Photographs by Vincent D’souza Taccode, John Boliye, Praveen D’souza, Steevan D’souza, Jeevan Menezes and Deepak Alvares, Nottingham (UK)
When good things occur rarely, they tend to be more tasty. India’s recent test victory at Nottingham brings back some rare but happy memories of Indian victories, abroad.
Up to the year 2000, winning abroad was a rarity for Indian cricket. The historic beginning was made by Ajit Wadekar’s happy-go-lucky Indians, who first tamed the mighty West Indies 1-0 in the Caribbean den and then went on to tame the English lions in the home of cricket, again by 1-0. The victories were made possible by the Spin trio of Bedi-Chandra-Venkat and the reliable batting efforts of Wadekar-Engineer-Sardesai-Gavaskar and Vishwanath. That was in 1971 and it took India more than 40 years to do so.
Coincidentally, these series were known as the first for a new stylish opening batsman, Sunil Gavaskar who went on to enter record books at will. His contribution in the first series was memorable. India scored yet another win in the Caribbean in 1976, this time through a world record chase of 404 runs in the last innings. Again, Sunny Gavaskar was at the forefront.
After that, India had to really wait hard and long and came tantalizingly close to winning a test match at the happy hunting ground in Oval (Surrey) in 1979 ? chasing what would have been a world record breaking feat (its own record then) of 438 runs, India ended up on 429 for 8 when the Indian batsmen accepted the offer for poor light. In today’s situation, teams wont let go such an opportunity of winning. Added to that, at that time, India’s victory would have leveled the series. Such grit and positive approach was lacking for India, which had to wait for a head up chest front all rounder named Kapil Dev to arrive, to achieve greater feat.
And he arrived with a big bang. Australia it was, which bore the brunt of this all rounder. In 1980-81 series in Australia, Kapildev helped India win a test match and level the series. Earlier to that, in 1976-77, India led by Bishen Singh Bedi had won 2 test matches in Australia by big margins, only to lose the series 3-2 to a subdued Australian side led by Bob Simpson. The team was without its star players who had signed up to play the Packer series.
All that happened from 1983 to 1985 on the ODI scene is indeed memorable for India. India won almost everything in this period, starting from the 1983 world cup to the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia. Kapil’s leadership in 1983 and his presence throughout helped India redefine ODI strategies.
It was in 1986 that India achieved its biggest overseas series win ever. Helped by seamers Chetan Sharma and Roger Binny and spinners Ravi Shastri and Maninder Singh, India routed a strong England team (with Graham Gooch, David Gower, Allan Lamb, Ian Botham, Bob Willis to name a few) by a sound margin of 2-0. India’s Dilip Vengasarkar scored two centuries and a long batting line up, which by then had Mohammed Azharuddin in its ranks, performed creditably. Perhaps India would have won 3-0, but 4 wickets for 4 runs in India’s second innings forced Azharuddin and wicket keeper Kiran More to play out for a draw, with India needing another 50+ runs for victory.
India would have actually won a series in Australia just a few months before its heroics in England. But they were thwarted by bad weather and equally bad umpiring. The first test at Adelaide was a tame draw, more interesting for the records – Kapil took 8 wickets in an innings, Gavaskar scored 166 not out to carry his bat and on the way score 95 and 94 run partnership for the first and the last wicket (perhaps the only batsman to do so ever). In the Melbourne Boxing day cricket test, in the second innings, with only 48 runs in surplus and 9 wickets gone, umpire Ischerwood gave No 11 Dave Gilbert not out despite having clearly edged a Kapil delivery to Gavaskar at second slip. I still remember this moment ? this decision helped captain and batsman at the other end Allan Border to start playing strokes, and with Gilbert he added 78 valuable runs that also took valuable time away from India. India ultimately received a 126 run target, but had not enough time to go for it. In the third test at Sydney, India posted a huge 600 for 4 declared (top 3 ? Gavaskar, Srikkanth and Amarnath all hitting big hundreds), but could not take the last 4 Australian wickets in the second innings (after Australia was made to follow on) to complete an innings victory ? Greg Ritchie batted for 160 deliveries to score 17 runs ? a massive effort that prevented an Indian victory.
Then as we know, especially in the 1990s, Indian cricketers, spearheaded by the record king Sachin Tendulkar, went on achieving their personal records. They won several test series at home ? on tailored wickets for spin bowlers. I can’t remember even one worthwhile achievement for India since 1986 till the year 2000.
Onset of the new millennium perhaps reversed India’s fortunes. India now started achieving some rare victories overseas. I must say, the expectations changed and now India was expected to win abroad. The team was going through a transformation. Post Azhar-Jadeja days, Ganguly had taken up the captaincy and was helped by Dravid in top form, Kumble at his ever best and a middle order that joined the party more often than before. India was also having the services of good medium pacers. In fact, ODI specialist Agarkar took 6 wickets to clinch a rare victory at Adelaide Oval!
It was in 2002 in England, helped by solid middle order performances (Dravid 148, Tendulkar 193 and Ganguly 128), India leveled a test series in England. India also achieved test victories in the West Indies, Australia and in 2004 in South Africa, but only to lose the subsequent test match and tie the test series. However, India won the series in Pakistan for the first time ever. All of the overseas victories by India were spearheaded by Dravid’s middle order solidity and other batsmen’s ability to contribute. Not to forget the Goliath-like presence of Anil Kumble who motivated his bowling stocks to achieve rare successes for India.
What makes a win in England exciting is because that comes very rarely. More importantly, test matches in England are rare by themselves. India is playing in England after a gap of 5 years (last played in 2002).
One other change that I have noticed of late is the luck. For sure, even if Dravid hasn’t contributed much for India’s cause in the first two test matches, he has brought tremendous luck for the team. He won a crucial toss on the first morning of Nottingham test ? with wet outfield and overcast conditions, that was a great gift for Zaheer Khan and his team to bundle England out for less than 200. Also, the rain factor that came to India’s rescue in the first test match where India had all but lost. I have seen several occasions where India had to draw many test matches when in sight of victory, but for the rain. This time around, the rain gods smiled on India.
The task (of winning the series) is not accomplished yet. India has shown in the past that their successes in test matches abroad were short-lived and they eventually have lost subsequent test matches to tie the series (it happened in England in 2002 and in West Indies, Australia and South Africa later). One only hopes that Dravid’s luck, more than his bat, will enable India to clinch the series for a change. All along he has wielded his bat, to get the ?one-man team tag, of late his bat is doing less of the talk and his captaincy is standing out. Through his innovative field setting and smart bowling changes, Dravid has answered his critics and proved not to be a soft corner for anyone. He may not have Ganguly’s outward aggression, but on the cricket field, Dravid has proved beyond doubt that he is the boss. Hope he carries on like this for much longer time.
The hope also stems from the fact that two of the stalwarts of Indian middle order, Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly, having to prove a lot to their critics, appear to be hungry for runs and success. The two young openers, Jaffer and Karthick, have helped India lay a strong foundation and the Indian seamers, especially /Zaheer and R P Singh have proved lethal to English batsmen. Dhoni has roared whenever his knock was needed and Laxman too has a lot to prove. Weakened by injuries to their key players ? Flintoff, Hoggard and Harmison, England’s only hopes would be to get a little bit of luck to smile on them. Perhaps some favourable ground conditions and Tremlett’s wiles to succeed, or perhaps couple of big knocks from the experienced captain and Andrew Strauss.
Otherwise, it will be a first series win abroad (outside Asia) that we have been waiting for so long. With chairman of selectors and the main architect of the last series win in 1986 Dilip Vengasarkar in the dressing room, the team wont need any other inspiration.
Just to make things easier, someone needs to keep some jelly beans on the pitch when Zaheer comes on to bowl!!! Can our fellow Mangaloreans in Nottingham travel up to Surrey and do this bit? Well, I am joking of course!
Author: Agnel Pereira- Bahrain