This was England’s best win in India - The New Indian Express

This was England’s best win in India

Published: 27th November 2012 03:54 PM

Last Updated: 27th November 2012 03:54 PM

Winning was relatively easy in the Good Old Days of the Raj. When Douglas Jardine captained England in India's first home Test series in 1933-4, the winter after he had put the Australians in their place with Bodyline, the martinet made damn sure it was not only a party of players that he took with him. By Jove, no, sir!

Jardine took along a former England player as well to do the umpiring, Bill Hitch of Surrey, and found an old Australian who had played many seasons for Middlesex to stand at the other end. In India’s inaugural home series, no native Indian was allowed to umpire. England won 2-0.

Even after independence, the playing field was still not level. Until Kerry Packer’s World Series in the late 1970s, England’s cricketers were professionals while those of every other country – including India – were amateurs, playing weekend club matches and the odd first-class game.

This imbalance accounts for six more of England’s dozen victories. India were overrun by professional spinners at Kanpur in 1951-52, Lancashire’s Roy Tattersall and Malcolm Hilton. Although the series ended 1-1, a jolly good tour was had as the England players were put up by British families ‘staying on’ and had a merrier social life than present players stuck in hotels.

County cricket was opened up in 1968, allowing overseas players to sign without any qualification period and become professionals, but Indians never fancied the daily grind as Pakistanis did. Bishan Bedi was happy to bowl all day for Northamptonshire, and Srinivas Venkatraghavan for Derbyshire, but that was about it: Kapil Dev tried a couple of half-hearted seasons and Sunil Gavaskar one for Somerset.

So the playing field was still not level when England won once in 1972-73, three times in 1976-77, and in the one-off Jubilee match of 1980.

England’s batsmen may have found turning pitches unfamiliar, especially when they were prepared with wire brushes, as in Calcutta on Tony Greig’s tour. But India’s batsmen had no experience of facing fast bowling – whether short-pitched or swing – except if they had previously toured overseas.

Thus Bob Willis, John Lever and Ian Botham enjoyed field days in India. The helmet, like worldwide professionalism, did not arrive until the late Seventies; there was no limitation of two bouncers per over. It was back to the Raj and the Good Old Days.

Only four of England’s victories in India have therefore come when both sides have been equally matched and fully professional.

And in two of them England owed something not just to their own efforts but to rather strange goings-on within the Indian team.

In 1984-85, as now, England’s spinners were every bit as good as India’s, in this case Phil Edmonds and Pat Pocock.

But the pressure they exerted in Delhi does not entirely account for Kapil Dev having a slog on the last afternoon. There were rumours of tension between Kapil, the ex-captain, and Gavaskar, who had replaced him. Kapil was dropped for the next match, and not on playing grounds.

In 2006 in Mumbai, India sent England in to bat: strange. England totalled 400 but even then Ajay Jadeja, the former Indian player who had been banned for match-fixing, kept saying on television that only two results were possible, a draw or a win for India: strange.

Then on the last afternoon several home players decided the best way to play for a draw was to see how high into the air they could slog the off-breaks of Shaun Udal.

So England’s two most meritorious wins in India have been the most recent and the one at Madras in 1984-85, when Neil Foster took 11 wickets with his lively outswing, and both Graeme Fowler and Mike Gatting made double centuries in sapping heat.

But this most recent has to be the best of all. You could see what it meant to the England players as Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann took wicket after wicket in India’s second innings: Virender Sehwag for nine, Sachin Tendulkar for eight, Virat Kohli for seven, all groping as blindly as England’s batsmen – bar Alastair Cook and Matt Prior – had in Ahmedabad.

Never have you seen such animation from this generation of England cricketers as they appealed for catches and lbws then celebrated wildly: Panesar was by no means the most excited when he charged down the pitch waving his arms.

They knew what they were doing: beating India at their own spinning game, in their home of cricket, and achieving a result that will be remembered through the ages.

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