The sun resolutely refused to appear through dark cloud for all five days of the Test at Bangalore. The cricket that took place owed its existence mainly to the wonderful floodlights at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. The two completed innings clearly suggested that England had the upper hand and could have thought of forcing a win, if only the weather been more favourable. The match was abandoned after persistent drizzle on the fifth day; 860 minutes of cricket were lost.
After the drawn match gave India a series win of 1-0, Sunil Gavaskar wrote in his column in The Hindustan Times: "Why our Board is keen on having a five-Test series when England visit India next is beyond comprehension, for without the slightest doubt, they are the most unattractive and boring side to have played cricket in India."
"Have a look at all the previous series when England played here. Except the 1993 contest that India won 3-0, the others have been battles of attrition full of dull cricket from both sides - mainly initiated by England - and have been good only for people suffering from insomnia," he further wrote.
Gavaskar's frustration would be understandable coming from a layman, but from the pen of a cricket connoisseur with 10,122 Test runs behind him, the remarks are baffling. India were heavily backed, before the series, to sweep it comfortably, and a fighting English outfit surprised themselves as much as anyone else, having their hosts up against the wall on a number of occasions in the last two Tests. A draw may not always be a crowd-puller, but a tense Ian Botham puffed away at numerous cigarettes outside the media box as he watched Matthew Hoggard repeatedly beat the outside edges of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. Surely, if Botham could appreciate the many individual tussles and be thrilled at an underdog displaying qualities of a more aggressive breed of canine, Gavaskar could too.
If Nasser Hussain was at all perturbed by Gavaskar's comments, Botham would have brought the English captain comfort by defending him on television. It would not be irrelevant at this point to note that Botham, in his time, was much more the purveyor of raw aggression on the cricket field than Gavaskar. If, then, the all-rounder himself found the cricket riveting, what did the Indian opener miss?
Gavaskar's record-book of slow cricket is not unblemished. Apart from the now famous 36-in-60-overs from the 1975 World Cup, there was the 1981/82 home series against England. Gavaskar, then the Indian captain, was not exactly the epitome of aggressive cricket; after winning the first Test at Mumbai, the remaining five matches were drawn. Gavaskar had his two left-arm spinners - Dilip Doshi and Ravi Shastri - bowling in tandem over after over, never looking like taking a wicket. Maybe Gavaskar was just miffed with Hussain for infringing on his copyrighted tactics.
December 2001 at Bangalore was very similar to December 1981 at Bangalore. England were bowled out for 400 in the first innings, with Geoffrey Boycott and Chris Tavare putting even slugs to shame with their scoring rate. But they were made to look like slap-happy pinch-hitters by Gavaskar, who batted for 12 minutes short of 12 hours to make 172 runs off 472 balls.
In the Calcutta Test of the same series, England had given themselves a chance to force a win. But defensive tactics in the field from India, and later a resilient, unbeaten knock of 83 by Gavaskar, helped the hosts draw the game. In saving the match, however, the Indian captain earned the displeasure of a big and vocal Calcutta crowd.
After the match, Botham wrote in his regular column, "All we had to do was to get some quick runs and then apply pressure in the fourth innings. But a poor over rate, coupled with some tight bowling, prevented us getting runs as rapidly as we had planned. Dilip Doshi was back to his ploy of dragging his feet while bowling. How can a bowler with such a short run-up consume so much time to complete overs? Dilip can take as many as seven minutes to bowl a maiden, and that is quite a feat."
"As I saw it on the fourth evening, there were only two possibilities in the match - a win for us, or a draw. There was no way that India could win," he added. "But I would like to pay a compliment to Sunny for the way he played. I have always rated him as an outstanding batsman, for whom I have the highest regard."
"I had heard a lot about the Calcutta crowd. But, frankly speaking, I am disappointed with what I saw. I was astonished that they actually jeered Sunny, and threw oranges at him, when he finally returned to the pavilion on that final evening," wrote Botham. "What they did not appreciate was how difficult it was to stick it out in the middle on that fifth day, which Sunny had done for India. Had Sunny been an English player, and had he saved the match the way he did, an English audience would have given him a standing ovation."
Amidst all the comments flying back and forth at the end of the series, it must have come as a shock to Gavaskar when, of all people, Sourav Ganguly said about Nasser Hussain, "I think he did pretty well in the last two matches." To blame the English team, then, for insipid patches of cricket is gross injustice. Gavaskar should note that no one threw oranges at David Gower in 1984 or at Hussain in 2001.