A half-century of Test cricket, 1982

India: 1932-1982


By 1932, when India embarked on their first Test match, cricket had been played on the sub-continent for a century and a half, the winter climate there being superb for cricket. The British Army and the East India Company were playing each other in the 1790s, when in 1792 the Calcutta Cricket Club was formed. The Parsees in Western India were soon playing and did in fact provide the first Indian touring team to England in 1886. Clubs were formed at first on a religious basis and competitive cricket on a national basis was not really started until the Ranji Trophy was instituted as late as 1934. In those days, too, many of the best players were Europeans.

Custom required that a touring team should be led by an Indian of princely birth. His enthusiasm and generosity were unquestioned, but his skill was often suspect. The first captain to England, the Maharaja of Porbandar, shrewdly restricted himself to eight matches in which he scored 8 runs. He made a success of the 1932 tour with the support, as vice-captain, of K. S. Ganshyansinhji of Limbdi, who also stood down from the only Test match.

However, the 1936 captain, the Maharaj Kumar Sir Vijaya of Vizianagram - the well-remembered broadcaster of later years, Vizzy - played in all three Tests, batting at number nine and doing no bowling. The great Indian players so far, Ranji, his nephew Duleep, and the Nawab of Pataudi, had, of course, all played for England.

India emerged with some credit from the 1932 Test at Lord's which they lost by 158 runs to the strongest side that England could pick. The batting order started Sutcliffe, Holmes, Woolley, Hammond, Jardine, Paynter. Yet two winters later, when Jardine's strong but not fully representative side played the first Test matches in India, it proved much too good. The visitors were entitled to think that, although players of the calibre of the captain, C. K. Nayudu, Amarnath, Merchant, Nissar, Amar Singh and C. S. Nayudu were formidable opponents, there was no depth of talent. Standards were rising but no-one would have foreseen then that it would be 43 years before England next won a series in India. This was the more remarkable considering that, from 1947, Partition was to take many players to Pakistan.

The 1936 team to England was probably stronger than its predecessor but, upset by domestic differences, it won only four of 28 first-class matches (against nine of 26 four years before). The talented all-rounder, Amarnath, was sent home in June for disciplinary reasons, and though India did lead on first innings in one of the three Tests, they lost two of them, each by nine wickets. The events of this tour may have obscured the fact that much progress was being made by Indian cricket at the time, and I suspect that the team which MCC chose to go to India in 1939-40 would have had some nasty surprises had the tour not been cancelled on the outbreak of war. Only two members of the side had been chosen for that summer's home series against West Indies and they had played in only one Test apiece.

Cricket in India continued in relative prosperity during the Second World War, augmented by English players, notably Denis Compton, who were serving there in the Forces. Thus India were ready to take on the first post-war series in England in 1946.

Hereabouts the influence of different types of pitch on Anglo-India series needs to be discussed. In the wetter type of English summer, Indian touring teams have been at a hopeless disadvantage. They did strike one of the best English summers this century in 1959 - but with one of their weakest sides. On other tours they have often been undone by fast bowlers and the lifting ball; even by spin because the English turning pitch differs from its Indian counterpart and anyhow is no help to batsmen or bowlers who are short of confidence. Thus it is that, after 50 years and nine tours, The Oval Test of 1971 is the only one of 29 Tests in England which India have won.

By contrast, they began to produce pitches at home which showed off their spin bowling, quick-footed batting and agile close-fielding to full advantage. In a way it was a reaction to the plumb and lifeless pitches on which two sides could play for a week without either winning or losing. In another sense it was a defensive measure to meet the chronic shortage of Indian fast bowlers, a matter largely of physique and climate which became the more acute when the northern provinces were detached to form Pakistan.

In the wet English summer of 1946 India, despite the runs which Merchant, Hazare, Pataudi, Modi, Mankad, Amarnath and Mushtaq Ali made on good pitches - Merchant scored 2,385 runs in first-class matches - they had some bad days. Of the three Tests, they lost the first by ten wickets, earned a draw in the second with their last pair at the wicket, and had the third ruined by rain. One of the pleasant memories which that side, led by the Nawab of Pataudi senior, will have taken home is of the last-wicket stand of 249 between Sarwate and Banerjee against Surrey at The Oval, the only occasion of which both numbers ten and eleven have made hundreds.

In 1952 Hazare's touring team was no luckier with the weather and tends to be remembered for a less glorious statistical feat - the start of 0 for four - three wickets to Trueman, one to Bedser - in the second innings of the Headingley Test match. They were short of bowling themselves, and though Vinoo Mankad, released from his club, Haslingden, in the Lancashire League, had a wonderful match at Lord's, making 72 and 184 and bowling 97 overs of left-arm spin for five wickets, it was not enough.

By now, however, India's strength on their own pitches was becoming more widely appreciated. The 1951-52 MCC team under Nigel Howard was as strong as Jardine's eighteen years earlier by the standards of the day, yet it could only draw the series one-all. Many of the pitches encountered were bounceless but England won the fourth Test in Kanpur with the spin of Tattersall and Hilton. When India won the last at Madras through their spinners, Mankad and Ghulam Ahmed, it was their first Test victory in their 25th Test match.

Although India were swamped five-nil in England in 1959, a series in India remained an entirely different operation. At this time India may have lacked stroke-playing batsmen, fast bowlers and positive captaincy, but these were ailments which could be covered up or mended at home, as they soon were when the young Nawab of Pataudi took over. When, in 1961-62, Ted Dexter led the strongest MCC side to visit India so far, England lost the last two Tests, and the series two-nil

By now huge crowds were watching cricket in India. Within a few years they were to become bigger still, as concrete (and non-inflammable) stadia were built to meet demand. Also to meet demand, MCC sent another team, under M. J. K. Smith, only two years later in 1963-64 for a short tour into which five marvellously dull drawn Test matches were crammed. To the crowds the lack of action seemed to be no great disappointment. A Test match was still a rare and wonderful occasion, an opportunity for cheerful vandalism, a good-humoured event despite the lifeless mud pitches, the almost unvaried spin bowling, the leisurely tempo and the shortage of strokes. England's team was not far off the strongest they could pick. Though Ted Dexter was not available, the side was reinforced after two Tests by Colin Cowdrey and Peter Parfitt when illness and injury reduced the numbers to such an extent that if the second Test had started half an hour later, there would have been only ten players fit to take the field.

My own recollection of that tour is of hour after hour of the forward defensive stroke, of cricket as placid and predictable as the smoke going straight up from the chimneys beside the Ganges. Nevertheless, it had its macabre humour, as when England were so short of players with stable stomachs that two of the fit ones, Bolus and Barrington, set themselves to stay at the wicket at all costs and gave the left-arm spinner, Nadkarni, the distinction of bowling 131 successive balls without conceding a run. I seem to remember that one of the less serious injuries was sustained by an England bowler who, having beaten the bat for the first time in hours, threw his arms in the air in excitement and strained his back.

In two visits to England for half-tours in 1967 and 1971 India had mixed fortune. They are always likely to be embarrassed when they come in the first part of an English season, and the spring which the young Nawab of Pataudi and his side encountered in 1967 was wetter than most. Moreover, they were shorter than ever of fast bowling. However, when Ajit Wadekar brought the 1971 side, it was in the second half of the summer and India won a Test match, indeed a series, in England for the first time.

They needed a little luck. A close first Test at Lord's seemed to be slipping away from them when rain ended it at tea on the last day. On a grassy pitch at Old Trafford they were out of their element and would almost certainly have lost the second Test comfortably if rain had not prevented play on the last day. But at The Oval they won fair and square by four wickets. The strength of the side still lay in spin, which was of such calibre that Prasanna, often spoken of as the best off-spinner in the world at that time, was not needed in a Test match. In the second innings at The Oval England were bowled out for 101 mainly by the subtle, fast and bouncy wrist-spin of Chandrashekhar, and the England spinners, Illingworth and Underwood, could not stop India from making the 173 needed to win.

After this famous Indian victory, the next visit of an England team to the sub-continent in 1972-73 inevitably brought a new peak of enthusiasm for the game there. The grounds were bigger now, accommodating even larger crowds, and England sent the strongest side available under Tony Lewis. To English cricketers a tour of India was now one of the most enjoyable, and the first part of the series fulfilled everyone's hopes. In Delhi, England won a first Test in doubt up to the last day, which was Christmas Day. They lost narrowly, by 28 runs, in Calcutta and again by four wickets in Madras where the ball turned a lot. However, the last two Tests on pitches of familiar low, slow bounce in Kanpur and Bombay were drawn in some anti-climax.

During the rest of the 1970s India's tours of England met little success. The first half of 1974 was wet and they lost all three Tests. When they stayed on for a four-match series after the second Prudential World Cup in 1979, their talents were less confined to spin than before. In Gavaskar, Viswanath and Vengsarkar they had batsmen of high quality, while the young all-rounder, Kapil Dev, was their fastest bowler for a long time. Yet they did themselves less than justice, and after England won the first Test at Edgbaston by an innings, scoring 633 for five, the last three Tests were drawn, two of them through bad weather. The other was the last at The Oval, where the best of Indian cricket was seen. Gavaskar's full talent was on view as he made 221 and all but won his side one of the most remarkable victories in Test history. Needing 438 in 500 minutes, they came so close that with three balls remaining all four results were still possible.

This was Indian cricket as one knew it in India, the more rewarding now that an era of strokelessness had passed. It enhanced the achievement of the England team successfully led by Tony Greig in 1976-77, a tour which took place in conditions greatly chanced since previous visits. The pitches had more bounce, the Indian ball in use often swung, England's fast bowlers were given a chance and the first three Tests were won by the touring side. The crowds, however, had not changed: they were as huge and enthusiastic as ever. On the last day in Calcutta, when India were in a hopeless position and there was no chance of much more than an hour's play, 70,000 still turned up.

But when England, on their way home from Australia in February 1980, stopped in Bombay for a Test match celebrating the Indian Board's Golden Jubilee, they played for once before empty seats. There had already been twelve Tests against Australia and Pakistan that winter, two of them in Bombay, and this time the Wankhede Stadium was only about two-thirds full. To the public, I suppose, this extra match, not part of a series, smacked of a festival match; and it was to some extent conducted like one, played in the most amiable spirit under the respective captains, Viswanath and Brearley. The pitch was grassy by the lushest English standards. Ian Botham not only took thirteen wickets for 106 runs but also played an innings of 114. Bob Taylor took ten catches at the wicket, a record for a Test match. A rather weary-looking Indian side, surfeited with cricket in the post-Packer deluge of Test matches, seemed to accept the inevitable and England won by ten wickets with a day to spare.

Although, with England's full tour last winter, India completed 50 years of Test cricket, it was 1947-48 before they played anyone other than England. After a heavy defeat in Australia in Sir Donald Bradman's last home series, they played three series against Australia in India during the next twenty years, losing two and drawing one. The Australians, with their wrist-spinners, did not find it as hard as did England to win in India in that era. There were even times when their fast bowlers were effective there, helped perhaps by the fact that mostly they toured before Christmas when the pitches may be less dry and less slow.

India won their first series against Australia, then short of their Packer players, in 1979-80, although eighteen months earlier in Australia they had only just lost a splendid series, three-two, against much the same opposition. They returned there under Sunil Gavaskar in 1980-81 to win in Melbourne and draw a series with a full-strength Australia; but later in that tour they lost a series to New Zealand for the first time through New Zealand's win by 62 runs in Wellington. Of the previous six series, four of them in India, two had been drawn.

The first Test match against New Zealand was not played until 1955-56, in India, but three years earlier Pakistan had begun their Test-playing career by losing two-one in India. After two more five-match series and ten draws of memorable tedium, there was a nineteen-year interval before operations were resumed with reciprocal tours in 1978-79 and the following year. The home side won two-nil on each occasion.

Unexpectedly, in view of West Indies' customary weight of fast bowling, India have played some of their best cricket in the Caribbean. Their tour of early 1971, the year of their first win in England, was blessed by a victory in Trinidad which won them the series. Gavaskar, then only 21, averaged 154 and Sardesai 80. Five years later they went again to West Indies and, though losing two-one, made a piece of Test history by scoring 406 in the last innings to win in Port-of-Spain. The centuries by Gavaskar and Viswanath and the spirit behind the feat, almost repeated at The Oval in 1979, were evidence of what Indian batsmen can now do overseas given favourable conditions.

© John Wisden & Co