. He came in with England in trouble on a pitch of dubious quality. He proceeded to make 37 with an assurance not equalled hitherto by another English batsman. Obviously he had the technique to build a major Test innings, but finished the series without improving on his maiden effort.
Although nowhere near as accomplished a player, Tolchard acquitted himself creditably in the middle order and contributed to victories in the second and third Tests. He was all grit and determination and Indian bowlers found him as hard to dislodge as on the previous tour.
The quality of England's fielding cannot possibly be exaggerated. Spectacular catches were taken in the slips by Brearley, Greig and Old and it was hard to recall a dropped catch in this region during the first four Tests. Willis took brilliant catches both close to the wicket and in the deep.
Barlow and Randall made a tremendous impact with their speed and athleticism in fielding at cover or mid-wicket. If a jaded Knott had disappointed on his last Indian tour, he reached supreme heights this time. He was consistently brilliant.
To look at the other side of the coin, the Indian batting seemed desperately short of Test-class material and the shortage was emphasised because Viswanath, who had a very successful series against New Zealand just before, suffered almost total loss of form.
The other leading batsman, Gavaskar, played three notable innings, including the only Indian century of the series, but there were other occasions when he showed a marked reluctance to shoulder responsibility.
Patel played memorable innings at Calcutta and Bombay, but lacked consistency. The inclusion of the left-handed Surinder Amarnath for the last two Tests was an advantage, particularly as a counter to Lever and Underwood.
Although Bedi and Chandrasekhar finished above him in the table of wicket-takers, Prasanna, brought in after the first Test, was the outstanding Indian bowler. At 36, his control and skill were unimpaired and he was still capable of bowling for long periods. His extra edge compared with the other bowlers could possibly be attributed to the fact that he was fresher, having missed the series against New Zealand, which finished only a fortnight before the first Test.
Bedi took 25 wickets in the series and during the third Test, his own 51st, he became the first Indian to reach the landmark of 200 Test wickets. For sustained control, however, Bedi was not up to his old mark. After unsettling England on the first morning of the series, Chandrasekhar lost form and confidence and he could not have been far from losing his place when he rediscovered his powers in the second innings of the third Test.
The Indian spinners as a combination suffered from the failure of the batsmen to give them totals big enough to bowl at, at least in the first three Tests. Fielding support also was inadequate -- certainly not up to Test standards.
No batsman of any quality was seen in the matches outside the Tests and, on this evidence, the revival of India as a Test force did not appear to be close at hand.
Test Matches -- Played 6: Won 3, Lost 2, Drawn 1.
First-Class Matches -- Played 15: Won 4, Lost 2, Drawn 9.
Wins -- India (3), Combined Universities.
Losses -- India (1), Australia (1).
Draws -- India (1), West Zone, Central Zone, President's XI, North Zone, East Zone, South Zone, Bombay, Western Australia.
Match reports for
Match reports for