In one important particular India's sixteen cricketers who visited England in 1946 accomplished more towards raising the status and dignity of their country's sport than was achieved by either of the two previous touring sides. While the politicians at home argued the rights of independence, the cricketers abroad showed to the world that they could put aside differences of race and creed and join together on and off the field as a single unit, working as one for the same cause. These young men came as their country's ambassadors. By their cricket they won the hearts of the English public; by their modesty and bearing they earned the respect and admiration of everyone with whom they came into close contact. In anything like reasonable weather crowds everywhere flocked to India's matches. A profit of £4,500 in such a dreary summer told eloquently of their popularity.
By winning eleven and losing only four of their twenty-nine first-class matches, the Indians did better than their 1932 and 1936 predecessors. Had they enjoyed the warmth of sunshine and hardness of wickets so much more suited to them and their style of play than the rain, storms, biting cold and sodden turf all too often met in 1946, they would undoubtedly have been even more successful. Yet, in spite of the handicaps under which they laboured, the team themselves were not satisfied with their performances, which fell below the hopes of their countrymen, who anticipated that England would be given a much harder fight in the Test Matches. True, both at Lord's and Manchester, there were periods when India held the advantage, but England fought their way to a ten wickets victory in the First Test and were baulked only by the barest of margins in the Second. Rain won the Third, at the Oval.
In order to view the tour in correct perspective it must be emphasised that, while English cricket lay nearly dormant for six years of war, the game in India went on practically unaffected, so that the Indians prepared confidently, hoping to prove themselves worthy of a place in the highest sphere of international cricket. Additional factors thought to be in their favour were the inclusion of six men, Merchant, Mushtaq Ali, Amarnath, Hindlekar, Banerjee and C. S. Nayudu, thoroughly experienced in English conditions from their 1936 visit, the Nawab of Pataudi's acceptance of the captaincy, and the knowledge that the English season would necessarily be one of rehabilitation.
There could be no question of the batting ability of the Indians on hard, fast wickets where the ball went through truly on to the bat, but they exposed their limitations against the swinging and turning ball. Without the necessary double background of experience and correct coaching, many lacked the technique to cope with the varying-paced pitches from which the ball rose at different speeds and heights. A fault, common to a number of his colleagues, was that of the young left-hander, Hafeez, who often made his off-drive with the right elbow pointing down the wicket instead of in the direction the ball was to be hit. The fact that India were seldom dismissed for a really low score on soft wickets could be attributed mainly to the steadfastness of vice-captain Merchant, who time and again carried the side on his shoulders in such conditions, though Hazare, Pataudi and Mankad all played some good fighting innings.
Even allowing for this weakness, India probably would have approached more nearly their own expectations but for an obvious shortage of bowling and an almost astonishing frequency of dropped catches. Both Amarnath and Mankad, whose skill in combination during the Tests surpassed that of any two English bowlers, suffered heavily through faulty catching, particularly near the wicket. Towards the end of the season the fielding errors became even more frequent, possibly through the staleness felt by men used to playing only one day a week at home, but it did appear that, in choosing the party, not enough attention was paid to the vital question of slip and short-leg fieldsmen. In any case there was little excuse for much ragged throwing-in so marked during the Manchester Test, when Hindlekar, strapped up round his back because of a severe strain, was forced so often to gather returns only inches off the ground.
On anything approaching a batsman's wicket the Indians usually made big scores. Seven times they obtained over 400, there were six double-century partnerships, and all other efforts were surpassed when at Hove they hit 533 for three against Sussex, the first four men all scoring centuries. Typical of their powers on bone-hard pitches were Merchant's 242 not out against Lancashire, Hazare's 244 not out a week later in the second match with Yorkshire, when he and Mankad put on 322 for the fourth wicket, and the last-wicket stand of 249 between Banerjee and Sarwate against Surrey at The Oval, which created English and Indian history. For all their huge totals, the Indians sometimes jeopardised their chances of victory by unnecessarily slow batting. Pataudi's declaration at the start of the season that when India were batting the score-board would move fast was not always carried into practice. One important reason for this lack of aggression was the repeated failures of the two most daring stroke-players, Amarnath and Mushtaq Ali, whose big innings, though all too rare, remained some of the most pleasant memories of a pleasant tour.
No praise could be too high for Merchant, who, on any reckoning, must be accounted one of the world's greatest batsmen. The first Indian to score 2,000 runs on a tour, Merchant gave of his best in every situation, showing a degree of concentration and determination, especially on a big occasion such as a Test Match, more developed and controlled than any batting of some of his teammates. He hit seven hundreds, two double centuries, shared in fifteen out of twenty-six three-figure stands made for India, and exceeded 50 in twenty out of his forty-one innings. Yet figures do him less than justice. Among some of his finest performances were his two not-out innings at Leicester, where he defied cold, bad light, rainstorms which caused constant interruptions, and a wicket of different paces, a similar feat which prevented Warwickshire from putting his side to rout, and his chief part in the dramatic victory over Essex. His cutting, both square and late, touched the heights of brilliance; he hooked, drove and played the ball off his legs with masterly certainty, and, with all his triumphs, remained a charming, unassuming man and a studious captain whenever Pataudi was absent. His 128 at The Oval in the Third Test was the highest ever played for his country against England.
In emerging from almost complete retirement to lead his county, the Nawab of Pataudi took a big risk of spoiling his own reputation in England as a successful classical batsman. Unfortunately he did not enjoy the best of health and was liable to strains which caused him to retire from the field on a number of occasions and to miss altogether too many games. Though Pataudi scored four hundreds, was third in the batting averages, and at times gave evidence of his former superlative skill, he was but a shadow of the Pataudi England knew so well, and he did little in the Tests, scoring only 55 in five innings. His task as captain was not easy in view of the batting and bowling failures, but he seemed too ready to switch his batting order and too conservative in employment of his attack. His gamble of giving England first innings at Manchester appeared more justifiable than the sudden change in the order after the grand opening partnership by Merchant and Mushtaq Ali. The immediate fall of the immature Hafeez allowed the initiative to pass back again to England.
Few men have accomplished finer deeds on their first cricket tour to England than did Vinoo Mankad, India's left-arm slow bowler and right-hand batsman, who set the seal on consistently good work by becoming the first Indian ever to perform the double event of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in a season. No member of any touring team had accomplished this feat since L. N. Constantine did so for West Indies in 1928, and R. Howorth, the Worcestershire all-rounder, was the only other man who gained this distinction in 1946. Mankad was called upon for a tremendous amount of work, but he was seldom collared, and he mixed with considerable guile flight and pace, a finger-spun leg-break, and a faster ball which accounted for a big proportion of his wickets, even though he lacked devil on sticky wickets. As a batsman, adaptable Mankad was no great stylist, but, even though occupying varied positions in the order ranging from first to number nine, he did well enough to share in seven century stands, four with Merchant, three with Hazare. Four of these made records for the particular wicket--293 with Merchant for the first, 322 with Hazare for the fourth, 227 unfinished with Hazare for the sixth, and 110 with Merchant for the eighth.
When playing a long innings, Hazare, a neat and compact batsman, showed doggedness and concentration almost equal to that of Merchant. True, he made most of his runs on plumb wickets, but he proved he could adjust his game to the conditions by a sound display in the second innings of the Manchester Test and on at least three other occasions. Like Merchant, Hazare rarely lifted the ball; he was especially good at forcing it off his legs wide of mid-on, drove well off his back foot, and did not seem much handicapped by the unusual grip with which he held one hand at the top and the other at the bottom of his bat handle. Medium-paced away swingers, varied with an occasional quick leg-break brought Hazare 56 wickets, but too often he bowled wide enough of the off stump for the batsman to leave the ball alone. Amarnath, who suffered an eye injury in the first match, never completely regained confidence, yet his talent was obvious. When in for any length of time, Amarnath revealed the unlimited strokes at his command, his driving and square-cutting being of rare delight. The spark of genius within Mushtaq Ali seemed to demand expression in the unorthodox, and more often than not, to the dismay of the spectator, Mushtaq threw away his wicket attempting the almost impossible. Curiously, as in 1936, he did well in the Manchester and Oval Tests, and, in addition, he played glorious innings at Swansea and Hastings. On both these occasions he looked a great batsman, capable of demoralising any bowling. His leg glancing was both daring and elegant, but, in keeping with his mercurial temperament, he showed faulty judgment in calling for runs, four times losing his wicket in this manner.
Tall, slim Rusi Modi, the 22-year-old Bombay student and holder of several Indian records, did not maintain his fine start, but this wristy player with the sound defence was eager to profit from his mistakes, and he should have gained much benefit from his first visit to England. Modi, forced to back play more than he was accustomed, was one of India's most consistent batsmen, though not often did he unleash the strokes which he possessed. Apart from their record stand at The Oval, neither Sarwate nor Banerjee accomplished much in batting, and Hafeez and Gul Mahomed, the two left-handers, found their free-hitting game with full-swinging bats not suited to the soft turf.
India's big drawback in bowling was the lack of an opening pair or real penetration, comparable with the Nissar-Amar Singh combination of 1932. Extenuation for Banerjee's moderate performances could be found in that a man who thrived on hard work received too few opportunities to bowl himself into his full power. When given a fast wicket, as at Liverpool, Banerjee showed himself able to unsettle the early batsmen, but he could not gain a place in any of the Test teams, With Sohoni also unable to cause much trouble to English batsmen, the main burden of attack was thrown upon the all-rounders, Mankad, Amarnath and Hazare. Well as he bowled in the Test Matches, Amarnath was not so deadly in other games, but he always looked capable of big deeds. After a shuffling run of only three paces, he bowled of the wrong foot, but he kept an almost impeccable length, moved his in-swingers probably more than any bowler in England, and mixed these with a cut leg-break of some venom. His quickness off the pitch also troubled his opponents, but much of his good work was wasted by the gathering of slips and short-legs, who were not quick enough to hold on to the snicked catches.
Shinde, who bowled the googly two ways and also delivered a genuine off-break, looked potentially the best of the right-arm slow men, but he quickly lost his length under punishment; the miniature Sarwate, of jerky action and high delivery, enjoyed days of triumph and did the hat-trick against Scotland, but seemed to lack confidence; Nayudu, easily distinguishable by his flailing arms and big finger-spin, achieved a rare feat by performing a hat-trick at The Oval, but his length was too erratic for him to be very successful. Records show that, in a season of small scores, India only once dismissed an opposing side for less than 100.
In ground fielding, India varied from the brilliant to the poor. Nayudu was always good, and Gul Mahomed, although spectacular, accomplished much fine work at cover-point and in the deep. Midway through the season both wicket-keepers were out of action, Hindlekar having strained his back and Nimbalkar fracturing a thumb. To solve his problem, Pataudi at various times called upon Amarnath, Nayudu and Gul Mahomed to act as deputy, but, in order to play in the Second Test, Hindlekar returned to the side before he was properly fit. His standard, previously very good, naturally fell away. In the light of these events it might have been wise to have sent to India for another wicket-keeper.
Travelling and accommodation difficulties were overcome splendidly by the able manager, Mr. Punkaj Gupta, M.B.E., who carried out all his arduous duties efficiently. He was always courteous and helpful. India introduced something new to English cricket by travelling to two matches by air. This means of transport saved them hours of rail journey. During the season Amarnath and Mankad signed contracts to play in League cricket in England in 1947. Hafeez remained behind to study philosophy at Oxford University.