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Unlike most suspense stories the surprise in the M.C.C. tour of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka came at the beginning when the first Test match against India at Delhi just before Christmas was won by the impressive margin of six wickets. It was a match which nobody expected England to win, least of all the England players whose only preparation after a lay off of three months had been three matches, only one of which at Hyderabad against the President's XI, which could have passed for a Test side, was of real quality.
Before the first Test, Tony Lewis and his players would have been prepared to get out of it without defeat, relying on further practice to prepare them for other encounters in the series. The Indians, who never seemed to be referred to as anything except the world champions by their millions of followers, were a very confident side.
It says much for the effort made by this England party that India were never as confident again. Yet in the end the overall results of the tour were disappointing. In eight Test matches England won only that first one, lost the series 2--1 to India and featured in a depressing series of three drawn Tests in Pakistan, which would probably still have ended that way had they gone on playing for the rest of their lives, so slow were the pitches.
It was a disheartening record for a team who came so close to defeating India, who on their own wickets are one of the game's major powers. Just one reasonable innings by any of the specialist batsmen in each of the Tests at Calcutta and Madras would have seen England leading the series 3--0.
Instead, England lost by a mere 28 runs at Calcutta, a heartbreaking result for bowlers who had dismissed India for 210 and 155 even without the help of Arnold on the ground where his fast-medium swing bowling was expected to be most effective.
Then at Madras, having been told throughout the tour that whoever won the toss there would win the match, England batted first and threw away all the advantage by losing the first seven wickets for 110. Again a key bowler for the conditions was missing, this time Underwood who had become victim of the sun.
Having got so close to triumph, it may seem harsh to say that they were not quite good enough for the job they had to do, but that indeed was the case. That they got so far was an immense tribute to their enthusiasm, their determination, their fitness and their liking for each other. After the various internal dissensions and public controversies that had marred a number of previous M.C.C. tours, this party emerged as the best for some years. They were popular wherever they went and they established among themselves something of a brotherhood.
What they were short of was genuine, proved Test talent. The strain of trying to find their way in a crucial Test match in Calcutta while 70,000 people bayed at each ball created a memory that will stay with all of them for ever.
Because their skill was not enough, few of the questions which had been posed before the tour were answered conclusively. The problems they presented to English cricket when they came back were only a shade less pressing than the ones they had been sent out to solve.
It was not easy, for instance, to assess the position of Tony Lewis as a long-term candidate for the England captaincy. Indeed, he passed the leadership examination without much trouble at all. He was enterprising, liked as well as respected by his players and very conscious that his job involved more than just deciding tactics on the field. On the one occasion when the behaviour of the team was seriously at fault--at Madras when they came dangerously close to trying to intimidate an umpire--he made it immediately clear that this was not his kind of cricket.
The doubts, as they had been before he left England, were about his batting. The things Lewis did well, he did extremely well. With Greig he won the first Test match against India. With Greig he saved the first against Pakistan. In the fourth match of the Indian series he scored a century at Kanpur that was thrilling for its aggression and range of stroke. In that innings he accepted his responsibilities as captain in the classic manner and for the first time in the series launched a flat-out assault on Bedi, going far down the wicket to drive him as soon as he got to the crease.
Yet, between these successes were too many failures for comfort. Lewis batted nine times in Test matches in India and scored 234 runs. Of those, 195 came in two innings. On that sort of evidence it was not possible to close the debate about the captaincy.
Of the party of 16, only two players could claim to have been unqualified successes. They were Tony Greig and Keith Fletcher, both of whom showed a consistency with the bat that was beyond everyone else. For Fletcher the incubation period in Test cricket had lasted a long time, yet nothing could have been more impressive than the way he batted from the second Test match onwards. He had been sent on the tour in what was publicly described by the selectors as a last chance, and he proved himself the best of the England batsmen. Technically he had always been good, but now he showed authority as well. He scored his first hundred in Test cricket in Bombay, yet the innings that did him greatest credit was one of 97 not out on a turning wicket at Madras. It is difficult to imagine that any of the world's current players could have batted better on it.
Greig, too, made his first Test century, although the surprise would have been for him to come back from this tour without doing so. In every crisis he played with a confidence and determination that seemed to make big scores inevitable. As older and more experienced players shrank in stature before the bowling of Bedi and Chandrasekhar, so Greig, who initially had as many problems as any of them, grew. With his catching and his bowling (which is marred only by the indefensibly long time he takes to get through an over), Greig established himself as an England player of true all-round ability. If he can temper his enthusiasm and so curb some of his mannerisms on the field which are too aggressive and embarrassing, he will probably go on to become England's captain.
Chris Old, before the slow wickets of Pakistan made him superfluous, bowled with enough speed to frighten one or two batsmen. Old is still in his apprenticeship as a fast bowler, but he made enough progress to suggest that he might be touring for England for a few years to come. He learned much from bowling with Geoff Arnold who is such a master of his craft that he was always an important member of the team whatever the conditions.
The performances of the England spinners, Derek Underwood and Pat Pocock, were harder to evaluate. They did not often bowl badly, although by now it must be accepted that Underwood's menace lessens once he leaves England, yet they seldom threatened to win a Test match. By modern English standards they performed creditably, but they were constantly put at a disadvantage by being seen in company with the Indian spinners.
Pocock, in some ways, was a disappointment for he has the ability to make the ball spin and bounce outside England. Yet, maybe because he tries to do too much with each delivery, his bowling often lacks steadiness. It does not seem logical that anybody who can bowl as well as he did at Madras, or against Pakistan in Hyderabad, can also be so wayward.
Still, whatever the disappointments of the bowling, it was the batting that killed the side's chances of success. Too many of the players in the first five places in the order struggled and too often failed so that frequently the selectors were picking men with no kind of form at all. Nothing pinpoints this dilemma more sharply than the position of Roger Tolchard, the reserve wicket-keeper and the only man not to play in a Test match. Yet he came close to selection three times--as a batsman.
Dennis Amiss played impressively in Pakistan, scoring two centuries and 99 in the three Tests, yet it was impossible to forget the memory of his suffering in India. Barry Wood, who had been chosen on the strength of his courage and skill in dealing with the pace of Lillee, was found to lack the technique for countering the spinners. These two, who had arrived as the side's opening pair, were dropped after the third Test.
Graham Roope, the only representative of the younger school of English batting, played in four Tests, although for his last selection he was indebted almost entirely to his ability to take catches close to the bat.
Amiss, Wood and Roope are all gifted and often devastating players in England and they may well play important roles in Test matches for years to come. But in India particularly, they seemed to be handicapped by the sort of cricket that had produced them. Years of stereotyped cricket against seam bowling is no kind of preparation for taking on bowlers like Chandrasekhar, bouncing top spinners and googlies towards the leg-trap, or Bedi who will flight the ball past a man's defence so gently that he will hardly know he has been bowled. Constant playing of seam bowling produces only good players of seam bowling. That is how limited English cricket has become.
In a different category was Mike Denness. His disappointment was of another sort for he showed himself a good player of spin and he went ten Test innings before he was dismissed for less than double figures. On the other hand, his big scores were too few.
Alan Knott had less of a tour than is usual with him and he made a number of errors behind the stumps. With him, though, it was not a matter of concern for he was clearly suffering from a surfeit of cricket. Knott's need was simply for a break from the never-ending strain of the game.
An outsize contribution to the well being of the party came from Norman Gifford, Jack Birkenshaw and Bob Cottam, three men who slipped in and out of the Test team whenever needed, never failed to turn in performances and yet remained indestructibly cheerful when next asked to stand down. Whether on the Test field or in the nets helping others prepare for Test matches, nobody worked harder than these three. The morale of touring parties has been wrecked by the men on the fringe. They promoted it.
In overall command was Donald Carr as manager--imperturbable, efficient, and popular with his team, members of the Press and all the thousands of cricket fans with whom he seemed to find time to talk. It is to be hoped that once he got back to Lord's he emphasised the necessity for this tour to be split in future. India and Pakistan are too strong now to be taken on together. They make such differing demands on any team visiting them.
For England's players the main part of this tour was taken up with efforts to find a way to counter Bedi and Chandrasekhar, the two most destructive spinners in the world. In the course of it Chandrasekhar took 35 wickets, Bedi 25 and Solkar leapt about in the leg-trap like a hungry trout. That was a bowling series.
The England players then crossed the border to run into the full might of Majid, Asif Iqbal, Sadiq, Mushtaq and Intikhab. That was a batting series on pitches of completely different character.
It is virtually impossible to pick from English cricket a party of 16 which would include enough variety and talent to cope with such differing demands. From now on each will have to have its own status--as a separate and major tour, always providing the Pakistan authorities can control their crowds well enough for the game to be played at all.
Test Matches--Played 8; Won 1, Lost 2, Drawn 5.
All First-Class Matches--Played 16; Won 3, Lost 2, Drawn 11.
Non-First-Class--Played 1; Won 1. Abandoned 1.
Wins-- India, Sri Lanka, The President of Pakistan's XI, Ceylon Central Province (50 overs).
Losses-- India (two).
Draws-- India (two), India Control Board President's XI, Five Zones in India (Central, North, South, East, West). Pakistan (three).
Abandoned--Sri Lanka Governor's one-day match.
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