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On their ninth tour of England, the first official one was in 1932, the Indian cricketers did not do themselves justice. First, they lost all three matches in the Prudential (World) Cup, their biggest humiliation coming when they went down to Sri Lanka by 47 runs at Old Trafford. Then came their first-class match tour in which their only victory was at Swansea where they overwhelmed Glamorgan, who for the first time in their history failed to win a match in the County Championship.
As many as twelve of the Indians' sixteen first-class engagements were drawn, including three of the four Cornhill Test matches. England recorded their highest total of 633 for five when they beat India by an innings and 83 runs in the first Test at Edgbaston, but in the three remaining Tests India held their own, thanks mainly to the splendid batting of Gavaskar, Viswanath, Vengsarkar and, to a lesser degree, of Chauhan.
In recent years, India were indebted to the skill of their spin bowlers, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Bedi. This time they left off-spinner Prasanna at home, and Chandrasekhar and Bedi accomplished little in the Tests. A strained Achilles' tendon troubled Chandrasekhar and he appeared only in the first Test. On Venkataraghavan fell the responsibility of captain, but he had a disappointing tour. His off-spin caused such few problems that his six Test wickets cost 57.50 runs apiece.
Consequently, a tremendous amount of work fell on the two opening bowlers; Kapil Dev, a 20-year-old all-rounder and the youngest member of the party, and Ghavri, a left-hander with both bat and ball. Kapil Dev stood out by himself as the main attacker, but his sixteen Test wickets cost 30.93 runs each, while Ghavri's eight wickets came out at 56 runs apiece. Both suffered for lack of adequate support.
With their attack so ineffective, a vast responsibility rested on the batsmen, and in two of the Tests the competent and varied set of bowlers at England's command found themselves truly mastered. In the second match at Lord's, where India batted again 323 runs behind, a stand of 210 by Vengsarkar and Viswanath saved the match. Their individual hundreds were only the second and third made by Indian batsmen against England at Lord's, the other being Vinoo Mankad's 184 in 1952.
India again held their own in the rain-spoiled Test at Headingley. Not only did they capture the first five England wickets for 89 before Botham blasted his 137 to take the total to 270, but Gavaskar led the response with 78 and then Yashpal Sharma (40) and Vengsarkar (65 not out) helped the total to 223 for six - quite an honourable performance.
Better still was India's performance in the fourth and final Test at The Oval. Kapil Dev, Ghavri, Bedi and Venkataraghavan all performed admirably in bowling, but Boycott hit his inevitable hundred for England in the second innings and when Brearley declared, India faced what seemed a hopeless task. They were set to make 438 to win; 32 more than any side had ever made to win a Test match.
Yet, in the end, India finished only 9 runs short of victory with two wickets in hand. Their main hero was the 5ft 5in tall Gavaskar, who defied England for more than eight hours while he made 221. At one time the Indian score stood at 366 for one. First Chauhan stayed while the opening stand produced 213, 10 runs more than the previous best by Merchant and Mushtaq Ali at Old Trafford in 1936. Then Vengsarkar saw the total to 366, but to most people's surprise Viswanath did not come in until the fifth wicket fell at 410. His delayed entry possibly cost India the victory which almost everyone - except the England team and officials - hoped they would achieve after such a magnificent performance. Gavaskar's brilliant career is fully dealt with in the Five Cricketers of The Year.
Viswanath, a brother-in-law of Gavaskar, gave many fine displays, and Vengsarkar, at the age of 23, looked set for a brilliant career. Tall and possessing a good style with a variety of strokes, he proved a big success on his first tour of England, where conditions and weather are so different from his native land.
India brought two wicket-keepers without Test experience, Reddy and Khanna. Neither was impressive and the selectors may have regretted leaving behind Kirmani, to whom they returned when they arrived back home to face Australia. - N.P.
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