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The theatrical impresarios of London's West End would have been proud to have put on a spectacle like this. The sporting plot was played out on arenas larger than any stage along Shaftesbury Avenue, and it fascinated by its natural twists and turns, supported by bravura performances. Most importantly, the patrons went away delighted by what they had seen. The show was a winner.
The supremacy of cricket as England's summer sport was in question. The preceding Tests against New Zealand had struggled to compete against the circus of soccer's quadrennial showpiece, the World Cup, and neither the knighting of Richard Hadlee nor England's first win in a home series for five years made the impact of the Indian summer which followed.
A certain amateur spirit was needed if cricket was to recapture its glory, and the Indian tourists, led by Mohammad Azharuddin, had that spirit. The fear of losing has often been responsible for dull Test cricket, but India, accustomed to winning abroad once in a blue moon, had none of that fear. Moreover, with conditions so dry that hosepipe bans were being imposed in Britain, the Indian batsmen found themselves in their element. They scored heavily from their earliest games, making fifteen first-class hundreds, six of them in Tests, and their double victory in the Texaco Trophy one-day internationals suggested how attractively they could perform. The Tests would revolve around their success in using these batting skills to support the notoriously weak bowling.
The fate of the series lay in the toss at Lord's. With so many batsmen among the runs, most captains would have grabbed first strike the moment the coin came down in their favour. This is where captaincy may have let India down. Graham Gooch, soon to make this summer his annus mirabilis, may not have believed his ears or his luck when England were asked to bat. For while the mild cloud cover at the time of the toss was contrary to the forecast, any moisture in the pitch could only have been imagined. Not without reason did the sagacious Mike Brearley write that the decision was pusillanimous. Moreover, the divisions in Indian cricket were soon emphasised as the team's cricket manager, Bishan Bedi, was reported to have disassociated himself from the decision to put England in, though he made a belated attempt to assuage the players' feelings by denying the words attributed to him.
The die had been cast for a glorious display of batting, and record books were constantly open as the unflappable Gooch piled on the runs to achieve the first Test triple-hundred since. L. G. Rowe's 302 for West Indies against England at Bridgetown in 1973-74. The England captain was to score a second century in his next innings, giving him the record Test match aggregate of 456 runs, and another at Old Trafford. All in all, in eleven Test innings during the summer he made 1,058 runs for an average of 96.18, batting with the voracity of a Bradman, whose record of 974 Test runs in an English season he passed at The Oval. Gooch's understanding of Indian bowling, easily tamed by patience and a straight bat, was perfect, and his opening partnership with Mike Atherton went from strength to strength. They confirmed its efficacy at Lord's as they compiled a record opening stand against India of 204, and again as they beat it by 21 runs the next time they walked out together, in Manchester, where Atherton became only the second Lancastrian, after G. Pullar, to make a Test hundred for England at Old Trafford. Their stand of 176 at The Oval was their fourth century partnership in as many Tests; yet opening was an unaccustomed role for Atherton, used to batting at No. 3 for his county.
Although they sometimes seemed to be reduced to supporting players, the contributions of Robin Smith and Allan Lamb, both of whom scored centuries at Lord's and Old Trafford, should not be forgotten. The competent Smith must have put himself among the world's top ten batsmen. Over the series he was only twice out in making 361 runs, and his refreshingly orthodox technique, coupled with amazing power through the off side, gave him ample command of the Indian bowlers, whether pace or spin. No believer in the bat-behind-pad and forward-prod school of batting, he gave an object lesson with his handling of spin when the ball was turning on the second day at Old Trafford. In that innings Lamb's performance against spin was much criticised, but he overcame his supposed weakness later in the match to steer his team away from trouble and towards the chance of victory.
Until the last Test, India's batsmen were always left to battle against the odds, chasing one massive England total after another, but their talented line-up, and especially the brilliant Azharuddin, did much to re-establish the virtues of positive batting. The Indian captain's breathtakingly audacious hundred at Lord's signified the difference between the English straight bat, wielded with control rather than subtlety, and oriental wristness, which lends itself to innovation. There were also solid and professional innings from Ravi Shastri and Sanjay Manjrekar, but the most spectacular effort came from Kapil Dev at Lord's. With the last man in and 24 needed to save the follow-on, he lifted four sixes in as many deliveries into the uncompleted stands of the Nursery End - just in time, for Narendra Hirwani was to fall next ball.
Despite such heroics, India were let down by their lack of cold-blooded professionalism, most obvious when they failed in the task of batting just under four sessions for the draw at Lord's. Under the pressure of having to remain at the wicket, rather than being able to bat with uninhibited aggression, they succumbed more easily than one would have imagined, while at the same time continuing their spectacular strokeplay. It was after the senior batsmen had displayed the same lack of commitment on the final day at Old Trafford that Sachin Tendulkar completed his conquest of English hearts, saving his side from defeat and scoring the sixth century of the match en route. There should be many more Test hundreds for Tendulkar; what made his first so special were the circumstances in which he made it, as a seventeen-year-old coming to the rescue of his country. Yet those who had seen him stand up to a barrage of bouncers from the Pakistani fast bowlers at Sialkot the previous winter would have had no doubts about his genius, or his capacity to set an example to colleagues old enough to be father figures. He had already shown his character in the first innings at Manchester when, after waiting nearly an hour for his first run, he went on to regain his one-day touch, and he had dazzled the crowd at Lord's with an unbelievably athletic catch of the sort that only players of his age can attempt.
How different the series might have been was suggested by the way India performed when they batted first in the final Test, on a parched Oval pitch as close to their native conditions as they were likely to find. They made the most of it with their highest score against England, who came to appreciate the difference now that it was their turn to bat after the opposition had ground out a huge total The ball was spinning on the third day, and when England followed on before lunch on Monday, conditions pointed to India's first victory in an overseas Test since Leeds in 1986. But their bowling was exposed yet again. Inflexible tactics and lack of penetration led the Indians to accept the draw long before England could relax to enjoy their first summer without a defeat since 1979.
Throughout the tour the Indian bowlers had been expensive and rarely looked better than club class, although leg-spinner Hirwani may have been handicapped by a bleeding index finger, which troubled him all summer. Additionally, their wicket-keeper, Kiran More, was generally agreed to have had a poor tour behind the stumps. Nor was there any relief in the county fixtures. The tourists drew all but two of these beating Kent and losing to Hampshire, with whom they shared the financial rewards provided by the sponsorship of Tetley Bitter. But it was not a summer for bowlers, and England's Angus Fraser was the only one in the series who rose above mediocrity. Getting lift from closer to a length than the quicker Malcolm, he bowled the off-stump line designed to bring out the worst in Indian batsmen. At 28.75 his average was half that of the most economical of his opponents. Anil Kumble, the second of the leg-spinners, who played in only one test.
But it was the batting which made the series such a success, and one of the finest examples came on its last day at The Oval, with the elegant century of David Gower. The former England captain, if his critics were to be believed, had spent the series inventing ways of getting out, but the threat of having to go to Australia as a tour host rather than as a member of the England team seemed to bring out the best in him. The timing of his strokes was impeccable in a charming 157 not out, and with England not yet out of the woods, so was the timing of the innings. A lot was at stake, for Gower and for his team; he did not disappoint himself or the crowd.
The happy ending for England brought down the curtain on a popular show. The Indians had been model tourists, ever willing to please the spectators and never once questioning the umpiring, the crowded itinerary (twice they went straight from a Test into six days of first-class cricket), the long coach rides in a criss-cross programme, or even some hotels with less than adequate service. Relations between the teams were excellent. Neither two poor umpiring decisions in successive overs at Old Trafford, when India were poised to match England's total, nor the couple of warnings for attempting to interfere with the ball were allowed to dampen the good cheer.
The Indians left England happier for their visit, convinced that the future would be brighter and that a nucleus of players had been found to serve them for some time to come. In the Texaco series they had also rediscovered their talent in the one-day game. Their hosts were similarly pleased. The triumphs in two Test series confirmed that English cricket had emerged from the shadows, and that the brave performances in the Caribbean in the spring had been no flash in the pan. The fact that only twelve players were used in the series against India, as opposed to the 29 who appeared against Australia in 1989, reflected a settled look and greater wisdom among the selectors. Most of all, the series did more for the game than many recent ones, and that in itself was cause for celebration.
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