Mankad manufactures magic at Madras
Partab Ramchand - 19 November 2001
For many years now, leading English players always skipped the tour of India. In 1933-34, for example, cricketers like Wally Hammond, Bert Sutcliffe, Maurice Leyland, Eddie Paynter, Les Ames, Bill Voce and Gubby Allen did not make it to this country. Eighteen years later, when the second official England team to visit India came over, missing were Sir Leonard Hutton, Denis Compton, Jim Laker and Alec Bedser.
This trend continued even till the 60s and early 70s, although English teams visiting India have not been without well-known names or engaging personalities who have been crowd pullers. However, if there is a vote for the weakest English team to come to these shores, the 1951-52 team would win the contest hands down. There was hardly any player in the side who could be called world-class, and even cricketers like Brian Statham and Tom Graveney, who were part of that squad, became great only in the years to come. Indeed, both of them were in their first year of international cricket when they toured India.
The home team needed this sort of shock treatment to come into their own for, in the final Madras Test, they dominated from start to finish, winning by an innings and eight runs to register their maiden victory in Test matches. It came about in India's 25th Test match. Vinoo Mankad wove patterns around the English batsmen and took 12 for 108 in the match.
The captain himself was no better than a good county cricketer. Nigel Howard, in fact, made his debut in the first Test, and the four Tests he played during the series constituted his entire career. Then there were players like Frank Lowson, Donald Kenyon, Richard Spooner, Frederick Ridgway, Donald Carr, Derek Shackleton, John Robertson and Malcolm Hilton, none of whom could be called crowd-pullers. Only Albert Watkins and Roy Tattersall were fairly well known for their exploits for England.
Against this rather sub-standard outfit, it was thought that India stood a good chance of winning the series or at least breaking their cricketing duck in Test matches. After 20 Tests against England, Australia and the West Indies, India had still not won a single match. In the preceding two seasons at home, the Indians had mixed luck against two Commonwealth teams, winning the unofficial series against the first team but losing to the second. However, the nucleus of a side good enough to beat this English team had been formed - or so it was assumed.
And yet the final result was one match all with three Tests drawn. India were much the better team, but they failed to consolidate at crucial stages, thanks to either slow batting or unimaginative bowling. The first Test at New Delhi was a case in point. After dismissing England for 203 on the first day, the Indians batted in laborious fashion and occupied two days to take a lead of 215 runs. A heroic rearguard action over the last two days saw England draw the match comfortably.
The second and third Tests at Bombay and Calcutta ended in batsmen-dominated draws, but England surprisingly went ahead on a spinning pitch at Kanpur. Conditions seemed to be tailor-made for the home team, which included Vinoo Mankad, Ghulam Ahmed and Sadashiv Shinde. But the Indians reckoned without the English duo of Tattersall and Hilton, who took 17 wickets between them in bowling their side to an eight-wicket victory with more than two days to spare.
The home team needed this sort of shock treatment to come into their own for, in the final Madras Test, they dominated from start to finish, winning by an innings and eight runs to register their maiden victory in Test matches. It came about in India's 25th Test match. Vinoo Mankad wove patterns around the English batsmen and took 12 for 108 in the match. Polly Umrigar, who came into the match only because Hemu Adhikari was injured, grabbed the opportunity to hit the first of his 12 Test hundreds, and Pankaj Roy also got a stroke-filled century. The historic triumph covered up for some mediocre cricket played by the Indians.
But there were gains too. Mankad started the series with question marks being raised over his status as one of the world's leading all-rounders, thanks to recent patchy form. He silenced his critics once and for all by taking a record 34 wickets in the series, besides scoring 223 runs. Vijay Hazare started off the series with scores of 164 not out and 155, although he was less prolific in the remaining three Tests. Dattu Phadkar showed that he was still a more-than-useful all-rounder.
Roy, though, was the discovery of the series; a tally of 387 runs at an average of 55.28, with two hundreds, was almost unbelievable for a young opening batsman playing in his first series. Umrigar, after failures in the first four Tests, came good with that timely unbeaten 130. And the form displayed by other new players like CD Gopinath and Vijay Manjrekar augured well for the future.
It was good that the series threw up young talent, for it marked the end of the careers of Vijay Merchant and Mushtaq Ali, both of whom played their last Tests in that series. Merchant bid adieu in a fitting manner, getting 154 in his last innings and sharing a record 211-run stand with Hazare. There was no such dream finish for Mushtaq, who scored only 22. Lala Amarnath played in three Tests without much success, and he was to play his last game for India before the end of 1952.
From the English point of view, Watkins was very much the leading player. The left-hander proved to be the proverbial thorn in the flesh with his obdurate batting, and he finished the series with 450 runs at an average of 64.28. Graveney was not far behind with 363 runs at an average of 60.50. Among the bowlers, off spinner Tattersall was the pick with 21 wickets.