'The dinner service was all gold'

We were babes in the woods during our first tour of India in 1955-56

John Reid
Touring India, assuredly, is much more than Phil Tufnell's poverty and elephants. Newcomers must adjust not only to a country of vast contrasts and stunning diversity but also to pitches and match atmospheres unlike any other in the world. In the first of the My India Tour series, John Reid, former captain of New Zealand, talks about his experiences during the 1955-56 tour of India.
We were babes in the woods during our first tour of India in 1955-56. We had tremendous problems with the hot weather, food, water and clothing. As a team, we were not that bad, in spite of a strong Indian line-up boasting stars like Vinoo Mankad, Vijay Manjrekar, Polly Umrigar and Pankaj Roy. These guys were fantastic players, and as new-comers we were star-struck.
India didn't have many spinners during those days, with Subhash Gupte being the lone quality legspinner. Although he was a big spinner of the ball, he didn't like getting hit, and I could sense it easily as I was a reasonably good hitter of the ball and could handle slow bowling relatively well.
Throughout the tour, we encountered new and strange things - sometimes not to our liking. For instance, the crowds - they came in large numbers, were noisy, and they had a perfect sense of timing when it came to bursting crackers out of milk-bottles. During the second Test at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay, the crowds used to time the bursting of the cracker just when a New Zealand batsman was about to play the ball - interesting, but dangerous.
We were also traumatised by the inexperience of the umpires; the count was something like 17 (decisions against New Zealand) to one (in favour), which I should say was one-sided. But that sort of thing was common across the globe during those times. The wickets were spinner-friendly, and lack of quality spin bowlers in our line-up added to our burden.
But our on-field miseries were offset by interesting happenings off it, and the hospitality of the Indians was magnificent throughout the tour. Everybody wanted to serve us well wherever we went, so we had social gathering virtually every evening. In return, we would make sure not to disappoint our hosts and attend these functions, which you don't see these days as players are happy to be tied up in the cosy confines of a team hotel.
One memorable function which comes to mind was the evening in Benares, along the Ganges, with the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram - the Indian Board president - where the dinner service was all gold, served in dishes made of pure yellow metal - something we would never experience again. Then there were the elephant-and camel-rides, which again were new.
So we had a jolly good time once we settled down a bit. We managed to draw three out of five Tests and picked up quite a few pointers, which came in handy during our next series there (1964-65). I learnt to appreciate India and all its history; in fact I visited the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and the beautiful city of Jaipur during that trip. If only we could have done better in the matches, it would have been much more beautiful.
John Reid spoke to Nagraj Gollapudi.
Other My India Tours
'You could score a hundred if you keep your head down' - Bruce Taylor's tour in 1964-65.
Much more than cricket - Glenn Turner's tour in 1969-70.
'It was like a sauna' - Richard Hadlee's tour in 1976-77.