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Nostalgia

A series win after an early scare
Partab Ramchand - 03 December 2001

By the time England came over to India nine years after their last series, there was a sea change in the cricketing scenario. India were arguably the leading team in the world, having got the better of the West Indies and England during the 'India-Rubber Year' of 1971. But that still not stop some of the leading players from skipping the tour. This time, citing various reasons, Ray Illingworth, Geoffrey Boycott, John Edrich, Basil D'Oliveira, and John Snow did not make the trip.


On the eve of the series, given the seemingly wide disparity between the two sides, an easy Indian victory was predicted. The Indians had everything in their favour; they were brimming with confidence with a captain at the peak of his powers, a spin quartet that was itching to try out their bag of tricks on the designer home pitches, and a batting line-up that remained strong.
But it was still a worthy side that Tony Lewis brought to India in 1972-73. The captain, like Nigel Howard 21 years earlier, made his Test debut in India but had been a well-known figure for some time. The batting, with Barry Wood, Keith Fletcher, Mike Denness, Dennis Amiss, Tony Greig and Alan Knott, was in good hands. The bowling, to be manned by Geoffrey Arnold, Greig, Norman Gifford, Derek Underwood and Patrick Pocock, also looked to be quite balanced.

Given the euphoria that the twin away triumphs had created, however, India were confident of victory almost to the point of over confidence. And they came close to paying the price. The first Test at New Delhi was lost by six wickets, and it was only a combination of skill and luck that saw India take the next two Tests by 28 runs and four wickets respectively. So relieved was Ajit Wadekar that he promptly shut shop and played it safe in the next two Tests to emerge triumphant in the rubber. It was certainly a feather in his cap, being his third successive series victory, but it was a hard-fought win over worthy opponents. There was some severe criticism of Wadekar for the manner in which he eschewed even the smallest risk but, in a way, his approach also amounted to open admission of his respect for the England team.

On the eve of the series, given the seemingly wide disparity between the two sides, an easy Indian victory was predicted. The Indians had everything in their favour; they were brimming with confidence with a captain at the peak of his powers, a spin quartet that was itching to try out their bag of tricks on the designer home pitches, and a batting line-up that remained strong. The nucleus of the home side remained the same as it was in 1971. Indeed, they seemed to be even stronger, having found a dashing young opening batsman in Ramnath Parkar to cover up for the one weakness that the all-conquering squad had - a reliable partner for Sunil Gavaskar.

The end result, a 2-1 victory, was thus not in line with the predictions, and for this one must give credit to the visitors. Fully aware that the odds were against them, they did not buckle under pressure and gave as good as they got. Lewis proved to be a worthy skipper in the matters of tactics and personal relations, and, with timely knocks of 70 not out in the first Test and 125 in the fourth Test at Kanpur, also led from the front.

Batting was always going to be difficult against the famed spin attack on Indian wickets, but Fletcher and Greig came up with centuries. In sharing a partnership of 254 runs for the fifth wicket in the final Test at Bombay, the two put up England's best fifth-wicket stand against all countries. Knott proved to be handy as usual in negotiating the spinners. There was no really outstanding bowler, though Arnold had one great spell, taking six for 45 in the first innings of the series and dismissing India for 173. The wickets were generally shared, a good symbol of the team work that characterized this outfit. The English batsmen was a bit slow in coming into their own but, by the end of the series, they were tackling the Indian spinners with more than a degree of comfort, and this was no minor triumph.

From the Indian point of view, there were a few things to savour and a few disappointments. Even the home batsmen found runs hard to come by on the slow pitches, and the fact that no hundred was scored till the final Test illustrates this best. Farokh Engineer was the top run-getter, aggregating 415 runs with one century and three fifties. Wadekar (312) and Gundappa Viswanath (365) gave a boost to the middle order, but it was not until MAK Pataudi came back into the side that the batting took on a touch of class. He was not picked for the first two Tests, was brought into the team for the third match, and straight away made his presence felt with a powerful yet elegant 73. The openers, however, remained a problem, compounded by the fact that Gavaskar was struggling for runs. Despite a late flourish, which brought him scores of 69 and 67, he finished the series with only 224 runs.

Not surprisingly, the main focus was on the spinners, and BS Chandrasekhar and Bishan Singh Bedi cornered the honours by taking 35 and 25 wickets respectively. The former broke Mankad's 21-year-old record by taking the most number of wickets in a Test series. EAS Prasanna, in the limited opportunities that he was given, showed that he was still a force to reckon with. The series also was the swan-song for Salim Durrani, who played in three Tests and scored 243 runs. His contributions at Calcutta and Madras proved vital, and he ended his colourful career with scores of 73 and 37 at Bombay.

© CricInfo

[Archive]


Teams England, India.
Players/Umpires Ray Illingworth, Geoff Boycott, John Edrich, Nigel Howard, Keith Fletcher, Mike Denness, James Knott, Norman Gifford, Derek Underwood, Pat Pocock, Ajit Wadekar, Nawab of Pataudi, Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.

 
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