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The first sentiment to be expressed about England's tour of India is relief that Mrs Gandhi, India's Prime Minister, allowed it to take place. Because of the presence among Fletcher's sixteen players of Boycott and Cook, who had both been in South Africa in the recent past, the tour was in doubt until days before the party left London's Heathrow airport. The Cricket Boards of both countries feared that cancellation might lead to a black-white split in cricket, and in the fortnight following an announcement by the Indian government that Boycott and Cook were unacceptable, there was ceaseless activity in London, Delhi and Bombay to ward off that disaster. Boycott's absence in Hong Kong on holiday added to the difficulties, but after a week of suspense he joined Cook in declaring his repugnance to apartheid, and Mrs Gandhi was placated.
In the event Boycott failed to see the tour out, flying home a fortnight after overtaking Sir Garfield Sobers's Test record aggregate on grounds of physical and mental tiredness. In view of his part in secretly setting up the tour of South Africa which, to the surprise and concern of the Test and County Cricket Board, began within days of the England party returning from Sri Lanka, it should be said in mitigation that neither Boycott nor Cook (who was among those who turned down the invitation) was asked for an undertaking not to revisit the Republic.
Early in the tour Boycott made a tactless comment to an Indian journalist about South Africa, for which he was taken to task by Raman Subba Row, the manager, but in sixteen weeks there was no further trouble on that score. Although a plodding series in India produced five draws and only one positive result, and England's itinerary gave them far too little time off duty, it was by and large a happy tour, culminating in a delightful fortnight in Sri Lanka, where Emburey and Underwood bowled England to their only Test win.
For the huge crowds who came to watch in India, the disappointment of the series was that, after losing the first Test on a poor pitch in Bombay, England lacked the penetration to harry a confident Indian side who, with batting down to No. 10, were content to hold on to their lead. Of the last five Tests, the only one that looked like reaching a result was that in Calcutta, where England's declaration left them six hours to bowl India out on a pitch on which the ball was keeping low and turning. But with 70 minutes lost to smog on the final morning, and Gavaskar once again immovable, that game also petered out. Nevertheless, even though the best session of the series was the first morning of the fifth Test at Madras, Calcutta remained the best match of the six because of its fair balance between bat and ball. No attendance figures were given, but it was estimated to have been watched by 394,000, surpassing the official record of 350,532 for Australia against England at Melbourne in 1936-37.
Botham's ineffectiveness with the ball - he had nine for 133 at Bombay, but only eight more wickets, at 65 each, in the last five Tests - was a telling blow to England's chance of levelling the series; as was Fletcher's misplaced confidence that India could be overcome by pace. Yet the major factor was the deadness of the pitches. Even Madras had become a perfect batting surface by tea on the first day, while at Bangalore (second Test), New Delhi (third) and Kanpur (sixth), the conditions were loaded so heavily in favour of the bat that a first innings was still in progress on the final day.
The over-rate by both sides was abominable - about thirteen an hour throughout the series. However, the pitches were so true and short of bounce that even if the rate had reached sixteen, which because of hourly drinks breaks may be the maximum in India, the results would probably still have been the same. Although the series re-emphasised the need for an agreed daily over-rate, it is also to be hoped that the Indian Board recognise the need to put some ginger in their pitches before their crowds start losing interest. There was little sign of that on this tour; but with the increasing popularity of one-day cricket, bolstered by India's unexpected 2-1 victory in the one-day series, it could happen.
At Bombay, where Fletcher lost his one toss of the series, England had cause for grievance over the umpiring, and made it in the form of an official protest the day after the match. It was rare, if not unprecedented, action by an England touring team and was widely criticised. However, I felt it justified. K. B. Ramaswamy, the umpire objected to, did not stand again in Tests, although he made an unannounced appearance in the final one-day international, and the umpiring in the last five games was adequate. None the less, as is usual for a touring team, England believed they came off second-best.
Granted that the pitches would have frustrated most attacks, Botham's inconsistent bowling was at the root of England's inability to mount a proper challenge. He compensated with the bat, pipping Gooch in the averages through a mature mixture of disciplined stockpiling and fierce hitting, but his failure as a bowler threw too great a load on Willis. At 32, the vice-captain made good use of the new ball, matching hostility with accuracy, but both ends had to be in business to make a dent in India's solid early batting. After Willis, Allott (though, owing to missed catches, his figures did not show it) was the pick of the quicker bowlers. His line was nearly always excellent, and during the tour he looked to gain a yard of pace.
In a series dominated by the bat, Gavaskar confirmed his stature as the soundest opener in world cricket by his handling of Willis. India were a well-knit side under his direction, needing only a bowler of greater pace than Madan Lal, as support for Kapil Dev, to become as hard to beat abroad as in their own conditions. Viswanath, after a shaky start, refound his wristy touch with hundreds at New Delhi and Madras, Yashpal Sharma made a solid comeback, while Roy and Malhotra emerged as batsmen of clear talent. Doshi bowled with flight and guile, Kirmani's wicket-keeping equalled Taylor's, and in the nineteen-year-old Shastri, 6ft 2in tall, India have an accurate slow left-armer who also bats with obdurate maturity.
England's main gains were the consistency of Gower, Botham's acknowledgement that he has the game to play a measured innings, and Allott's ability to hit the seam at a lively pace. But Fletcher's lack of flexibility as captain and the suspension of Gooch, Emburey and Underwood, for playing in South Africa, were a reminder to the new chairman of selectors, Peter May, that there are always fresh problems to be solved.
Test Matches - Played 6: Lost 1, Drawn 5.
First-class matches - Played 13: Won 2, Lost 1, Drawn 10.
Wins - India Under-22 XI, Board of Control President's XI.
Loss - India.
Draws - India (5), West Zone, South Zone, North Zone, East Zone, Central Zone.
Non first-class matches - Played 4: Won 2, Lost 2. Wins - CCI President's XI, India. Losses - India (2).
Note: The England team played a limited-overs Benefit match in India following the Sri Lankan section of the tour. This match was not included in the official itinerary of the tour and has not been included in the above results.
In Sri Lanka
Test matches - Played 1: Won 1.
First-class matches - Played 2: Won 1, Drawn 1.
Win - Sri Lanka.
Draw - Sri Lanka Board President's XI.
Non first-class matches - Played 2: Won 1, Lost 1. Win - Sri Lanka. Loss - Sri Lanka.