India’s Long WaitMartin Chandler |
India’s inaugural Test match was played at Lords in 1932. With the exception of Harold Larwood, England were at full strength for what was the only Test of the tour. England won with something to spare, but the tourists put up a creditable performance, so much so that on their next visit, in 1936, they were given three Tests. This time the England selectors, mindful of the need to pick a side to tour Australia that winter for the first post Bodyline Ashes Series, did experiment a little and it would be difficult to maintain that a first choice eleven was played in any of the Tests, but they were strong England sides nonetheless. The Indians were beaten in the first and third Tests, each time by nine wickets, although again they did not disgrace themselves. In the second Test, despite conceding a first innings lead of 368, they showed great character second time round by reaching 390 for 5 to secure a draw.
First Class cricket carried on in India during the war and it might therefore have been expected that the side that toured England in 1946 would give England a stern test. In the event however history repeated itself with England comfortably winning the first Test. They should have won the second as well, just failing to bowl out India a second time, and the third match was ruined by the weather. The Indians next two visits in 1952 and 1959 were their nadir. The four match series in 1952 was lost 3-0 and would certainly have been 4-0 had it not been for rain in the final Test. The Indian batsmen had no answer at all to the pace and aggression of a youthful Fred Trueman and the guile of Alec Bedser. The 1959 tourists’ record was even worse as they became the only side in history to lose all five Tests in a series in England.
It was not that the Indians did not have some high quality batsmen. The likes of Merchant and Mushtaq Ali in the beginning, and Hazare and Mankad after the war being fine players of all types of bowling. There were others, Polly Umrigar being the most striking but by no means only example, who were talented batsmen but who failed consistently against genuinely fast bowling. That issue in itself highlighted another problem the Indians had that being the absence of any home produced fast bowlers of any quality. In their earliest days in the Test arena the Indian attack was spearheaded by Amar Singh and Mohammed Nissar, both of Test standard and whose performances in large part were responsible for the credit that Indian came out of its earliest Tests with. After Amar and Nissar departed it was to be almost half a century before Kapil Dev emerged and Indian pace bowling was taken seriously again. Without a penetrative seam attack India invariably struggled to dismiss teams twice although they did produce a number of very good spin bowlers, most notably Subhash Gupte, who was a fine wrist spinner. That “Fergie” was not more successful than he was was due to a lack of support from other bowlers and, with one or two honourable exceptions, Indian out cricket was bedevilled for generations by generally poor fielding and many catching opportunities were missed.
India were always a different proposition on home soil and following that dreadful summer in England in 1959 they performed creditably in losing only 2-1 in the five Test series against Australia in 1959/60 and, after a series of drawn games against neighbours Pakistan the following winter, they succeeded in beating England at home in 1961/62. In a rather dull series India triumphed by winning the final two Tests after three draws. England had not sent a first choice side to India but it was strong enough for the victory to be a meaningful one. It was a great setback when that same Indian side travelled to the Caribbean in February 1962 where the progress was undone as they lost 5-0 to Frank Worrell’s side.
India’s next series was another five Test affair against England just two years after the 1961/62 victory. Again the England side was some way below full strength, particularly in its bowling attack. England were unable to take enough wickets to cause India problems and the result was a somewhat colourless series of five draws with neither side ever looking likely to force a result. The most notable feature of the Tests was the emergence of a young Indian wrist spinner, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. “Chandra” was a curious character and amongst the worst batsman to ever play Test cricket. Of much significance was his physical handicap, a bowling arm withered by childhood polio, which meant he was a most unusual bowler. He was more medium pace than genuinely slow, and his stock deliveries were googlies and top spinners rather than leg breaks, but the whip that the withered arm gave him was disconcerting to the batsmen and, while he was not yet a match winner in 1963/64, he troubled all of the England batsmen.
A drawn series against Australia at home in 1964/65 was followed immediately afterwards by a series victory over New Zealand, only for the West Indies to set back Indian progress once again by visiting the sub-continent and comfortably taking the three Test series 2-0. Despite that defeat however the Indians travelled to England in 1967 confident that their showing would be better than that of their predecessors in 1959. It may well have been better for India to have played in the second half of the English summer but certainly any hopes that their success against England at home in 1961/62 might be repeated at Headingly, Lords and Edgbaston turned out to be vain ones. England piled up 550 for 4 in the first Test at Headingly and ended up with a first innings lead of almost 400. India emerged with great credit from their second innings as they took their total past 500, the main factor being a true captain?s innings from Pataudi of 148, but it was not enough to prevent a comfortable England victory by 6 wickets. The rearguard action at Headingly did not inspire the Indians in the final two Tests and although the quartet of Bishen Bedi, Chandra, Erapelli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan (“Venkat”), played together for the only time ever at Edgbaston, and had no difficulty in taking 20 England wickets, the batsmen let them down badly there and at Lords, and the series ended as a 3-0 defeat for the visitors.
After their return home from England the Indians took a touring party to Australia in 1967/68 when, despite the comprehensive nature of their defeat, they lost each of the four Tests, considerable progress was seen. In three of the Tests the Indian bowlers dismissed Australia twice and they came close to winning the third Test. A number of the Indians played well and Prasanna in particular was a revelation taking 25 wickets with his off spin on wickets which, as ever, were not designed to assist him. The man who might have been expected to cause the Australians most difficulty, Chandra, played in just two Tests, taking a solitary wicket, and injury then brought his tour to an end and he did not play Test cricket again until 1970.
Despite their Australian defeat India recovered well enough to defeat the New Zealanders in a four match series and in the course of doing so they recorded their first two Test victories overseas. Two seasons later they played return series in India against both Australia and New Zealand drawing the series with the New Zealanders but losing once more, this time 3-1, to the Australians.
India’s seventh Test series in England was scheduled for the second half of the 1971 summer. Before that both countries had difficult tours to undertake. For England it was a mission to Australia to try and regain the Ashes which, if successful, would be the first time they had been recovered in Australia since Douglas Jardine’s Bodyline tourists did so in 1932/33. For India it was a trip to the Caribbean where, on their last visit, they had of course been humbled 5-0.
As they set out on their respective tours both countries had new captains and neither appointment had been free from controversy. For England the selectors had had to make a choice between the safe pair of hands, Colin Cowdrey, and the hard bitten Yorkshireman, Ray Illingworth. Both men had considerable support but in the end Illingworth won the day and in what might have seemed to some to be a “dream ticket” Cowdrey became his vice-captain. In truth the relationship did not work and Cowdrey made little contribution to the subsequent victory. The Australians rounded on Illingworth, even the normally reserved Sir Donald Bradman, by now head of the game in the country, criticising him publicly for his captaincy. Despite the challenges that this brought, or in reality perhaps because of them, Illingworth and his side forged an exceptional team spirit and, by 2-0, regained the Ashes with something to spare.
In India politics had played a role as well as the selectors were divided as to whether the Nawab of Pataudi should be reappointed for the tour of West Indies. The Indian Chairman, Vijay Merchant, who had never been Pataudi’s greatest admirer, exercised his casting vote and the man chosen to lead the Indians was Ajit Wadekar. Wadekar himself had not been particularly confident that he would even be selected to play and, ironically as it turned out, had asked for Pataudi’s help to seek his selection for the party in the first place. As the tour unfolded India not only won their first ever Test against West Indies but went on to win the five match series 1-0. In truth the West Indian bowling attack was, almost certainly, the weakest to that date to have represented the Caribbean since its original elevation to Test status. The only West Indian pace bowler of any note, Vanburn Holder, had a poor series, but the result was nonetheless a cause of great celebration in India. The Indian batting had consisted of a magnificent contribution from Sunil Gavaskar, in his first series, as he scored 774 runs at the remarkable average of 154.8 in just four Tests. Dilip Sardesai scored 642 runs at 80 although beyond those two there was still a lack of depth in the Indian batting, no one else recording a century and only all rounder Eknath Solkar scoring more than 200 runs. The bowling was, of course, in the hands of the spinners and Venkat in particular enjoyed a fine series.
Despite the success in the West Indies most Indian supporters expected little from the trip to England. In an article published in Playfair Cricket Monthly before the tour former Indian Test batsman Rusi Modi said ?Considering everything the odds will be heavily stacked against India. For India cannot hope to match England in either speed of attack or in the range and depth of batting talent, or in the kind of fielding that turns the fortunes of Test matches. India were right to be cautious. Their only batsmen who had succeeded against a lacklustre West Indian attack had, in the case of Gavaskar, never played in England before and, in the case of Sardesai, had done so with limited success. In addition, as Modi wrote his words, the Indian selectors appeared to be adhering to a policy of only selecting players who had been available for the previous domestic season and that meant that, as with the series in the Caribbean, the talismanic wicket keeper batsman Farokh Engineer would be spending his summer with Lancashire in the County Championship.
Modi was also concerned about that perennial Indian problem of their opening attack which he rather aptly described as “insolvent”. Burly all rounder Syed Abid Ali had taken six wickets on debut against Australia in 1967/68, but had then achieved little until the last two Tests in the Caribbean when he picked up another nine wickets. Overall he averaged less than two wickets per game. His likely opening partner, Solkar, was a left arm medium pacer with no pretensions to being even medium fast, and at that point had taken just nine wickets in ten Tests at a high cost. The dearth of pace bowling talent in India at the time was such that their quickest bowler, and the only other seamer in the party, Devraj Govindraj, took only 11 wickets on the tour at more than 60 and did not come remotely close to consideration for the Tests.
Fortunately for India the Engineer situation was resolved when the Indian Board had a late change of heart and his employers, Lancashire, were prepared to release him in order to play in the Tests. Other matters outside their immediate control which assisted India were that the weather was warm and the wickets hard and while certainly not spinners’ paradises those prepared for the second and third Tests were of some assistance to the Indian bowlers, and more particularly were of no particular assistance to the England pace bowlers. In fact the England pace attack found little help in any of the pitches they encountered. England also did themselves no favours when, for reasons we will explore when looking at the first Test, they chose to ban John Snow from playing in the second. Snow, who had played a major role in winning back the Ashes with his hostile fast bowling, was the man who India feared most.
The first Test began at Lords on Thursday 22 July. England won the toss and batted and after Abid Ali surprisingly removed Boycott, Chandra and Bedi bowled with superb control to reduce England to 71 for 5. Alan Knott then led a recovery which was completed by Snow, who achieved his highest Test score of 73, and England were pleased to reach 304. Both Indian openers went early but Wadekar, Gundappa Viswanath and Solkar all scored half centuries as, for only the second time in England and the first since 1936, India secured a first innings lead. They batted very slowly – most notably Viswanath and Solkar, two essentially attacking and aggressive batsman, scored 68 and 67 in 4 hours 30 minutes and 5 hours 10 minutes respectively.
In the England second innings it was Solkar’s turn to dismiss one of the openers cheaply and although John Edrich batted well the lower order could not repeat their contribution this time. The Indian spinners never relaxed their pressure and England were dismissed for 191, leaving India to score 183 in 260 minutes. That may not sound a particularly stiff target but neither side had achieved such a scoring rate in the first three innings. The first two Indian wickets fell cheaply, but Wadekar promoted Engineer to number four and he and Gavaskar then upped the pace. It was just before lunch when Engineer pushed the ball into the leg side and called Gavaskar for a quick single. Snow had an opportunity to run Gavaskar out and in his effort to get to the ball collided with him sending the 5ft 4 inch Gavaskar to the ground. When England got back to their dressing room at lunch Snow assured selector Alec Bedser that he would apologise to Gavaskar which he duly did. The apology was accepted by Gavaskar and the Indians in the spirit in which it was given and both Illingworth and Snow have subsequently written that Snow and Gavaskar had a drink together after the close of play. MCC Secretary, Billy Griffith was, however, incensed and a disciplinary hearing was convened. The British press was full of the incident for days afterwards. The measure of the true importance of what happened is best illustrated by the fact that Wadekar, in his autobiography that was published less than two years later, dealt with it in a single sentence – he was much more anxious to point out the foolish manner in which Engineer subsequently got himself out, stumped by Alan Knott, as he charged out of his crease against Norman Gifford. Gavaskar himself, in an early volume of autobiography, confirmed Snow’s apology and shared the general view that what followed was, to say the least, an overreaction.
India’s problem in chasing their target was that the weather was closing in and, while they tried to accelerate, Gifford and Illingworth bowled with great accuracy and wickets fell at regular intervals. The game was fascinatingly poised at tea with India 38 runs short of victory with two wickets left but the weather deteriorated and the game was left drawn. There were those who said, and indeed still say, that the moral victory was England?s however that overlooks the fact that the Indians would, doubtless, have batted differently had they been confident that they would have had the whole of the final session available to them.
The second Test was played at Old Trafford and sadly the Manchester weather was the winner in the end. England won the toss again and elected to bat and the story was much the same as in the first Test. There was an early England collapse, although for once it was not the spinners who were the architects of it. Abid Ali, with four wickets at 115 apiece to show for his tour prior to the start of the game, removed Jameson, Edrich and Fletcher in the space of 10 deliveries and shortly afterwards D?Olivera as well. Knott and Luckhurst rebuilt the innings to take England past 100, whereupon Knott was dismissed for 41. Illingworth was, India were convinced, caught at short leg by Solkar from Chandra early on in his innings but he survived and went on to play a captain’s innings of 107. He shared in an eighth wicket partnership of 168 with Lancashire pace bowler Peter Lever. It was ironic that the man brought into replace the suspended Snow should emulate the Sussex paceman by also recording his highest Test score. Had Norman Gifford and John Price been of just a little more help then Lever would have reached his century but as it was he had to content himself with 88 not out. England were all out for 386 and in a strong position and Lever, this time with the ball, troubled the Indian batsmen as they set out to try and avoid the follow-on. It was testament to the newfound durability of the Indian side that in difficult batting conditions they did, with their eighth pair at the wicket, finally limp past that important figure of 186. Only Solkar with a well struck 50 at the end and Gavaskar with his ninth half century in 11 Test innings, made any significant contribution. Gavaskar himself rated his innings as one of his best ever and also maintained that the spell from Middlesex pace bowler John Price, that finally resulted in his being dismissed was, Jeff Thomson apart, the fastest he had faced. It should be stressed that the comment was made in a book published in 1976 and doubtless that would not be Gavaskar?s view now but Price, at 34, was essentially a journeyman county professional and must therefore have been inspired on that grey Manchester day.
England ended with a first innings lead of 174 and, with the assistance of a century from Luckhurst, they added 245 for the loss of just three wickets before Illingworth declared at tea on the fourth day to leave India a very distant 420 for victory. The Indians limped that evening to 65 for 3 before the heavens opened and over the next 24 hours there were 14 inches of rainfall in Manchester. The game was abandoned as a draw as early as 1.30 and it was to be Kennington Oval, nine days later, that saw the decisive game of the series.
India had played an unchanged side in the first two Tests. There was considerable speculation before the Oval game that there may be a change and it was the mercurial Chandra whose place was under threat. There was a school of thought that felt Prasanna should replace him. Those putting forward that argument were, however, caused difficulty by Prasanna’s disappointing tour. He had bowled economically throughout but with considerably less penetration than his colleagues and had not looked like the same man who had bowled so well in Australia – he was destined not to take the field at The Oval. There were others who took the more cynical position that as India at last had an opportunity to avoid defeat in a series in England that Chandra, who as already noted had no pretentions to batting ability at all, should be replaced by a specialist batsman. The difficulty faced by those of that view was that the two reserve batsmen on the tour, Abbas Ali Baig and Khalid Jayantilal, had had poor tours and had done nothing to justify inclusion. In the event Chandra provided the answer himself in the county match against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge which concluded on the Tuesday before the Test was due to start. The East Midlands county were set 245 to win in around three hours and in 20 superb overs Chandra mesmerised their batting in taking all six wickets that fell at a personal cost of just 34. It was therefore to be the same Indian side that took the field in all three Tests. England brought back Snow for the injured Lever and Norman Gifford, so successful at Lords but injured at Manchester, was replaced by the man who most consider to be England’s finest spinner of the last 50 years, Derek Underwood.
Illingworth’s run of luck with the toss held and England took first innings again. There was an alarm when Luckhurst fell to Solkar for just a single, but the early collapses that had been seen in the previous two Tests were avoided. The burly Warwickshire opener Jameson, whom it was hoped might prove to be a like for like replacement for Colin Milburn, proceeded to find his best form as he struck an aggressive 82. In partnership with John Edrich over 100 were added before Edrich fell at 111. The collapse which had not taken place earlier then followed and England found themselves slipping to 175 for 6 before Alan Knott, who went on to score 90, stopped the rot with Yorkshire pace bowler Richard Hutton, son of Sir Leonard. For the third time in the series England’s first innings was rescued by one of her pace bowlers achieving his highest Test score as Hutton proceeded to score 81. The stand with Knott was worth more than 100 and when Hutton was last out just before the close England had scored an entertaining 355 in the day.
There was insufficient time to begin the Indian reply and Friday’s play was washed out. Somewhat surprisingly, in view of overhead conditions, only 15 minutes of the morning session on the Saturday were lost and India quickly lost both openers. At this stage an Indian victory seemed inconceivable but Wadekar applied himself and at the other end, for the first time in the series, Sardesai began to show glimpses of the form that had brought him so much success in the Caribbean just a few months previously. This pair added 93 before Illingworth turned the tide right back in England?s favour by removing both those batsmen and Viswanath in the space of 23 deliveries without conceding a run. This was not however the India of old and Solkar and Engineer, both of whom had considerable experience of opening, began again, and put on 97 before they both fell in the space of eight runs. It was left to Abid Ali and Venkat to dig in again to take India as close to England as 284.
The match was well into the first session on the fourth day when India’s first innings ended and it appeared then that avoiding defeat would be their only hope. England were expected to set them a difficult fourth innings task and with Underwood and Illingworth, who had bowled with superb control in the first innings to take five wickets, to conduct proceedings on the final afternoon the England side were confident of victory. Wadekar could have gone on to the defensive and it is very much to his credit that he chose not to. Abid Ali and Solkar were given a token three overs each but the early breakthrough did not come and they were quickly replaced by Chandra and Venkat. When India did part the England openers at 23 there was more than an element of good fortune involved. Chandra, having begun with a maiden, bowled his second over at Luckhurst. The second ball of the over was firmly struck back to the bowler. Chandra could not bring off a clean stop but watched in delight as the ball went from his hand to the stumps with Jameson, looking dangerous again, stranded. It was the third consecutive Test innings in which the unlucky opener had been run out. He was destined not to play a home Test again.
With Jameson gone just a single was added before Chandra, with a quicker delivery, breached Edrich’s defence and bowled him for a duck. With his very next delivery, on the brink of lunch, Chandra removed Keith Fletcher, caught by Solkar at short leg. Indian fielding had, as has already been alluded to, frequently been their Achilles heel. Even in this side the fielding generally was not as good as it might have been but in Wadekar and Venkat there were two fine close catchers. On another level altogether there was also the prehensile Solkar who was as good a close catcher as the game has seen. The reputations of and presence of these three undoubtedly contributed to England’s downfall.
England took lunch in some disarray at 24-3. After the interval D’Oliveira prevented the hat trick, just, as Chandra beat the edge of his bat. Immediately after that Sardesai failed to hang onto a difficult chance from the South African and England started to rebuild, although never convincingly until, at 49, D’Oliveira tried to lift Venkat over the infield but simply succeeded in presenting Jayantilal at mid on, on as substitute as a result of a hand injury sustained by Sardesai in missing the previous opportunity, with a straightforward catch. Four deliveries later the off spinner accounted for Knott as well. Knott had not previously failed in the series and, as ever, developed his own unique means of dealing with the Indian spinners. This time though he reckoned without the spectacular full length dive that Solkar produced to catch him from a trademark defensive prod. Eleven runs later Illingworth stroked the ball straight back at Chandra and England were rocking again at 65 for 6. Luckhurst had been batting patiently but on 72 he went to cut Chandra. He misread the length of the ball which took the edge and Venkat held a spectacular catch of which Chandra was later to say “How he saw it and snatched it one handed remains a mystery”. Those who hoped the England lower order might rally round again were to be disappointed as Snow went quickly for 0, caught and bowled by Chandra, and then after a further brief rally between Underwood and Hutton Wadekar finally decided to take Venkat out of the attack and give the left armer, Bedi, a bowl. In his only over Bedi removed Underwood. He bowled no more in the series as in the very next over Price was LBW to Chandra who ended with figures of 6 for 38 in England?s all out total of 101.
If, after almost 40 years and 21 Test matches, India were finally to defeat England on her own soil they needed to make 173. With a day and a session to go there was, weather permitting, no prospect of the draw and all England, and India for that matter, knew that conquering their nerves and dealing with the threat posed by Underwood and Illingworth were India’s targets. This was Illingworth’s twentieth Test as England captain and he had not been defeated in the previous 19. He was a master tactician, seemingly phlegmatic but never missing a trick. Earlier in the summer in the third Test against Pakistan the tourists, set 231 to win, had been bowled out 25 runs short to allow England to take the series. A similar story had been unfolding at Lords in the first Test of this series and despite the modest target many still expected England to triumph as they had against Pakistan.
Soon after the innings began Gavaskar finished what, for him personally, had been a disappointing series as he was dismissed by Snow without scoring. His opening partner, Ashok Mankad, who had had a torrid time over the series, was also dismissed cheaply for 11 but not until he had resisted for 74 deliveries and an hour and 20 minutes to allow Wadekar to become settled. The openers gone the first pair of heroes from the first innings came together again, Wadekar and Sardesai, the latter still troubled by his damaged hand. These two took the tourists through to the comparative strength of 76 for 2 at close of play.
Next morning Underwood began the second over of the day bowling to Sardesai who cut him towards backward point. There should have been a comfortable single but both batsmen hesitated and D’Oliveira’s throw to Knott narrowly beat Wadekar. Losing their captain to a run out without addition to the overnight score, particularly as television replays suggested the decision may have been a harsh one, could easily have demoralised the Indians and the 24 year old Viswanath who followed his captain in particular. In the event Viswanath, an attacking batsman by nature, curbed all of his natural instincts to garner 33 precious runs in a fraction under three hours. He added 48 with Sardesai before Underwood dismissed the senior man and India wobbled again when just ten runs later Solkar, after staying for more than twenty minutes for just a single, lost patience and gave the Kent slow leftarmer a straightforward return catch.
At 134 for 5 even the experienced Engineer was feeling the pressure as he took what Jim Swanton described as a “horrible whoosh” at the first delivery he received. Fortunately for Engineer and India he failed to make contact. As if disturbed by Engineer’s behaviour Viswanath repeated his mistake shortly afterwards but after an animated mid pitch discussion both batsmen regained their composure. Engineer and Viswanath proceeded to take India to the brink of victory. As the target beckoned Illingworth brought on opening batsman Luckhurst as a last throw of the dice. At the beginning of his career in the late 1950?s Luckhurst had been an occasional slow left arm bowler but had done very little bowling for many seasons and his dismissal of Viswanath, who fell with just three runs required for victory, was to prove to be his only Test wicket. Four deliveries later Luckhurst dropped the ball a little too short to Abid Ali who seized the opportunity to square cut the ball – as it went past point it was swallowed up by the invading Indian contingent in the crowd who were determined to make the most of celebrating their success.
That final innings of the match was an example of Test cricket at its very best. India faced all of 101 overs to score their 174 runs. The pressure exerted by the English bowlers and fielders was never allowed to drop yet despite a run rate of less than two per over the cricket remained compelling. For this writer, an 11 year old schoolboy living in Central Lancashire, it was a momentous day. I had never watched every single delivery of a day’s cricket before, and in truth have seldom done so since, but I found myself anxiously watching the climax of the game and, for the only time, abandoning all thoughts of nationalistic pride and taking great delight in the triumph of my boyhood hero, Engineer, and those three wonderful Indian spin bowlers whose almost hypnotic control over England’s front line batsmen had been the foundation for their nation’s famous victory.
Legend has it that so relaxed was Wadekar, unlike the rest of his countrymen in England (and indeed all those gathered around radios in India), that he slept through most of the the innings after his dismissal and then, while laid on a couch, had to be alerted by England assistant manager Ken Barrington to the fact that his side had won, and that he was required on the balcony. Inevitably there was great celebration amongst players and spectators alike and there was rejoicing in the streets back home where, temporarily at least, the cricket team’s success brought a welcome distraction from the political problems over Bangladesh that were shortly to lead to war with Pakistan. Despite the difficult situation the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, arranged for the tourists flight home to be diverted to New Delhi so that she could offer her personal congratulations.
It was widely said at the time, not without some justification, that India were the “world champions” of the game. After all they had beaten New Zealand, West Indies and England the latter two themselves having beaten Pakistan and Australia. Wadekar was more cautious stressing that his team had not yet beaten Australia. His words were wise ones, a WSC ravaged second eleven in 1979/80 apart, India were not to beat Australia in a series for another quarter of a century. It was a great shame however that they did not have the opportunity to try. The Indians return series with England was due to take place that same year, the 1971/72 season, but due to the political turmoil the tour was postponed. In Australia, for different political reasons, the planned visit of the South Africans was cancelled. Bedi, Gavaskar and Engineer travelled to Australia to play roles in the hurriedly arranged tour of a Rest of the World XI – it is one of the game’s missed opportunities that the full national team could not have been invited instead.
India’s next Tests were during the following home season, 1972/73, when the tour by England that had been scheduled for the year before took place. England, who had retained the Ashes in 1972 by virtue of a 2-2 draw, had a new captain in Tony Lewis but, unlike in the past, the touring party was virtually at full strength. Of Englands first choice XI only Geoffrey Boycott and Snow were missing. To the surprise of many England won the first Test but India came back to win the next two and with the final two Tests being drawn India had won again. Once more it was Chandra who was the key, this time for consistency, as he took 35 wickets at less than 19 runs each. Bedi took 25 wickets at 25 apiece and, back in favour for the last three Tests, Prasanna took 10 at 20 apiece. All the other Indian bowlers managed just five wickets between them at an average approaching 100.
After another blank winter in 1973/74 India were back in England for the first half of the 1974 summer. Any remaining claims to being the best side in the world were diminished by dint of three years with no Test series against opponents other than England but, with two successive victories against them, and all the key players from the victorious sides still available, India still had serious aspirations to succeed again. In the event the tour was, from an Indian point of view, an unmitigated disaster. All three Tests were lost, the first by 113 runs. The second Test was the nadir – defeat by an innings and 285 after being dismissed in their second innings for just 42. The final Test was of no comfort to the tourists as it was another innings defeat albeit nothing like so embarassing as the previous match.
There were some mitigating circumstances. India this time had the first half of the summer and while the weather did not affect the second and third Tests it did seriously interrupt the early tour matches and the first Test at Old Trafford was cold and wet. India’s strength, her spinners, were affected by an experimental law restricting the number of fielders on the leg side to a total of five. Ultimately however the spinners figures said it all. Bedi was the best of them with 10 wickets at a cost of 52 runs each. In two Tests each Chandra, Venkat and Prasanna had the nightmarish figures of 2 for 126, 3 for 267 and 0 for 96 respectively. For India it was almost back to square one but lessons were learnt and all four spinners came back strongly in the years that followed.
For England’s batsmen their figures were just as strange but with the opposite emphasis. David Lloyd averaged 260, Keith Fletcher 189 and John Edrich too, at 101, had a three figure average. If that were not enough Mike Denness and Dennis Amiss both averaged more than 90. Englands batting “failure” was Tony Greig who could not do better than 79. For them the game was easy and they could look forward with great confidence to travelling to Australia the following winter to defend the Ashes. Sadly for them however there were a couple of larrikins named Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson waiting for them there but that, as they say, is another story.