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For Mohammad Azharuddin, a man of dignity and a fine batsman to boot, India's 13th tour of England could scarcely have been a more harrowing experience. He was burdened by problems before the team even arrived and they escalated during the next ten weeks. India were comprehensively outclassed in the one-day internationals, beaten in the Test series and failed to win a single first-class match.
There is more. One of the team's leading players, Navjot Singh Sidhu, flew home in a huff after a bitter disagreement with his captain before the Test matches started. Azharuddin was accused of poor communications and being distant from his players, and endured mutterings about his personal life. He had left his wife and two children a few months previously and his girlfriend, a glamorous product of the Bollywood film industry, was by his side for much of the tour. His form with the bat virtually evaporated: he scored just 42 runs in five Test innings.
Ultimately, though, it could have been worse. Having suffered an emphatic beating by eight wickets on an unreliable pitch in the First Test at Edgbaston, India had much the better of things at Lord's and more than held their own at Trent Bridge. Sourav Ganguly emerged as a batsman of impressive technique and temperament, Rahul Dravid was not far behind him, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad established themselves as one of the best new-ball attacks in the world and Sachin Tendulkar confirmed what most people already knew: he stands alongside Brian Lara as the world's premier batsman. So, although Azharuddin's personal star barely flickered, he could at least take satisfaction from some elements of his team's performance.
The innings that changed the series was played by Ganguly at Lord's. Facing England's first-innings total of 344, the rest of India's top six struggled, only Tendulkar reaching 30. But Ganguly grew in confidence and stature as he approached his century. Had Dravid not fallen five short, two team-mates would have made hundreds on debut in the same match for the first time in Test history. Left-handed and nimble on his feet, Ganguly presents the full face of the bat and plays his cover-drive with a particular flourish. He scored another century at Trent Bridge and thus became only the third batsman - after Alvin Kallicharran and Lawrence Rowe, both in 1971-72 - to reach three figures in his first two innings in Test cricket. The only mystery was why he and Dravid had not played at Edgbaston.
The World Cup two months earlier exercised a profound influence over the tour. Effigies of Azharuddin had been burned following India's semi-final defeat by Sri Lanka, when the crowd at Eden Gardens rioted. The pressure on Azharuddin was not the only fall-out: Vinod Kambli, despite a Test average in excess of 50, did not tour, amid rumours of late-night indiscretions; Manoj Prabhakar, the seam-bowling all-rounder, had already retired from International cricket after being dropped during the World Cup.
Kambli aside, India made errors in selection, bringing four spinners and only three quicker bowlers. They recognized the mistake quickly enough, though, summoning seamer Salil Ankola from league cricket in Northumberland, rather than another batsman, to replace Sidhu. A team bulging with spinners needed warm and dry conditions. Such weather was denied them; they spent the early weeks of the tour swathed in sweaters and buttressed against the cold. They even suffered stomach upsets - Brummy tummy rather than Delhi belly perhaps. As Sanjay Manjrekar put it: "You just can't trust this English food."
The Arctic winds were crucial because India's slow men - and Anil Kumble in particular - failed to slip into an immediate rhythm, and were always below their best. Kumble was disappointing. In 1995, playing for Northamptonshire, he was the only bowler in the country to take 100 wickets. His selection of snaking, sliding top-spinners and flippers confounded the best and he was expected to be India's most potent weapon. But he took just five wickets in three Tests. The suspicion was that England's batsmen had benefited more from his season in county cricket than Kumble himself; they had him sussed. One left-armer, Sunil Joshi, broke a bone in the First Test and took no further part in the tour. Another, Venkatapathy Raju, took one wicket in his only Test. The back-up wrist-spinner, Narendra Hirwani, played no Tests at all.
If the slow bowlers were ineffective, Srinath and Prasad were magnificent. They were the best bowlers on either side and, with more fortune, could have inflicted greater damage on England's batting. Rarely can a bowler have endured worse luck than Srinath. He consistently moved the ball, beat the bat and showed unflagging stamina. But dropped catches, poor umpiring and endless playing and missing conspired against him. Eleven wickets at 39.36 did him no sort of justice. Prasad, playing in his First Test series, was only a fraction behind Srinath and finished with 15 at 25.00. He, too, deviated the ball almost at will and showed a deceptive turn of speed. On this evidence, Srinath and Prasad are perhaps surpassed as a combination only by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and whichever pair West Indies choose to play. Paras Mhambrey was an inadequate third seamer, though Ganguly did his bit; if his bat was golden, his arm also had a fair luster and he collected half a dozen Test wickets.
Azharuddin's failures left a large hole in the batting. On India's previous tour to England in 1990, he scored two dazzling centuries with wrists as strong as tungsten and as supple as rubber. This time there were weaknesses on and around leg stump. For all his problems, Azharuddin never lost his dignity or his rag in public. After an abject defeat by ten wickets at Derby, however, he delivered a fearful broadside to his players in the sanctuary of their dressing room.
Vikram Rathore began with a torrent of runs, gleefully crashing anything over-pitched through the covers. But David Lloyd, England's new Coach, who had every ball of India's early matches filmed, spotted a weakness and his bowlers duly exploited it. Rathore was caught either at the wickets or in the slips in every Test innings. With Sidhu gone, Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia, the vociferous wicket keeper, each had a go at opening the batting with Rathore, but neither combination worked. India's highest first-wicket partnership was 25. Manjrekar made fifty at Trent Bridge, but not much besides, after twisting his ankle at Edgbaston and missed Lord's.
Which leaves Tendulkar. Ah, Tendulkar! For a man who had his 23rd birthday just days before arriving in England and whose country had been starved of Test cricket, it is astonishing to think he scored his tenth Test century at Trent Bridge. It was a masterpiece, although not as good as his hundred in a losing cause at Edgbaston. Tendulkar's technical perfection, insatiable run-hunger and unwavering concentration would put him in the top bracket in any era of batsmanship. Anything remotely loose - and plenty that is not - is dispatched with power and precision generated by his muscular, 5ft 5in frame.
Tendulkar's contract with the American media company, WorldTel, makes him the highest-earning cricketer in the world at a reported £1 million a year. But he has still managed to remember the team ethos; nobody was surprised when he succeeded Azharuddin as captain in August.
The problems in the Indian team became public after the third one-day international when Sidhu was omitted and then flew home. His parting shot brooked no debate: "I promised my father on his death-bed that I would live my life with integrity and respect. As long as I stay on this tour, I cannot do that." He hinted that he might play under another captain, but the India board responded by banning him from international cricket until October 14 and confiscating half his tour fee. Azharuddin and Sandeep Patil, the team manager continued to insist that their players were united, but Sidhu's huffy exit indicated serious cracks. Just as important, India badly missed his experience and skill at the top of the order. At this point the teams were a long way apart. Each of the one-dayers was affected by rain. Had the first been completed, England would surely have won 3-0. Their team, picked specifically for limited-overs cricket, was unrecognisable from the one which performed so feebly in the World Cup. New coach Lloyd brought a smile and uncomplicated motivational tools. Signs around the dressing-room, carrying such words as "WIN" and "COMMITMENT", and tapes of Winston Churchill and 'Land of Hope and Glory' were designed to inspire the players, and in the short run apparently did.
England did make progress under their new regime, although not as much as Lloyd's upbeat pronouncements would have had people believe. They overcame a moderate Indian side by virtue of victory on a substandard surface at Edgbaston. It was, however, England's first series win since they beat New Zealand, also 1-0, two years earlier, so it was not to be sneezed at. Nasser Hussain, playing his first Tests for three years, made a dramatic impact with two centuries, while Chris Lewis also returned successfully and took 15 wickets. Ronnie Irani and Mark Ealham showed glimpses of an appetite for Test cricket, while a third new face, left-arm bowler Alan Mullally, brought a variation of line without the desired in-swing. Graeme Hick was England's greatest concern. He made a double-century for Worcestershire in the tourists' traditional opening first-class fixture, but struggled woefully in the Tests. All the old doubts resurfaced: he scored just 35 in four innings.
Following the disappointing winter in South Africa and the subcontinent, senior players such as Robin Smith, Angus Fraser and Devon Malcolm were cast aside. On his return from South Africa, Malcolm had made some unflattering remarks about Raymond Illingworth, and the sage of Illingworth's response to those, in his book One-Man Committee, provided unedifying distractions from the series. In June, Illingworth was fined £2,000 by the Test and County Cricket Board, after much delay and secrecy. It was unprecedented for somebody in his position to be docked money by his employers, and the decision was overturned in September. Illingworth became increasingly disillusioned with the Board and cricket in general. He had already stood down as manager in March, though he remained chairman of selectors. By midsummer, he was a fringe figure, ticking off the days to the end of the season so that he could "clear off to my house in Spain and put my feet up".
M. Azharuddin (Hyderabad) (captain), S. R. Tendulkar (Bombay) (vice-captain), R. Dravid (Karnataka), S. C. Ganguly (Bengal), N. D. Hirwani (Madhya Pradesh), A. Jadeja (Haryana), S. B. Joshi (Karnataka), A. Kumble (Karnataka), S. V. Manjrekar (Bombay), P. L. Mhambrey (Bombay), N. R. Mongia (Baroda), B. K. V. Prasad (Karnataka), S. L. V. Raju (Hyderabad), V. Rathore (Punjab), N. S. Sidhu (Punjab), J. Srinath (Karnataka).
S. A. Ankola (Bombay) joined the party as a replacement for Sidhu, who left the tour after the limited-overs internationals.
Manager: C. Nagaraj. Coach: S. M. Patil.
Test matches - Played 3: Lost 1, Drawn 2.
First-class matches - Played 11: Lost 2, Drawn 9.
Losses - England, Derbyshire.
Draws - England (2), Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Sussex, Essex, Leicestershire, British Universities, Hampshire.
One-day internationals - Played 3: Lost 2, No result 1.
Other non-first-class Matches Played 4: Won 3, Lost 1. Wins - Duke of Norfolk's XI, England NCA, Middlesex. Loss - Northamptonshire.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Netherlands v Indians at The Hague, Jul 12, 1996
Tour Match: Netherlands v Indians at The Hague, Jul 13, 1996
Match reports for
Tour Match: Duke of Norfolk's XI v Indians at Arundel, May 5, 1996
Tour Match: England National Cricket Association XI v Indians at Uxbridge, May 6, 1996
Tour Match: Worcestershire v Indians at Worcester, May 8-10, 1996
Tour Match: Gloucestershire v Indians at Bristol, May 11-13, 1996
Tour Match: Sussex v Indians at Hove, May 16-18, 1996
Tour Match: Middlesex v Indians at Lord's, May 19, 1996
Tour Match: Northamptonshire v Indians at Luton, May 21, 1996
Tour Match: Essex v Indians at Chelmsford, May 28-30, 1996
Tour Match: Leicestershire v Indians at Leicester, Jun 1-3, 1996
Tour Match: Derbyshire v Indians at Derby, Jun 13-15, 1996
Tour Match: British Universities v Indians at Cambridge, Jun 26-28, 1996
Tour Match: Hampshire v Indians at Southampton, Jun 29-Jul 1, 1996