All posts by Sanjeev Sathe

An explorer of life, a small time writer, nearly ex- cricketer, and a salesman by profession. Intellectually Backward. :) Cricket and Reading is in his lifeblood.

From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 15

Virat Kohli took over the captaincy from Mahendra Singh Dhoni in 2014. There can’t be two characters who are so contrasting, yet very similar. Kohli is fiery, MSD is Ice Cold. Kohli wears his heart on his sleeve, MSD is immune to emotions. Kohli retaliates with anger, MSD is coolly sarcastic in reply to criticisms. Kohli, as a cricketer, is one of the technically most sound, MSD is unorthodox to the core. Virat is supple, graceful, and attractive to watch when he bats, MSD just either pushes and prods or butchers the bowling. MSD has only two gears, first and top (sometimes reverse too, these days). Virat likes to play along the ground, MSD loves taking the areal route. The Only similarity is, both are extremely aggressive, yet the expressions of their aggression are polarly opposite. Yet, when it comes to the results they produced while captaining the Indian team to England, no dissimilarity was found. Just like Dhoni, Kohli too lost the series in England.

Virat Kohli in action!
Virat Kohli

Not that he was not trying to win. It was just that the team let him down, more often than not. Kohli the batsman excelled in the tour, and outshone virtually every batsman in either side, with circumspect technique, great temperament, and fighting with the skin of his teeth, placing a large price-tag on his wicket. Yet, though Kohli sold his wicket very dearly, the other batsmen kept falling prey to the deliveries outside the off-stump, not leaving them alone, and getting drawn to them like young men to naked breasts. The team fell apart around Kohli, but he stood tall being a tower of courage. Though the bowlers pulled their weight in, the fielding was poor, and batting even more so, excepting the captain.

Kohli was no foreigner to the English conditions, he had been there on the 2014 tour, and had failed dismally. He was an Anderson bunny then, but so were all the Indian batsmen. While Kohli had learnt from his experience of the earlier tour, all other batsmen kept repeating the same mistakes, and India lost the series.

India went into the first test after losing the ODI series 1-2. Edgbaston was cloudy when Kohli lost the toss, and he might’ve chuckled when Joe Root chose to bat first. The fast bowlers were licking their lips. Just before the match, Michael Holding had had a chat with Ishant Sharma about the lengths which should be bowled in these conditions. Strangely, Ashwin came in to bowl in the 9th over and promptly removed Cook. After the spinner had drawn the first blood, Keaton Jennings stuck together with his captain and they strung together a decent 72 run stand. Jennings fell for 42, and Dawid Malan followed quickly and Johnny Bairstow joined Root to add 104 runs and take England to 216/3. But Bairstow and Root fell in Quick succession, making 80 and 70 respectively, and for once, India didn’t let the tail wag too much and England was all out for 287.

Virat Kohli- Century Celebration
Silent celebration post century

Ashwin and Shami were the picks of the bowlers for India taking 4 and 3 wickets respectively. Indian reply had a solid start, with Dhawan and Murali Vijay put on exactly 50 for the first wicket, before losing their wickets. Then KL Rahul fell quickly at 4, and India were tottering at 59 for 3. Then the captain took over. Kohli single-handedly took India to 274, in the process scoring a very matured 149 runs. There was no support from the other end, though Ajinkya and Pandya hung around for an hour each, their scores of 15 and 22 were no pretense of support for the captain. But Kohli was “in the zone”. He shielded the tail-enders, farmed strike, and played a Steve Waugh kind of an innings. He scored a whopping 54% of the team’s runs and looked impenetrable. When he was last out in search of quick runs, India had conceded a slender 13 run lead to England. Debutante Sam Curran took 4 for 74. The England batting too crumbled in their second essay, and apart from Sam Curran (63 n.o.) none made a sizeable score. Ishant Sharma claimed a five-for and was well supported by Ashwin and Umesh Yadav.

England were all out for 180, leaving India a target of 193 for a win. In pursuit of 193, India began shakily, they quickly were reduced to 78 for 5, and the captain was the only hope to either save or win the match for them. Kohli found some support in Dinesh Kartik and Pandya, but it was not enough. With the score on 141, he fell to Stokes, making 51 in just over 3 hours. Sedate by his standard, but he had shown immense maturity in playing according to the situation. Still 52 short of victory, and with the tail-enders only making token appearances with the bat, Pandya opened up a bit, but fell as the Last Indian wicket with India still short by 30 runs. India lost, but not without putting up a fight, and that was the silver lining to the cloud. The team was at least showing intent to fight. Only the batting needed to click.

In the second test the Lord’s history loomed over the Indian team, and they performed dismally. The first day was washed out, and where the wicket would have sweated and offered more juice to the quick bowlers, India made a baffling decision to play two spinners. India made 107 in their first innings, and James Anderson picked up 5 wickets at the cost of a mere 20 runs. With India a fast bowler short, England smashed the Indian bowling around, and despite being in a hole at 89-4, they came out of it due to some lusty hitting by Johnny Bairstow and Chris Woakes, the former making 93, and the latter scoring a brutal 137 (n.o.). Sam Curran continued his purple patch making a quickfire 40, and England declared at 396/7, 279 ahead of India. In the second innings, Anderson and Broad picked 4 wickets apiece and Woakes took 2. India all out for 130. India had vastly improved on their margin of loss, this time losing by an innings and 159 runs.

2-0 down India lost the toss and were promptly put in by England. The openers put on 60, but both were out in quick succession, followed by Pujara. India again 82-3. But the captain was there and had an able ally in Ajinkya Rahane, and the two added 159 runs. Kohli made a fine 97, and Ajinkya made an obdurate 81. Then the tailenders too contributed bits and pieces and India for the first time in the series crossed 300. In reply to India’s 329, England batting was all over the place. Hardik Pandya broke the backbone picking up 5 for 28 in a mere 6 over spell, and England folded up for 161. With a 168 run lead, India would have backed themselves to win this test, and they batted with a new-found confidence in their second innings.

Dhawan and Rahul gave India a fine start, Pujara made a characteristically defiant 72, And Hardik Pandya made a run-a-ball 52, but the pick of the Indian batsmen was Kohli. He had missed out on a century in the first innings by a mere three runs and was well set. He knew the importance of hanging in there and made a fine, fine 103 in just under 5 hours, punctuated with 10 gorgeous hits to the fence. His innings was a masterclass in batsmanship. He was sound, confident, alert, and his footwork was assuredly quicksilver. India made 352/7 before declaring their innings closed, and gave England a monumental target of 521 for a win. The English top order faltered, and they lost their first four wickets for 62 runs. But then both Ben Stokes and Jose Butler played innings which were very much contrary to what they are known for. Both these dashers showed exemplary defiance and took England to 231 before Butler fell for a well-made 106 in just over four hours. Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad and Anderson, all tried to resist, but eventually, England wilted and were all out for 317. Bumrah took a five-for, and India won the test by 203 runs, giving themselves a chance to square the series.

The fourth test at Southampton began very well for India. Winning the toss and batting first, the decision looked to have backfired on England, as they were quickly reduced to 6 for 86 by Ishant, Bumrah and Shami. Moen Ali (40) and Sam Curran (78) put on a handy 81 runs for the seventh wicket, and another 33 run partnership between Curran and Broad took England to a respectable score of 246. In reply, India made 273, Pujara making an obdurate 132 not out, and Kohli making 40. None of the other batsmen contributed anything of significance. Five Indian wickets fell to Moen Ali’s pretense of off-spin. He continued to make merry at India’s expense. England made 271 in their second innings, riding on Butler’s 69 and Useful 40s from the captain Root and the ever contributing Curran. Mohammad Shami was the pick of the bowlers taking four for 57. India had to make 245 to win. Definitely gettable, just they had to hang in there. But that is precisely they did not do. Apart from Kohli (58) and Ajinkya Rahane (51), no batsman thought it was worthwhile to stay at the wicket for more than an hour, and India folded up for 184. Again, Moeen Ali took 4 wickets, bagging 9 in the match and in the process, sealing the series for England.

The fifth test was a dead rubber, and the master opener Alistair Cook was going to call it curtains after this test. England were keen to give him a winning send-off. Electing to bat first, England made 332, Cook himself making 71, Moen Ali Batting one drop making an even 50, and Jose Butler continuing his dream run with a score of 89. “Sir” Ravindra Jadeja took 4 wickets and Ishant Sharma and Shami took 3 apiece. Indian reply was lacklustre. They made 292, the main contributors being Kohli (49), Hanuma Vihari (56) and “Sir” Jadeja 86 not out.

In the second innings, Alistair Cook came in determined to make his mark on his last test. He batted for six and a half hours and made a superb, stoic and sensible 147. Joe Root too, after the first test found form and made a scintillating 125, and riding on these two hundreds of contrasting nature, England declared their innings closed at 423/8. Mohammad Shami and Ravindra Jadeja came under a lot of stick, conceding 110 and 179 runs respectively.

India were to make 464 to win. They were quickly 2 for 3, losing Pujara and Kohli for ducks. Kohli made a golden duck, out first ball. But for the first time in the tour, KL Rahul was batting with a great deal of assurance. He was joined by Ajinkya Rahane, who batted well, hanging on for nearly two and a half hours before he fell to who else? Moeen Ali. Though the 118 run partnership had retrieved the situation, India were still in danger of losing another one badly. Much was expected of Hanuma Vihari, after his defiant first innings half-century but he didn’t trouble the scorers. It was Rishabh Pant who had to support Rahul to help India save the match. But the young wicketkeeper had other ideas. After getting his eye in, he launched in a flurry of strokes, Making 114 studded with 15 fours and four sixes, adding 204 with Rahul for the 6th wicket. With the score on 325, Rahul fell for 149 and immediately after three runs were added to the score fell, Pant. Indian lower order didn’t do much and India were all down for 345 losing by 118 runs and losing the series comprehensively; 4-1.

Kohli the batsman in this series was superb. He was in the form of his life (as he had been since 2015), scored 593 runs at an average of 59.30, the best performance by an Indian captain on an England tour. He learnt and remembered his lessons from the previous tour. When you have got the talent as much as Virat Kohli is blessed with, you have to be more aware of what not to do, than what to do. It is simple for him. If he stays at the wicket, runs invariably come at a good clip. The next best Indian Batsman was Pujara with 299 at 39.71. It is this chasm between the Scores of Kohli and the others, which tells the story of the series. The bowlers did their job admirably, more often than not. But the batsmen let the team down. Kohli the captain, came in for a lot of criticism, but a captain is only as good as his team and in the end, is judged by the number of wins. On that count, the captain had failed. Nevertheless, India had been fighting well in the series, but when the bowlers brought them back in the match, the batsmen frittered the advantage away. Too much T20 was showing it’s effect.

Kohli was also a lot unimaginative as a captain and failed to make things happen on most occasions. Besides, wrong team selections cost him at least two matches. But this doesn’t mean he is a bad captain always. Yes, he is evolving as a cricketer, as a captain, is supremely fit, and has an astute cricket brain, Besides, he can channel his aggression well, and motivates players of similar combative nature, like Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant, by backing them to the hilt to play their natural games. One disappointing series doesn’t write him off as a captain, and looking at his form and fitness, he has at least a decade to play and take Indian cricket team to new highs.

And yes, he leads from the front. And always does himself what he asks his team to do.

Hope you liked the final part of the series- From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 15 . Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com

From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 14

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is Street-smart. He always has been. As a young boy, he never was in awe of any cricketer. He had no idol. He never watched cricket on TV. He never was very passionate about cricket till his mid-teens. Cricket along with basketball, badminton and football was just another sport for him. He played all the sports which came his way and was the goalie of his school football team. His sports teacher asked him to keep wickets in the cricket team. Seeing the popularity of cricket in the country, Dhoni agreed to. At the time, being good at a sport was the only means for him to get into a decent university. Excelling in sports was much easier than burning midnight oil for studies. Yet, there was a hitch. Being a son of a pump operator meant he would have to support his cricket on his own. Cricket is an expensive sport.

M S Dhoni
Captain Cool- MSD

He did a lot of things for that. Blessed with the strength of a bull and speed of a gazelle, he knew that he had the basic attributes to excel in the sport. And he also had immense stamina. He took to playing tennis ball matches and taking money for it. Took up a job of a ticket collector. But kept playing. An entry to a university never happened, but he entered seamlessly in the most glamourous field in the country. Suddenly, in fray for a place in the Indian Cricket team. That too didn’t happen without drama. The Bihar Cricket association didn’t deem it appropriate to intimate a player from Jharkhand that he has been selected to represent the East Zone in the Duleep trophy. A congratulatory call from a friend of a friend was the means by which Dhoni came to know he has been selected. Yet it was too late, and despite desperate efforts by his friends, Dhoni missed the flight to Agartala.

However, Dhoni went to the next match in Pune as the 12th man. He kept performing enough to remain in the fray for the next 3 years, but the national call up won’t come. Things changed in 2004, India A, ODI and Test match debuts happened in a year’s time, and the small-town boy had made it big. Dhoni quickly became a brand second only to Sachin Tendulkar. Within three years, Dhoni was leading the Indian Cricket team in all the three formats.Much has been written and cinematographed about his story thereafter, and there’s no point in repeating the same here.

The Indian team which went to England in 2011 under Dhoni was on a high, having won the 2011 world cup. They felt invincible but were brutally brought to the ground by the English Cricket team. Just like the West Indies had slaughtered the Indian Cricket team with vengeance after winning the 1983 world cup.

The first test was the test match # 2000, and Dhoni, winning the toss, put England in. Bad move to start with. Initial success came as Cook fell for 12 when England had made 19, and Strauss for 22 when the score was 62. Then the South African imports, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pieterson got together and added 98 between them before Trott fell for 70 workmanlike runs. His name is Trott, but he made his runs in a saunter always. Bell (45) added another 110 runs with the in-form KP. Thereafter, another import, this one from Ireland (Eoin Morgan) lasted only 3 balls and didn’t bother the scorers, and with England score 270/5, India could hope to make a comeback in the match. But wicketkeeper Matt Prior and Pieterson added 120 brisk runs and snatched the game away from India. England declared at 474/8 and KP was unbeaten on 200.

Zaheer Khan picked 5 for a 106, but just when he was bowling well, got injured and was ruled out of the remaining tour. The Indian openers, Abhinav Mukund and Gautam Gambhir put on 63, but both were back in the hut by the time the score had reached 77, and it fell on the senior pros Dravid and Tendulkar to salvage the situation. They added 81, but that was not enough. Thereafter, it was a mere procession to the pavilion with only the captain and the ex-captain showing any resistance. Dravid finally got himself on the Lord’s honours board with an unbeaten 103 and Dhoni made a patient 28 off 102 balls, and added 57 with Dravid, but as India were wrapped up for 286, even saving the match was going to require a gargantuan effort. Yet the bowlers hadn’t lost heart. They made the new ball talk, and reduced England to 62 for 5, and then 107 for 6. But the first innings villain Prior was not done with tormenting the Indians. He scored an unbeaten 103, and along with Stuart Broad, (74 off 90 balls) added 162 and put India completely out of the game.

Indian second innings was a sad story. All their batsmen got starts, but only Laxman (56) and Raina (78) could convert. India all out 261, but they played 96 overs for that. Anderson (5/65) and Broad (3/57) destroyed the Indian innings, and led England to a handsome 196 run victory, to draw the first blood in the series.

In the second test, Dhoni again won the toss and put England in. Yuvraj Singh had come in for Gambhir. But this time around, the bowlers proved him right. Ishant Sharma, Pravin Kumar, and Shantakumaran Shreesanth all claimed 3 wickets apiece and bundled England out for 221. Stuart Broad (64) top scored for England. India opened with Dravid and Mukund, and Mukund was out without scoring. Dravid and Laxman then added 93 stoic runs and Laxman fell making 54. Tendulkar failed so did Raina and Yuvraj combined with Dravid to add 128. Yuvraj made 62 and after he fell, the remaining 5 Indian wickets could add only 21 runs. Dravid was out 9th, making 117, his second century of the series. Broad claimed a six- for and India secured a lead of 57 runs. In the England second innings, Ishant Sharma removed Cook cheaply, and then came Ian Bell. He held the England Innings together with a masterly 159.

Dhoni recalled Ian Bell to bat again when the latter was given wrongly run out. It won Dhoni the spirit of cricket award for the year 2011, but lost India the match. Prior, Pieterson, Prior and Bresnan all responded with big half centuries and England put up a mighty 544 and set India an improbable 478 to win. Bresnan and Anderson scythed through the Indian batting and reduced India quickly to 55 for 6. Sachin Tendulkar (56) and Harbhajan Singh took India past 100, then the little master fell, and Praveen Kumar threw his bat around for a run-a-ball 25. But 478 was too imposing a target and India folded up for 158, losing by 319 runs.

India were down and out, trailing 0-2 in the series and in the Birmingham test, they were ground to dust. Batting first, India scored 224, Gambhir and Laxman made 30s and the captain made a fighting 77. England put on an epic 710/7, Cook making a career best 294 , Morgan made 104 and Strauss, Pieterson and Bresnan made fifties. In the second essay, India made 244, the captain made another fine 74, and Tendulkar and Praveen Kumar made 40s. India lost by a small matter of an innings and 242 runs.

A thoroughly demoralised India went to the Oval to play the final test England won the toss, made 591/6 and put India out of contention right from the day 1 of the match. Ian bell made a silky 235 and Kevin Pieterson hammered 175. In reply, India reached 300 for the first time in the series, the “Wall” standing tall for a stoic 146 and carrying his bat through the innings. All the batsmen did come to the wicket, but they might as well have not, as their stays were short, and contributed precious little. Dravid found an unlikely ally in the rotund Amit Mishra who scored 44 and added 87 for the 7th wicket.

The injured Gambhir walked in to bat, hung around grimly for an hour and added 40 for the 8th wicket with Dravid. RP Singh threw his bat around for 25, and India made an even 300. Following on 291 runs in arrears, India made 283 in the second innings, Sachin Tendulkar (91) and Amit Mishra (84) being the only innings worth a mention. Another innings defeat, and a 0-4 whitewash. India were never in the game for the whole series, and barring Rahul Dravid and Dhoni, none of their batsmen showed the grit to graft in tough situations. The bowling was lackluster and so was the fielding. No wonder the result came out as it did.

Yet three years later, Dhoni was again at the helm when India toured England. And he was there on Merit. India was the number one test side in the world, it’s young batting line-up was formidable on the paper at least, and the bowling attack too was of a high quality. BUT THERE WAS A HUGE DIFFERENCE THIS TIME AROUND. None of the fab 4 were in the team, and the team had a point to prove, that despite losing 4 great batsmen to time, they yet were a formidable unit.

In the first test at Nottingham, Dhoni won the toss and chose to bat first. India made a formidable 457. Murali Vijay made 146 gorgeous runs, Dhoni made 82, but the highlight of the innings was the 107 run 10th wicket partnership between Bhubaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami. Both scored individual 50s. England replied with 496. Their rising star Joe Root made an unbeaten 154 and added a mighty 198 runs with James Anderson for the last wicket. Anderson made 81. Garry Ballance and Sam Robson made fifties. It was a peculiar case where the 10th wicket partnerships had crossed the 100-run mark in two successive innings of a test match. India batted again making 391/8 declared, debutante Stuart Binny made 78, Vijay and Pujara made 50s and Bhubaneshwar Kumar made his second fifty of the match, scoring 63. The five days were over and the match ended in a draw. But both the teams looked even Stevens in their form, promising a closely fought series ahead.

The second test was at the Lord’s. Captain Cook called correctly, and put India in. India made 295, riding on rookie Ajinkya Rahane’s unbeaten 103. Anderson took 4/60. England replied with 319. Garry Ballance made 110 and Liam Plunkett 55. Bhubaneshwar Kumar took 6 wickets for 82 runs. India in their second innings, made 342, Murali Vijay making 95, Sir Jadeja made 68 and Bhubaneshwar Kumar, carrying his batting form from Nottingham to Lords, made another 52. England were set 319 to win, but the lanky Ishant Sharma went through their batting line up like a hot knife in butter, and bowled a man-of-the-match winning spell of 7 for 74. Only Joe Root (66) and Moeen Ali (39) showed some fight and England folded up for 223. India had won at Lord’s after 18 years, and gone one-up in the series.

Stung by the defeat at Lord’s, England came back strongly in Southampton, piling up 569/7 in their first innings. Cook made 95, Butler 85, and Ballance and Bell scored big hundreds. The hero of Lord’s, Ishant Sharma was out of the team due to injury and the rest of the bowlers looked hapless. India scored 330 in reply. All their batsmen got starts, but only Rahane and Dhoni could make 50s. England didn’t enforce the follow-on and scored a brisk 205/4 in their second innings. Cook and Root made 50s. Ravindra Jadeja took 3 for 52. Set 445 to win, India made only 178. Rahane made his second 50 of the match, but that wasn’t enough. Of all the people, Moeen Ali, who bowls innocuous looking off spin took6 for 67. India has this knack of making heroes out of unlikely players. England levelled the series with two more tests to go.

The fourth test found India hitting a new low, getting bundled out for 152 and 161 in their two innings. England made 367 in their only innings of the match, riding on fifties from Bell, Root and Butler. The only scores worth mention from the Indians were a vigilant 71 by the captain in the first innings and a brace of fighting 40s by Ravichandran Ashwin in each innings. But that was not enough. India lost by and 54 runs as the match ended in 3 days’ time.

In the final test at the Oval India stooped further, making only 148 in their first innings, the captain again making a valiant 82 and after being reduced to 9 for 90, adding 58 valuable runs with Ishant Sharma who hung on grimly for an hour and a quarter. In reply, England made 486, Cook, Balance made fifties, Butler made 45 and Joe Root a fine, chance less unbeaten 149. In their second essay, India capitulated for 94, thus ending the disappointing series, the only bright spot being the win at Lord’s. After this series probably, it was total loss of motivation for Dhoni to Continue leading and Playing for India in the test matches, and he suddenly announced his retirement from the format in the following Australian tour.

Yet, Indian Cricket will never forget MS Dhoni’s contribution. He was the coolest head in the team, always unperturbed, through the Best and worst. And his journey is one of the most amazing tale of self-belief and perseverance.

Starting as a small-town basher, the guy went on to become one of the most successful Indian Cricket Captain. He placed India at the top in all the three formats of the game, winning the T20 and ODI world cups, and also getting India ranked at Numero Uno in the ICC Test Rankings. A goodish wicketkeeper (wouldn’t call him one of the best), a very aggressive batsman, when he got in, and a very astute, and attacking leader, for most of his career (He appeared a bit lackluster due to loss of motivation probably, towards the fag end of his Test Captaincy career).

As a captain, we would rate Dhoni as inspiration. He never appeared to be agitated, irritated, or never did his shoulders sag in adversity. Dropped catches, bad batting displays, typically Indian bowling woes overseas, nothing could ruffle his feathers anytime when on the field. He looked like a tower of peace, notwithstanding what was going on around him. That doesn’t mean that he was off guard or unaware of his job. He did it well, most of the time. He gambled quite a lot, and also had the guts to back himself in tough situations. More often than not, he was also able to inspire his players to rise to the occasion. It is not so easy to captain a team which has a Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, and Kumble in it, but MSD did this with consummate ease, and to a very good effect. He didn’t like criticisms. He kept backing players like Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, though they were not always consistent performers, and could extract flashes of brilliance from them, nurtured Virat Kohli’s potential, and also the senior players were not far behind in contributing.

People who go by stats, forget that by changing or sacking or blaming a captain, they are doing no good to the game or to the team more so in case of Dhoni.

Despite all these achievements, his leadership in England Tests was not rewarded with results, and though he came out as a fighting batsman on both the tours, he found no support. And this was again to be repeated in the 2018 England tour, under a different captain, who came out as the best batsman of the Series for India, yet couldn’t secure a series win for them…

Hope you liked- From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 14. Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com

From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 13

People call Rahul Dravid, “The Wall”. He was extremely difficult to dislodge, technically correct, and yet, elegant to the eye. He could be as attractive a batsman as any when in full flow, and was just the perfect foil to the flamboyance of Tendulkar, Ganguly, and the wristy artistry of VVS Laxman. Yet, his most commendable virtue was his work ethic.

Rahul Dravid
Rahul Dravid- The Wall of India!

Rahul Dravid always played to the demands of his team. In 1996, on his debut at Lord’s he batted with the tail, farmed the strike, and in the process got so preoccupied with keeping both ends safe, forgot that he was 5 runs short of a Lord’s debut hundred, and got out on 95. No, he didn’t crib. He never cribs. For him, the team is the foremost. He is the go-to man of the team. The readers would observe that I am writing about Rahul Dravid in present tense. That is because he is the same even when coaching the U-19 and the India -A sides. Nothing deters him from serving the team. And he doesn’t say no to any task the captain assigns to him.
Bat the day out? – Sure Skipper, and I wouldn’t mind the spectators’ flak too.
Accelerate? – I’d do my best.
Keep wickets? – Yes, Captain!
Open the batting? – You can depend on me, Captain.
Captain the side? – Sure, I’d give my best.

And, whatever his record might suggest, he gave his best, sold his wicket dearly and placed the team before the individual, always.
For someone who just watches cricket as a hobby, Rahul Dravid’s batting won’t be attractive. But, the connoisseurs would drool over him for making a 30, in about 2 hours, on a sticky wicket. He can do that and despite the wicket, appear impenetrable. Not many can.
By the England tour of 2007, Dravid had shed his “Blocker” tag with some astonishingly quick innings in the 2003 world cup, and was a complete batsman, who could block when required, and attack when the situation demanded so. Mind you, he debuted in T20I in his last playing season, and his first scoring stroke was a six over long-on. The side was well stacked with talent and experience too.
The openers Jaffer and Dinesh Kartik were in good form, Dravid himself was in excellent nick. Saurav Ganguly and the “GOD” and the Very Very Special Laxman were in the side. The young wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni looked like he belonged to the international arena. Anil Kumble was amongst the best spinners in the world, with quality seamers in Zaheer Khan, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, and RP Singh.

In the Lord’s series opener, England won the toss and elected to bat. Strauss scored 96, Vaughan scored 79, while Cook and Peterson made useful 30s to take the England total to 298. All the bowlers picked up wickets, a good sign for the first test of the series. Indian reply was lukewarm. They made only 201 – Jaffer made 58, Sachin and Sourav made 30 odd each, and the captain himself made only 2. England made 282 in their second innings, with Kevin Pieterson making 134. RP Singh bagged a fifer and Zaheer Khan bagged 4. India were set 380 to win in 5 sessions. India started briskly, and the opening pair added 38 in 10 overs, and lost Jaffer. The captain followed Jaffer quickly and the score read 55/2.

Sachin Tendulkar scratched around for his 16 runs and fell with the score at 84. Ganguly and Karthik then stitched up a partnership to steady the rocking boat, and India ended the day at 137/3, with 7 wickets in hand and 243 more needed to win. But on the fifth morning, both, Ganguly (40) and Karthik (60) fell in quick succession, and Indian hopes of winning were dashed. Laxman and Dhoni hung around for 30 odd overs, but India still was staring at a customary Lord’s defeat. With 231 on the board, Laxman fell for 39.
After that, Dhoni was at one end and wickets kept falling at the other end, and India slipped to 282/9, one wicket away from defeat. It was nearly curtains for India, when the rain gods intervened, and no further play in the match was possible. The match was drawn. Dhoni had played an uncharacteristic innings of 79 in 159 balls and remained unbeaten. This show of his maturity might well have earned him India’s T20 captaincy for the inaugural T20I world cup in South Africa, which India went on to win.

After the narrow escape at Lord’s, the Indian side went to Nottingham in a more alert frame of mind. Dravid won the toss and sent England in to bat in an overcast morning. England were bundled out for 198. Only Alistair Cook made a substantial score of 43. Zaheer Khan bagged 4 wickets, Kumble 3, and Shreesanth, Ganguly and RP Singh took one wicket each. The Indian reply was a lot more purposeful.

All the top order batsmen- Karthik (77) Jaffer (62), Dravid (37), Tendulkar (91) , Ganguly (79), Laxman (54) – pulled their weight on, and India took a handsome lead of 283 over the hosts. England fared much better in their second innings. They made 355, Strauss (55), Vaughan (124) and Collingwood (63) being the main contributors. Zaheer Khan claimed a fifer, and Anil Kumble took 3. India required 73 to win, the openers scored 22 each, Tendulkar could manage only a solitary run, and it fell on the duo of their captain and the former captain to guide them across the line, which they did. India was 1-0 up in the series.

The last test was at the Oval, which has been a happy hunting ground for Indians. Oval didn’t disappoint the Indian batting line up. Once again, the entire top order Karthik (77), Jaffer (35), Dravid (55), Tendulkar (82), Laxman (51), Ganguly (37) and Dhoni (92), played their part, but none made a century. The solitary test century for India on the tour came from…. Anil Kumble. He scored a chanceless 110 and went One -up against Shane Warne in the leg-spinners’ competition going on then, though in an unlikely area outside both of their core competence. Jumbo now had a test century, and Warnie’s top test score was (and is) 99. India were all out for 664.
England replied with 345. Cook, Bell and Collingwood scored half centuries. India batted again, scored 180/6 (Ganguly 57, Laxman-46, Dhoni-36) and set England 500 to win in 110 overs. England batted out these overs, none other than Pieterson (101) and Bell (67 off 62) making a dash at the win, Prior and Sidebottom stonewalled for an hour, to ensure that they do not lose a wicket, and the match petered to a draw. India had won a series in England after 21 years, and the captain, though not at his best with the bat had inculcated a sense of purpose in the team, which saw the players sticking to their tasks, and putting clinical performances to achieve their series victory.

The same year, Dravid (and India) had a disastrous world cup in the West Indies and he stepped down from the captaincy. But the team man he is, he kept giving his best for the Indian team, and played some of his best cricket in those years. After retirement, being offered to coach the India seniors’ team, he politely declined the offer and asked to be the coach of the U-19 and the India-A team, to “build a strong feeder system to the Indian team” and the results are evident.

Yet, he has a rare dignity and sense of occasion about everything. Quiet, Methodical, and confident approach to his work ensures success, but when the success comes, he chooses to savoir it in the confines of the four walls, and not giving bragging interviews or indulging in wild celebrations. Among the subsequent India captains, despite the difference in their personalities, one admirable common attribute is evident – Work Ethic. When you are fortunate enough to rub shoulders with Rahul Sharad Dravid, you are bound to have an impeccable Work ethic.
That’s the Legacy of Rahul Dravid, which the Indian team should be indebted to.

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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 12

Sourav Ganguly was the most inspiring captain India has ever had. In spite of being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, this Behala boy had done his hard yards quite well. And he inspired his team to do the same.

Sourav Chandidas Ganguly
God of the off side- Sourav Ganguly!
He made to the Indian team for the first time during the 1992 , had an indifferent tour, then returned home trimmed to size, scored runs by tons in the domestic matches, earned his place on the England tour of 1996, had a dream Lord’s debut, followed it up with another century in the very next test, and then he was unstoppable.
After Azhar’s infamous dismissal from captaincy, he was the chosen one to lead the Indian side. The 2002 Indian team was a formidable one. Sachin, Sourav and Dravid were already amongst the best batsmen in the world, the pace attack was well populated with quality seamers in Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Ashish Nehra, and there was the ever-dependable Anil Kumble to bowl spin. The captain was in control of the team, and in spite of the occasionally abrasive nature of his, the team had supported him well. If there was a strong Indian side well balanced in all respects, all in good form, which went to England ever, this was the one. However, traditions die hard, as India were to prove at the Lord’s in the first test. Coming off a high after beating England in the Natwest “shirt- flinging” trophy final on the same ground, India were brought down immediately by England.
Nasser Hussain won the toss and elected to bat. England posted a healthy total of 487 in the first innings, riding on Hussain’s 155 and fifties from John Crawley, Craig White and the fiery Andrew Flintoff. Simon Jones made a useful 44 towards the end of the innings. India lost Wasim Jaffer early, but with Sehwag batting as if he was batting in the first 15 overs of an ODI, and Rahul Dravid refusing to give his wicket away, India were at a healthy position at 128/1. Sehwag fell for 84, Night-Watchman Nehra for 0, Sachin for 16, the skipper for 5, and India were in the familiar position of staring down the barrel at Lord’s.
Dravid made 46 in his characteristic fashion and the Stoic VVS Laxman remained unbeaten on 43. India folded up for 221. England didn’t impose the follow on and made a brisk 301/5 riding on a brace of even 100s by John Crawley and Michael Vaughan. Set 588 to win, India started positively with Sehwag and Jaffer putting on 61 for the first wicket, and Dravid and Laxman getting half centuries too. The skipper scored a first ball duck, wicketkeeper Ajay Ratra fell with the score on 170, and in walked Ajit Agarkar. Seldom would he have thought that by the end of the match he would gain a place which even Sachin Tendulkar could never occupy despite his unmatchable records- mention on the Lord’s Honours board. Batting Honours board !!! He and VVS Laxman added 126, but Laxman was removed by Simon Jones and the Indian hopes of saving the match took a blow. Kumble and Zaheer Khan didn’t last long, but surprisingly, Ashish Nehra helped Agarkar complete his century and take the Indian score to 397. Agarkar remained unbeaten on 109. India lost comprehensively by 170 runs.

In the second test at Nottingham, Ganguly won the toss and elected to bat. Sehwag made a swashbuckling start, and then batted sedately with wickets falling at regular intervals to score his maiden test hundred in England. Ganguly himself scored 68, but all the others got starts and couldn’t capitalize. India made 357 in their first innings. England replied with a mammoth 617. Riding on Michael Vaughan’s 197, Alec Stewart’s 87 and Craig White’s 94 not out. Starting badly in their second innings, India lost both their openers when their total had reached 11. But Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar steadied the ship by adding 163 runs when Sachin got out making a blistering 92 off just 113 balls off the benign off-spin of Michael Vaughan.
Saurav joined his deputy and added a further 135 to take the Indian total to 309, and slowly cruising towards saving the match when Dravid departed for a well made 115. Laxman didn’t last long, but Agarkar hung around with his captain, who looked well on the way for his third century in England. But when the score reached 378 Ganguly was removed 1 short of his hundred by debutante Steve Harmison, and it fell on another debutante Parthiv Patel to save the match for India. He and Zaheer Khan grimly hung on and the match ended in a draw with India making 424/8 in their second innings. First match lost, second drawn. Much like the previous two tours. But India were to turn the tables in the next test at Leeds.

India elected to bat first on a placid looking Leeds pitch, and lost Sehwag early. 584 runs thereafter were scored by three huge partnerships, and the scene which the Indian fans got used to, and later on started expecting every time India batted, was painted for the first time in England. The Great Indian Middle Order had fired! Though not all cylinders, (Laxman missed out) it put England out of the game by the end of day two of the match. Dravid made 148, Tendulkar 193, and the skipper made a stroke filled 128. What a treat to watch !!!
India declared their first innings closed on 628/8. Then the bowlers came to the party. Zaheer Khan and Agarkar took two wickets each and Kumble and Harbhajan took 3 each to dismiss England for 273. Only Vaughan (61) and Alec Stewart (78) showed some fight. Saurav promptly made England follow on. They made 309, Nasser Hussain made a fighting 110 and Butcher and Stewart made 40s. Anil kumble, claiming 4 wickets was the destroyer-in-chief. However their efforts came to no avail, and India beat England by an innings and 46 runs. India had levelled the series.
In the last test, England came back strongly, posting 515 in the first innings with Vaughan making a superb 195, and Trescothick, Butcher and Dominic Cork making half centuries. Harbhajan Singh bagged 5 for 115. India replied strongly with 508, with batsmen batting well around Rahul Dravid who made a mighty 217. Tendulkar and Ganguly made fifties and Laxman made 40. England had a slender lead of 7 runs, but too much time in the match had passed, and a result was not evident. England made 114 without losing a wicket in their second innings. The series was drawn at 1-1. And Ganguly was the second Indian captain not to lose a series in England, after Kapil Dev in 1986. In the very next year, he would go on to square a series in Australia in Australia, and lead India to the 2003 world cup final.

Saurav Ganguly went on to become one of the most successful Indian test match captain. His style of captaincy was a real passionate one, and he was not shy of getting under the skin of the opposition. His bare-chested display at Lord’s after the Natwest trophy win, defines him as a person. He always played to win and expected his players to do so. Some might have called him lucky, as he had Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Sehwag in his team and the batting battery was capable of dominating any attack in the world. But yet, he was a captain who made things happen. He kept Steve Waugh waiting at the toss at Kolkata when India did the epic turnaround to win the test in 2001. He also used to give it back to the sledgers with vengeance, and was never afraid of criticism. Players like Sehwag, Dhoni, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh owed their success to the confidence Ganguly instilled in them with from time to time, and his persistence with them even in their lean patches. It was unfortunate that he lost captaincy and even his place in the side due to the Greg Chappell interferences, but he was strong enough a player to make a great comeback and a great team-man to give his 100% to the team, even when dethroned from captaincy. Saurav Ganguly was a man with a lot of character and firepower. And of course, supreme artistry.

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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 11

At 8, Mohammad Azharuddin started playing hard-ball cricket. At the All Saints’ Missionary School Hyderabad, Brother Joseph honed his skills of seam bowling well enough to earn him a place in representative schoolboy cricket. He was never coached to bat. It is evident from his unorthodox, self-made technique. It just came naturally to him. So Azhar, who at 17 was a good seamer who could bat a bit made his debut for Hyderabad as a batsman who could bowl a bit three years later.

Mohd. Azaruddin
Mohd. Azaruddin- Wristy batsman at his best!

The debut first-class season was lackluste, but for a solitary fifty. Seemingly, the talent pool in Hyderabad was scant in the early eighties, and Azhar was retained for the next season. In that season, came the 1st first-class hundred, a double century in the Dulip trophy followed and then came the national call. Azhar was the twelfth man in the first and second test of the 1984-85 home series against England. In the third test, Kapil Dev and Sandeep Patil were dropped from the side for “Irresponsible batting” in the Delhi test, and Azhar came into the side as a replacement of Sandeep Patil.

He scored a century on debut. And one more in the next test. And one more in the test next to that. Three hundreds in his first three test matches and Mohammad Azizuddin Azharuddin was a world record holder at the age of 21. The performance in the second half of the 80s was nowhere near the promise shown in 84, yet he managed to perform well in the 1985 Benson and Hedges series in Australia, didn’t do badly in the 1987 Reliance world cup, and the other limited overs matches. Yet, Test cricket was an entirely different ball game for him.

He did well on spinning tracks, and tracks which didn’t offer bounce to the quick bowlers. He had an awkward method of ducking blindly in bouncers and it was his undoing in the away test matches. In the test matches in the subcontinent though, he was like a tiger. “Dada” batsman as is called in Mumbai cricket slang, a useful bowler, and a fielder, past whom it was impossible to get the ball, at any fielding position. He was actually playing for his place in the 1989 tour of Pakistan, which saw the emergence of Sachin Tendulkar.

In the first test in Karachi, he just managed to do enough to stay in the team for the next match, scoring a brace of 35s. Before the next test in Faisalabad, he came across Zaheer Abbas, who suggested that wrapping the right hand a bit more on the bat handle would help him score more runs against the pace bowling. Azhar scored a first ball duck in the first innings in Faisalabad but came back with a blistering 109 in the second dig. Then came a 192 against New Zealand in New Zealand, and the confidence in playing on seaming and bouncing wickets grew.

The 1990 series of England, under Azharuddin, was the one whom fans were actually expecting India to exceed all their past performances in England. They had an attacking captain in good batting form, the Lord of the Lord’s Vengsarkar was still very much there, Ravi Shastri had grown to be a very dependable batsman and a very miserly bowler, Kapil Dev was still in control of his all-round skills, Kiran More was one of the best wicketkeepers in the world at the time, and a young 17-year-old Sachin Tendulkar, with superhuman talent and promise, was in good nick too. The team would not be bogged down by the might of the English line-up. After all, they had won the last three-match series in England 2-0. And the combative Bhishen Singh Bedi was in the coach’s seat.

The first test started on an auspicious note for India, with Azhar winning the toss. And immediately Azhar made a huge blunder, by putting England in to bat. The weather, which was overcast at the time of the toss cleared up, and the Lord’s strip offered no juice for the Indian Seamers, Kapil Dev, Sanjeev Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar, each conceding over a hundred runs. It is history now, that Kiran More Dropped Gooch when the latter was on 36, and the blunder cost India 297 more runs. Allan Lamb and the Hard-hitting Robin Smith also peeled off centuries on the placid track, and England piled up a mammoth 653/4 in just under 2 days. Traditionally, India would have wilted under this huge score, but what was to come was an epic fightback led by one of the most aesthetically pleasing salvo by the Indian captain.

Ravi Shastri stoically held the fort for 4 hours to make an even hundred. His partners, Sidhu and Manjrekar were back in the pavilion when the score reached 102. When he was joined by his Bombay teammate and the Lord of Lord’s Dilip Vengsarkar, they added 89 precious runs and Shastri fell to the innocuous-looking gentle off-spin of Eddie Hemmings. At 3 for 191, the Indian captain came to the crease, India still in large arrears. He added 50 runs with Vengsarkar, and for the first time in 11 years in a Lord’s test match, Vengsarkar fell before reaching his hundred. He made 52. Young Tendulkar fell cheaply for 10, at 288, Prabhakar lasted only till the score reached 348, and India still had a 300+ runs deficit to erase.

The captain though seemed oblivious to any pressure despite this dire situation. He was stroking the ball merrily, playing delectable drives on both the sides of the wicket, cutting ferociously, and sending anything pitched on his leg-stump and around screaming past the boundary. At 348/6 he was joined by Kapil Dev, who was in his elements too. But the partnership didn’t last long, and Azhar departed for 121 glorious runs to his credit scored of just 111 balls. India- 393 for 7. Kiran More scratched around with Kapil Dev, and helped take the total to 430, 223 short of England. He fell to Frazer, and Frazer quickly also issued a ticket to pavilion, to the debutante Sanjeev Sharma, not allowing him to score.

Kapil Dev at one end unbeaten with a fifty-two off 70 balls with 8 boundaries. With India needing 24 more to avoid the follow-on, and with a solitary wicket in hand, in came Shri Narendra Hirwani, who looked extremely apologetic with a bat in hand. He was to survive 5 remaining balls of Frazer’s over, which he miraculously did, and Kapil took strike to face Hemmings in the next over. He played out the first two deliveries and suddenly realized that there is only one batsman remaining with him, and he too is highly incompetent. The jaunty Jat decided to take matters in his own hands. The next remaining balls of Eddie Hemmings’ over were sent packing out of the ground, 24 runs were scored, India avoided the follow-on, and promptly, Hirwani got out on the first ball of the next over. India finished at 454, 199 short of England, and the talk of the town was not Gooch’s 333 or the centuries of Lamb and Smith, but the elegant and audacious 100 of Azhar, and the daredevil manner in which Kapil Dev ensured that England had to bat again in the match. England were clinically efficient in their second innings, Gooch adding 123 off 113 balls to his first innings 333, and Atherton scoring a patient 72. England declared at 272 for 4, setting India 472 to win. India folded up for 224, the middle order making 30s yet no one being able to convert their starts.

India had revived the tradition of losing their first test of the England tour, but not without putting up a fight. And a gallant fight it was. Azhar was not an outstanding captain, he was unimaginative, but there was no questioning his supreme abilities as a batsman. With Shastri and Vengsarkar in good form, Tendulkar looking promising, and Kapil Dev striking the ball sweetly, India hoped to make a comeback in the series. Their bowling though, was a major worry.

England nearly repeated their first innings performance in the first test by posting a mammoth 519, riding on the centuries from both the openers and Robin Smith. Atherton was dour, but Gooch and Smith batted as if they were using sledgehammers instead of the bat. Indian reply was a treat to the sore eyes of Indian fans, even if they didn’t get a good start. Quickly reduced to 57/3, the Indian ship seemed to be sinking yet again, but when the technically correct Sanjay Manjrekar was joined by the unorthodox Azharuddin, things suddenly started looking better.

With Sanjay Manjrekar solid as the rock of Gibraltar at one end, Azhar could bat freely, and he made the most of it. The pair added 189 gorgeous runs, and Manjrekar departed, missing his century by 7 runs. In walked the prodigal Bombay Bomber, Sachin Tendulkar. With all the reputation he was gathering, he surprised his fans right from the outset. He took over an hour to get off the mark. Then he settled in and scored a resolute, Half century. In the meantime, Azharuddin departed for a masterly 179. This innings of Azhar was full of lyrical stroke play and quicksilver footwork. He hit 21 boundaries and a six. Once Azhar departed with the score on 358, wickets fell regularly around Sachin Tendulkar and when Sachin was the last man out for 68, India were 87 runs short of England’s total.

In their second essay, England scored swiftly, and declared on 320/4, giving India a target of 408 to win. Atherton scored 74, Robin Smith 61, and Alan Lamb an efficient 109. Indian second innings had a stuttering start, with both the openers back in the hut before the score passed 40. Then, the Bombay duo of Manjrekar and Vengsarkar steadied the ship a bit and took the score to 109 and both of them departed. The captain left soon after, contributing only 11, and the responsibility of saving the match fell on the 17-year-old shoulders of Sachin Tendulkar. He was the last recognized batsman to walk in, allrounders Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar were not in a very good batting nick, and all the onus was on Tendulkar.

Kapil and Tendulkar added a further 56 runs, and Kapil fell with the score still 225 runs short of the England total. The pitch was breaking, and even the rotund Eddie Hemmings had started to look dangerous. But, Tendulkar was in a different mindset altogether. He didn’t scratch around like in the first innings, and attacked the bowlers, especially being severe on Eddie Hemmings. To add insult to the injury to his own bowling figures, Hemmings also floored a simple caught-and-bowled chance off Tendulkar. Maybe Sachin had got the luck he needed.

His first test century came by, and the tantalizing wait for his fans, who had backed him as the next Sunny Gavaskar was finally over. Sachin had come close to a hundred in Napier earlier in the year but was out 12 runs short of three figures then. Here, with a solid Manoj Prabhakar assuring him of not losing any further wickets, Tendulkar blossomed. He batted for three and three-quarters of hours and scored 119 punctuated with 17 sizzling boundaries. And he was there till the end with Manoj Prabhakar, steering India out of turbulent waters and bringing them ashore undefeated. The match was drawn, but a Genius had announced his arrival!

Having put up decent fights in the first and the second tests, despite being 0-1 down in the series, India were down, but not out. Their spirits weren’t damp. Azhar won the toss again, and without a second thought elected to bat. His batsmen responded admirably. Shastri made 187, Azhar himself made 78, Kiran More made 61, Prabhakar, Manjrekar, and Tendulkar all chipped in with useful 20s, And Vengsarkar made 33. Kapil Dev made a sedate century by his standards, scoring 110 off 142 balls. Even the rabbit Narendra Hirwani made 2 runs. India declared at 606/9, and for the first time in the series, England were under the pressure of a pile of runs.

Azhar’s bowlers too did a fine job, dismissing England for 340 in their first innings. Prabhakar, with 4 for 74 was the spearhead of the attack. Azhar promptly asked England to follow on, but the oval pitch had eased out. Gooch and Atherton put on 176 runs, scoring 80s, And batting at three, David Gower, who was playing for his place, played the grittiest innings of his life, making 157 resilient unbeaten runs. Allan Lamb and John Morris hung around with him, and England had made 477/4 by the end of the fifth day. The match was drawn and the rubber went to England 1-0. In the subsequent ODIs, India turned the tables defeating England 2-0. Azhar was not a great captain in the series, yet his side had not done badly too. Azhar remained the India captain for a long time after that. He led India to some spectacular victories, albeit in the subcontinent only and none overseas. Azhar would also come back to England in 1996 leading the Indian team.

As always, India lost the first test. Azhar won the toss, elected to bat and Indian batsmen proved him wrong. All got starts, but none were converted to substantial innings. India made 214, largely due to Srinath’s 52 and his 9th wicket partnership with Paras Mhambrey, who made 28 valiant runs. Dominic Cork and Left-hander Allan Mullaly didn’t allow the Indian batsmen to settle at all and claimed 4 and 3 wickets, respectively. England reply was moreover the same story, but Nasser Hussein made the difference capitalizing on his start and converting it to a class 128. England led by 99 runs. Both, Srinath and Prasad, claimed 4 wickets each.

In the Indian second innings, wickets kept falling regularly. Amidst all the ruins, one man, who so often has stood tall in the Indian innings for 24 long years did it again. Sachin Tendulkar scored a counterattacking 122 out of India’s 219. India set England a paltry 121 to win, which they made losing only two wickets. Captain Atherton made 53 and saw England cross the line. The captain failed in both innings, and his indifference against swing bowling was glaringly visible.

The second test at Lord’s was a southpaws’ match, so to say. Sanjay Manjrekar was replaced by Saurav Ganguly. Mike Atherton won the toss and England elected to bat, but the Indian pace spearhead Srinath and debutante Sourabh Ganguly reduced England quickly to 107 for 5, and England appeared likely to repeat the 1986 Lord’s performance. Thankfully for them, the doughty Graham Thorpe was around, and he was joined by the eccentric painter and England wicketkeeper Jack Russel. They added 136 to take the score to 243, and Thorpe departed, missing his century by 11 runs. Russel added a further 83 runs with the mercurial Bajan Chris Lewis, and Lewis departed with the score on 326.

The rest of the wickets could count for only 18 further runs, and England was all out for 344. Srinath took 3, Ganguly 2 and Venkatesh Prasad mopped up the tail, ending up with a fifer. Russel scored a workmanlike 124. India lost Vikram Rathore early, and the makeshift opener Nayan Mongia too didn’t last very long. The newcomer Ganguly had come in to bat at three and was joined by Sachin Tendulkar who was fast climbing the summit to Greatness. Both put on 64 runs, and just when Sachin seemed to be settling in, he departed for a scratchy 31. Captain Azhar and Ajay Jadeja too didn’t last long, and fellow debutant Rahul Dravid walked in to join Ganguly. They put on 94, and Ganguly departed for a gritty 131 on his debut. It has been very often said (and I fiercely disagree with it) that Ganguly was all grace and no grit, but the people who say this should remember that Ganguly had started his test match innings with one of his grittiest centuries.

It was laced with 20 exquisite hits to the boundary, mostly between the arc of backward point to Mid-Off. The God of the off side had marked his territory in his very first salvo. Dravid at the other end was as solid as the rock of Gibraltar, and showing maturity beyond his years, farmed the strike beautifully. He added 55 with Anil Kumble, another 37 with Srinath, and 31 with Paras Mhambrey before losing his concentration and getting out 5 short of a debut hundred. The last wicket also added 10 runs and India was all out for 429. In their second innings, England trudged their way to 278 for 9 in 121 over to ensure a draw. Alec Stewart made 61, and the rest of the batsmen occupied the crease for a long time and little runs. Anil Kumble bowled 51 very economical overs to take 3 wickets, yet again proving his ability to bowl unwavering line and length, and his superb stamina. This match was the swansong of the umpiring colossus Harold “Dickie” Bird. He was an immensely popular umpire worldwide, but more in India, where a whiskey was named after him by some brewer.

After the spectacular debut of Ganguly and Dravid in Lord’s, the Nottingham test was set up nicely. Winning the toss, Azhar chose to bat first and was immediately disillusioned, when both the openers were back in the hut with the score in the 30s. Then, for the first time in international cricket, a partnership which went on to rule the world came together. Sachin and Saurav added 255 sparkling runs. Ganguly made 136, studded with 17 fours and 2 sixes. Sachin was then joined by Mumbai team-mate Sanjay Manjrekar, and the pair put on 89, and Sachin got out making 177. When he departed with the score at 377, the captain walked in but departed scoring a mere 5 runs. Manjrekar and Dravid added 61 more, and at 446/6, Dravid was left to do the job, and added 75 runs with the tail. He yet again got close to a hundred but missed it by 16 runs.

England replied with 564. Atherton and Hussain made centuries, and Thorpe and Ealham chipped in with useful scores. Nasser (Poppadum fingers) Hussain batted bravely despite a fractured finger. Ganguly was again amongst wickets, claiming 3 for 71. In their second innings, India made 211. Tendulkar made 74, Ganguly 48 and Nayan Mongia 45. But there was so little time left in the match that it was called off after the Indian second innings ended.

These were the stories of the two series Azhar led India in England. Two very similar stories. A loss in the first test, India finding their bearings in the second and third test matches of the series, on both occasions second and third tests drawn and England winning the series 1-0. India has never performed well in the first test match in England, barring the Lord’s 1986 Test. The cause has always been the same. Lack of serious practice matches. In 1996 though, India had good 7 practice matches before the first test, but the counties chose to rest their better players and played second-string sides.

Acclimatization to the foreign conditions has always been the problem for touring Indian sides. As for Azhar, he was never a good captain. He was captain for a long time merely due to an absence of anyone worthier for the post. If he put any thought in captaining the Indian sides, remains a mystery. When asked what his strategy for the match would be, he would say the much ridiculed, “we have to bat well, bowl well, and field well” on most occasions. Fundamentally correct, yet very casual. Never outside the subcontinent, it has been seen that he has been aggressive as a captain or has tried to make things happen. As a batsman, he was one of the finest though. His dazzling performances of 1990 speak for him. He was an artist, made to lead because none other would qualify. But as a leader, he reminds us of Nero, who chose to keep playing the fiddle even when Rome was burning. The 1996 tour was the beginning of the end of Azharuddin, and what a phenomenal beginning the man had had, and what a tragic end… Perfect plot for a movie which was eventually made, albeit badly.

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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 10

As we inch closer towards the end of the series, we get to see names that are more popular to my generation. In Part 10 of the series- From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England, we are talking none other than the Haryana Hurricane, the most complete Cricketer India has produced – Kapil Dev Nikhanj. It was as though, nature had created this specimen with the sole objective of making a cricketer.

Kapil Dev
Kapil Dev in his stride

During his playing days, Kapil was only second to Sir Garry Sobers in terms of excelling in all the departments of the game. I am sure that many would vociferously counter my claim, but there are solid reasons behind it. Kapil did play in the same era as Imran Khan, Sir Ian Botham, and Sir Richard Hadlee.

Imran was by far the best batsman of the three. Bowling prowess was nearly equal with all the four, but Imran and Botham were clumsy fielders, were unfit to play a good number of test matches in succession. Hadlee’s batting performances were extremely sporadic in nature. Besides, Hadlee chose to miss series in the subcontinent a lot too, where his bowling would not have been as effective. But Kapil was always a free-flowing batsman, a wicket-taking bowler, and one of the best fielders the game has ever seen. And this was throughout his career.

The 1986 squad Kapil led to England was in an upbeat mindset. India had lost badly to England in the home series in 1984-85. They had bounced back and recovered well enough to win the Benson and Hedges World championship in 1985. In the 1984-85 series, India had discovered an artist who could match Gundappa Vishwanath stroke for stroke and had a voracious appetite for runs, in Md. Azharuddin.
Besides, the team had the colossal Sunil Gavaskar. Also had the ever-reliable Lord of Lord’s Dilip Vengsarkar, the man for the crises in Mohinder Amarnath, and the medium pace attack spearheaded by the captain himself, along with Roger Binny, Chetan Sharma, and Manoj Prabhakar. Ravi Shastri, Shivlal Yadav, and Maninder Singh could be entrusted the job of spin bowling.

India had broken the Lords Jinx strongly by winning the 1983 Prudential World cup, and the man in charge then was the man in charge now. And he didn’t have any notions of doing anything different this time around too.

In the first test at Lord’s Kapil won the toss and put England in. Gooch and Robinson made a solid start adding 66 runs for the first wicket, but the fall of Robinson’s wicket triggered a mini-collapse, and England were suddenly 98 for 4. At this juncture, Gooch found an able ally in Derek Pringle, and by the time Gooch fell making a fine 114, the two had taken the score to 245. Pringle too fell for 63 24 runs later, and the rest didn’t contribute much. England All-out for 294. Chetan Sharma (5 for 64 and Binny Sr. 3 for 55) were the destroyers in chief.

The Indian reply was wobbly to start with, Krish Shrikkanth fell when the score was 31, but the two senior pros, Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath held the fort and saw the day off taking the score to 83 without any further damages. Gavaskar fell early on the third day with his individual score on 34 and Jimmy Amarnath was joined by the Lord of the Lord’s, Dilip Vengsarkar.

At that point in time, Vengsarkar was the best batsman in the world, and at the top of the PWH rankings. And he did bat like the best. He had crucial partnerships of 71 apiece with Mohinder Amarnath and Azharuddin, and 49 with debutante Kiran More. He also had a last wicket partnership of 38 with Maninder Singh in which Maninder’s share was only 6 runs. Vengsarkar remained unbeaten on a superlative 126, and India had taken a smallish, but crucial lead of 47 runs.

England did an India of the past tours and was skittled for 180 in the second innings, Kapil taking four wickets and Maninder bagging a superb return of three wickets for only 9 runs. India had to get 134 to win, and there was ample time to get them. Yet they floundered, Gavaskar and Shrikkanth both falling when the score had just passed 30. Yet again Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath had to do the rescue act.

Vengsarkar made a crucial 33, and Amarnath 8 in one and a half hour, but more importantly not losing his wicket. But both departed in quick succession with the score on 76 and 78, and then it fell on young Shastri and Azhar to steady the ship with a patient partnership of 32 runs.

When Azhar departed with the score on 110, the captain walked in in a no-nonsense mood. He finished the match in a matter of ten balls, scoring 23 with 4 fours and a towering six over midwicket off Phil Edmunds to finish the match. At last, INDIA HAD WON A TEST MATCH AT LORDS.

More joy was to come.

With the star of the first test: Chetan Sharma unfit, India had to summon the services of the golden oldie Madan Lal, who was then playing in the Lancashire league. India won the toss, elected to bat first, and with all the batsmen getting starts and making small contributions in the fashion of the piggy bank of a middle-class family, amounted to 272. Vengsarkar top scored with 61.

England never settled in their first innings. They folded up for 102, Binny taking five wickets, and SOS help Madam Lal taking 3. Out of the English batsmen, only Bill Athey scratched around for two and a quarter hour to score 34.

India batted again, started in a complacent fashion, and promptly lost their first five wickets by the time they reached 70. Yet again, it fell on “Colonel” Vengsarkar to steer the company to a safe position. He batted with the tail, and took the Indian second innings score to 237, thereby securing a total lead of 407 runs. In the process, Vengsarkar had scored his second century on the tour, again unbeaten, 102. With a daunting target of 408 runs to win, England batting again tumbled like ninepins.

Maninder Singh took 4 for 26, and England innings folded up at 128, giving India their biggest win in England, a win by 279 runs! And of course, Their first series victory in England. Tide seemed to be turning now, and the Colonials had beaten the old masters in their own backyard.

The third test was a dead rubber, as the series had already been decided. England won the toss, batted first and made 390. Mike Gatting made a dandy 183, Gower and Pringle made useful 40s. India matched the England first innings score in their first innings and after the completion of the first two innings of the match, both the teams were literally even Stevens. All the Indian batsmen pulled their weights, with Amarnath top-scoring with 79 and Azhar making 64.

England made 235 in their second innings, setting India 236 to win in 78 overs remaining. For some godforsaken reason, they chose to bat slow and could score only 174 for the loss of 5 wickets. The match was drawn, but the series won. Deservingly, Dilip Vengsarkar was named the player of the Series. He certainly knew what to do with the champagne magnum he received as his prize! 😊

The effect Kapil had on this series was mind-boggling. No centuries, no five-fors, yet he would take the crucial one or two wickets, make vital 20s and 30s at crunch situations. With him showing complete confidence in close friend Vengsarkar, who could bat freely and score heavily (Avg. 90) in the series.

He also backed his bowlers well, and all of them responded with wickets and tight bowling spells. Kapil was a man who could infect the team with his vibrant vitality and immense energy to bring out the best in them. It was the hallmark of Kapil Dev. Having had to train himself on the docile Indian pitches, grounds devoid of grass, this big-hearted man didn’t give up. Instead, he always gave his best.

He played the game wholeheartedly, always stretching himself beyond limits, and inspiring his teammates to do the same. No wonder, he was as complete a captain as the cricketer he was. He may not have been a shrewd strategist, but the brave knight, for whom his army would move mountains to win. Kapil Dev is certainly an Icon of Indian cricket.

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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 9

And we move towards the 9th part of the series From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England, the days get ‘Sunny’. Sunil Gavaskar is the greatest opening batsman of all times. In 1982, he was the best batsman in Test Cricket. In 1981, playing under him, India had beaten Keith Fletcher’s England 1-0 in the home test series. On this high note, Sunil Gavaskar took the Indian team to England in the English summer of 1982. However, Gavaskar must not have been very happy with the side given to him. His trusted opening ally, Chetan Chauhan was mysteriously dropped by the selection committee like a hot potato, in spite of having performed admirably in the Australia- New Zealand tour of 1981.

Sunil Gavaskar in action
Sunil Gavaskar in action

Gavaskar was given Ghulam Parkar who had a questionable technique against quick bowling, and a young Pranab Roy, whose dad Pankaj had opened for India with reasonable success in the past. Rest of the batting line up was alright, and with the days of glory of the famous quartet of spinners over, the responsibility was on Dilip Doshi, Shivlal Yadav and young Ravi Shastri. Madan Lal and Randhir Singh were selected to assist India’s prime all-rounder Kapil Dev with the new ball. Syed Kirmani was the wicket-keeper. The England team too was fairly depleted; as Boycott, Gooch and a few other players had earlier chosen to go on a tour to South Africa, and were banned from representing England at that time.

For the choice as the captain, there was no disputing of Gavaskar’s claims. He was by far the best equipped batsman to succeed in England, with his impregnable defensive technique, an ice cool temperament and immense powers of concentration. Besides, Sunny was never shy of giving it back to the Englishmen, as he showed before the first test at Lords. Earlier, when England had toured India in 1981-82, captain Keith Fletcher had objected to the standing of a few Indian umpires in test matches, and Gavaskar returned the favor by objecting to the appointment of David Constant to officiate in the Lord’s test. The TCCB gave in and Constant was replaced by Barry Meyer. Yet it was the first test of an England tour, and Indians kept the tradition alive by losing it.

England batted first and scored 433. The erratic Derek Randall scored 126 and Botham and Phil Edmunds scored 60s. Kapil Dev was the pick of Indian bowlers, taking 5 for 125. The fact that he bowled 43 overs out of the innings’ 148 would underline the pressure he would have to bear in the series, and the ineptitude of the other bowlers. Indian batting fell apart and they were skittled for 128, conceding a 305 run lead to England. Gavaskar (48) and Kapil (41) were only substantial contributions. India had no answer to the English seam attack. Botham took five for 46. England asked India to follow on.

When India was keeping the tradition of losing the first test in England alive, Dilip Vengsarkar was starting a new personal tradition of scoring centuries at Lord’s. He bettered his performance in 1979, and scored 157 runs in an innings which exuded courage and beauty. Yet, India was still 53 runs in arrears and half their side had fallen when Vengsarkar got out. In walked Nikhanj Kapil Dev. In those days, he knew only one way to bat. And he did just what he did the best. He scored a whirlwind 89 in only 55 balls, hitting 13 fours and 3 sixes, and took India 66 runs ahead of England. England got the required 67 runs to win losing three wickets, all of them to Kapil Dev. Though India had lost the test, Kapil Dev was named the player of the match for his all-round display. As is the English tradition, he got a magnum of champagne as a prize. Wonder what the teetotaler Kapil Dev would have done with that. 😊

The second test at Manchester turned out to be a nothing test, as rain washed out a major chunk of play, and not even two innings could be completed. England, batting first made 425, with both their openers crawling to their respective half centuries, then Botham coming and hitting 128 brutal runs, and Geoff miller unlucky to miss his hundred by two runs. Dilip Doshi took 6 wickets, Madan Lal 3 and Ravi Shastri 1. When India started their innings, they were quickly reduced to 25 for 3 by Derek Pringle and Bob Willis, and a collapse looked in the offing. However, Veteran Vishwanath (54) and night -watchman Syed Kirmani (58) steadied the ship and took India to 112.

Yashpal Sharma fell cheaply, and Sandeep Patil and Kapil Dev added 96, Kapil scoring 65 off 78 again in his characteristic fashion. Madan Lal added another 97 with Sandeep Patil, and Patil remained not out on 129. It was a memorable century for Sandeep Patil, as he hit Bob Willis for 6 fours in an over during the course of that innings. The skipper failed to make a big score, and with the entire fifth day of the match washed out, the match ended in a draw.

The third and the final test was played at the Oval, where in the last tour Gavaskar had nearly won the match for India, singlehandedly. However, there was no single-handed display by the captain this time. England batted first and posted a mammoth 594. Geoff Cook made an even 50, Allan Lamb 107, and Derek Randall 95. But the star of the innings was Ian Botham. He scored 208 off only 226 deliveries, hitting 19 fours and 4 sixes. It was entirely Botham’s day. Such was his luck, that he removed India’s most prized batsman when he was batting. A blistering cover drive off Doshi’s bowling hit towards Gavaskar, who was fielding at silly point with brutal force shattered Sunny’s shin. Gavaskar couldn’t take any further part in the match. He had single-handedly pulled India out of trouble on this ground in 1979 but had to leave the same ground in 1982 limping on a single leg.

In Gavaskar’s absence, Shastri and Vengsarkar opened the innings for India and though Vengsarkar fell early, Shastri, Vishwanath, Sandeep Patil all made half centuries, and Kirmani a typically gritty 43. Kapil Dev made a fiery 97 off only 93 deliveries, hitting 14 fours and 2 sixes. India replied with a formidable 410 in the first innings, and England had to bat again. They made 191/3 in their second innings, with Tavare making 75, and Gower and Lamb a brace of 45s. India were given an improbable target of 376 in 36 overs. This time India opened with Ravi Shastri and Suru Nayak. India made 111/3, out of which Gundappa Vishwanath made a sparkling 75. The match was drawn, and the series was lost 1-0.

Much has been written about Gavaskar as a player, as a person and about his game. Me trying to write on it would result in a mere repetition.But I would still like to make an observation.

Gavaskar versus England, in England is a curious case. He had all the wherewithal to succeed in the English conditions, in terms of technique, concentration, reflexes, and temperament, yet he couldn’t match his own high standards while playing England in England. Albeit, he played what he himself rates as his finest Innings (57 at Manchester in 1971), and arguably what the critics call his best innings (221 a The Oval in 1979) came in England, he only made 1152 of his overall 10122 runs in England. His average in England is a good 10 runs lower than his overall average of 41.12. He has scored only 2 out of his 34 hundreds in England (5.88%) where he played 16 out of his 125 tests (12.5%). Much that I am a fan of Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, I must concede that he was a failure in English conditions.

However, this fact doesn’t devalue his contribution to the Indian Cricket, both in terms of runs, and psychology. In a country which lacked self-respect during Sunny’s playing days, it was he who exemplified standing tall against the opposition and giving it back to the opposition when the opposition cricketers used to dish out sledges and abuses to the meek Indian cricketers, both on and off the field. Till this pocket-sized rookie appeared in the West Indian tour of 1971-72, Indian batsmen had a world-wide reputation of being scared of fast bowling. By the time Gavaskar retired, tail-ender Shastri had become a regular opener, and even the likes of Shivlal Yadav and Madan Lal had developed courage to get behind the line of the ball when express bowlers were bowling. This might appear insignificant to the fans who have watched majority of their cricket in the new millennium. In today’s days of sledge-hammer sized bats and rules favoring batsmen, the fast bowlers look hapless more often than not. But back in the 70s and 80s, quick bowlers from West Indies, England, Australia and Pakistan invariably induced the fear of death in the minds of the batsmen then. There were no helmets then, use of chest guards and thigh guards was considered unmanly, and batsmen had to purely rely on their technique, reflexes and concentration for their own physical safety.

Gavaskar was never injured while batting. It was not that he was not capable of exhilarating stroke play. He has shown it in the 1983 Delhi test against the west Indian attack of Marshall, Holding, Roberts and Daniel, and again in the following Ahmedabad test, and again in the 1987 world cup match against New Zealand. But, for his entire career the Indian batting was hinged to him, and unless Vishwanath, Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath came up with their sporadic special performances, it was he who had had to hold the innings together. I dare say, that if he would have been allowed the luxury to bat more freely in his career, he would definitely have ended with 13,000 runs and 40 test centuries. But that was not to be, and Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was destined to carry the burden of Indian batting on his 5’5” frame for 12 of his 16 years in international cricket. And how admirably did he do it !

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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 8

Moving on to part 8 of the series- From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England, its turn of the next Indian Skippers In England.
Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan has had the longest active cricket career. He debuted for Tamilnadu (Then Madras, as the team was called then) at the age of 18 in 1963. He represented the country in 57 Tests from 1965 to 1983, was captain in five Tests and the first two World Cup competitions, a manager who doubled as a coach on the tours of Australia in 1985-86 and West Indies in 1989, was secretary of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association from 1986 to 1989, a national selector in 1991-92, a regular and respected columnist for newspapers and magazines for many years, expert commentator for television for innumerable Tests and one-day internationals, ICC match referee in the 90s, and ICC panel umpire from 1993 till 2004.

S. Venkataraghavan- Former Captain, Match Refree, Umpire.
S. Venkataraghavan- Former Captain, Match Refree, Umpire.

He was a very stingy off-spinner, miserly yet penetrative, could bat when the situation demanded, was a live-wire fielder even in his late 30s, and was an astute student of the game. Maybe his engineering education had imbibed a constant pursuit of perfection and precision in him, and he expected the same from his team-mates. This was good for a cricketer individually, but it made him a very grumpy and short-tempered captain. He was always the fittest player in the team, and as a captain, expected the entire team to match up to his very high fitness standards. The portly Prasanna, beer-loving Vishwanath, and the reluctant Vengsarkar were not exactly comfortable with this.

After the 1978 home series against West Indies, Sunil Gavaskar was mysteriously removed from Captaincy and Venkat was appointed the captain for the Prudential World cup 1979 and the subsequent test match series against England in England. Venkat had earlier captained India in the inaugural 1975 world cup too. Indian Performance in 1979 world cup was similar to that in the 1971 world cup. Disappointing. The Indian team just hadn’t matured to play one day cricket till then. In the test series that followed, India fared much better.

Of course, they started with the customary heavy-first-test-loss in Edgbaston. England scored 633 for 5, riding on two centuries of polarly opposite natures. Geoff Boycott’s 155 was painstaking for the batsman himself, and painful for the spectators to watch, and David Gower’s 200 not out was one of the most beautiful innings one could ever see, laced with 24 delightfully effortless 4s. A budding batsman called Graham Gooch made 83. All the five wickets to fall were taken by the 20-year-old Kapil Dev at the cost of 146 runs, and Ghavri, Venkatraghavan, and Chandrashekhar all ended up wicketless and conceding more than 100 runs. Barring Kapil Dev, the rest of the bowling attack was rendered impotent by the English wickets, and this sorry state of affairs prevailed for most of the series. Indian first innings was worth 297 (Gavaskar 61, Vishwanath 78), and England promptly imposed follow on. In their second essay, India could muster up 253, with only Gavaskar (68) Chauhan (56) and Vishwanath (51) resisting. India lost by an innings and 83 runs. Ian Botham took 5 for 70 and began a dream series for himself.

In the second test, the Lord’s wicket continued its angry spell on Indians. India were shot out for 96, and only Gavaskar (42) made a substantial score. Ian Botham took his second five-for (5/35). England made 419/9. Gower (82), Miller (62), Randall (57) and Bob Taylor (64) being the mainstays of batting. India was again staring at a huge Lords defeat, but the epic courageous display by the two most stylish Indian batsmen Vishwanath (112) and Vengsarkar (102) denied England the victory. These were the second and third hundreds scored at Lords by Indians after Vinoo Mankad had scored 184 27 years before. Gavaskar made 59. Gavaskar had made good scores in all the innings in the series so far, yet had failed to convert them into a big one. It might be an awesome display for an average player but was way below Sunny’s own lofty standards. He was the best opening batsman in the period and would deal in hundreds. However, the hundreds were just not coming. But it was a most honorable draw secured by Indians, nevertheless.

The third test began at Leeds, and Botham spanked a blistering 137 in 152 balls in England’s modest total of 270. India responded with 226 for 6 riding on Gavaskar’s one more non-hundred score of 78, Dilip Vengsarkar’s unbeaten 65 and Yashpal Sharma’s gritty 40. The match was very interestingly poised, and heavy rains washed out any possibility of further play.

India had to win at Oval in the fourth and final test to avoid losing the test series. Much was at stake. England elected to bat first and scored a respectable 305, Gooch and Peter Willey scored fifties. The captain, for once took 3 for 59, and Kapil Dev took 3. India, in reply, were all out for 202, only Vishwanath (62) and Yajurvendra Singh (43) offering resistance. India had conceded a lead of 103 runs in the must-win game. The probability of Indian victory now was next to nothing. England pounced on this and scored 334 more runs at the loss of eight wickets. Geoffery Boycott presented another insomniac’s delight by scoring 125 runs in 7 hours. David Bairstow (Jonny’s dad) scored 59. India was to score a small matter of 438 runs in four and a half sessions to win the match and square the series. What followed was an incredibly astonishing display of the greatness of one single man. Sunil Manohar Gavaskar.

India began their innings with an intention to bat out the four and a half sessions of the match to at least salvage a draw. That was the best they could do with their backs to the wall. By the end of the fourth day, India hadn’t lost a wicket and posted 76 on the board. Both Gavaskar (42) and his most trusted opening partner, Chetan Chauhan (32) off to a decent start. On the fifth and the final day, yours truly, an eight-year-old but fast succumbing to the beautiful addiction of cricket was following the commentary on radio BBC. To me then anything that Gavaskar did was divine and had to be imitated. The memory of listening to the commentary and with a bat in hand trying to essay the shots described is one of my most cherished memories.

Gavaskar and Chauhan stayed together till the scoreboard read 213, and Chauhan, sticking to his habit of missing out on 100s, got out on 80. Gavaskar was joined by Dilip Vengsarkar, and the two took the score to 366, 72 runs away from victory and Vengsarkar fell to Edmonds, scoring 52. Gavaskar was going strong at the other end. And here, Venkat made a tactical error which cost India the win, if not the match. He changed the batting order, suddenly sending Kapil Dev in the place of the in-form Vishwanath, who had top-scored in the first innings. Kapil Dev was immediately removed by Willey and had failed to score. Still no Vishwanath. Yashpal Sharma came in, and looked to hold on the other end, but consumed valuable time in scoring 19 of 47 minutes. In the meantime, Botham, Gavaskar’s closest friend, and fiercest foe was introduced in the attack, and as he warmed up, Gavaskar called for water. I feel this was a grave error Gavaskar made. His innings was always built on concentration, and the distraction of taking a drink in the innings at such a critical gesture proved fatal, and in Botham’s first over of the spell, Gavaskar on-drove a half-volley uppishly straight in the hands of David Gower at Mid-on. India 389-4.

Finally, Vishwanath walked in to replace his brother in law. He gave it his all, scored 15 off 13 balls, but fell to Willey. India 410-5. Yajurvendra Singh, the last of the recognized Indian batsmen, walked in and walked out, scoring a solitary run. The captain tried throwing his bat around but was run out for 6 made in 4 balls, India were tottering at 419 for 7. After 4 runs were scored, Yashpal, who was holding one end up fell trying to up the ante, and India were 423 for 8. All Ghavri and Bharat Reddy could then do was to play out the rest of the overs, ensuring that India doesn’t lose. Winning was out of the question; so close, yet so far. What would have been a heroic win and a feather in the cap of Venkat, turned out to be a disgrace for him. Venkat was unceremoniously removed from captaincy and replaced by Gavaskar. The pilot of the aircraft carrying the Indian team back to Bombay from England made this announcement in the plane. How inappropriate! But that’s the Indian Cricket fan-hood for you.

Yet Venkat wasn’t the one to easily give up. He persisted, made a comeback in 1982-83, played for that entire season, and retired from playing cricket, yet didn’t retire from cricket. His stints as an administrator, Match referee, and Umpire speak volumes about his commitment to the noble game. Venkat’s cricket credentials stretch over a period of 40 years ­. Has any other cricketer in the game anywhere in the world and at any time during the last 141 years of international cricket run up a resume even half as varied and impressive?

All this can be achieved only by a man who thinks deeply about the game, is passionate about it, and is able to analyze issues objectively. Venkat’s transition from player and captain to match referee and umpire was quite natural. As a player and then as captain, he was always interested in the cerebral aspects of the game, and he made a close and careful study of the laws. He was a sound leader not only tactically, but also technically. Indeed, in the days when he was captain, I frequently saw Venkat pull up the umpires on a point of law! With this background, his taking to full-time umpiring did not come as a surprise, but few would have expected him to emerge as one of the leading officials in the world.

But then, for Venkat, there are no half measures. His attitude has always been that anything worth doing is worth doing not just well but very well. Of course, the initial study of the laws and the interest in the technical aspects of the game did come in handy, but Venkat also brought the stamp of authority to a rather lackluster job. He had played the game at the highest level for many years and had led his country. No other umpire in the history of international cricket could boast of these credentials, leading players to respect Venkat’s decisions ­ something that today’s cricketers do not always do.

However, I haven’t seen any of the current cricketers caring to consult Venkat about anything. Strange. But our Cricketers are demigods. They need no Gurus.

But Venkat is still well and truly around, and accessible. It would only take the Indian cricketers to get rid of their IPL-inflated egos to reach out to this reservoir of immense cricketing knowledge and acumen. Hope the day arrives soon. Venkat is 73 now.

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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 7

We are back after a small break. From Mansoor Ali Khan (Tiger) Pataudi in From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 6, we move on to the next captain- Ajit Wadekar a god’s gift to Indian Cricket. Wadekar was the precious possession Indian cricket chucked away with its brash arrogance. Sad that his story is all but summed up in these two sentences.

The Indian Cricket team left for England in 1971 with the most upbeat mindset, as compared to the Indian teams that had toured United Kingdom previously. Fresh from a series win over Gary Sobers’ mighty West Indians (albeit against a depleted bowling attack), India had batsmen who could score big and bat long periods overseas in Gavaskar and Sardesai, the artistry of Vishwanath was at their disposal, and with a string of bits and pieces allrounders in Abid Ali and Solkar, quality spinners in Chandrashekhar, Bedi, Prasanna and Venkatraghavan, an express bowler Govindraj and a Farrokh Engineer who can be called an ancestor to dashing wicketkeeper batsmen like Kaluwitharana, Adam Gilchrist, Brendon Mc Cullum and our own Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Ajit Wadekar
Ajit Wadekar
Engineer, Bedi and Venkat had been playing county cricket regularly for 3 seasons from 1968, when the English board allowed overseas players to play for counties. More importantly, the squad never appeared to be complacent, because the English team had Boycott, Fletcher, Edrich, who were supreme batsmen, a world class all-rounder in Basil D’ Olivera, the world’s greatest wicketkeeper in the eccentric Alan Knott, who was no mean batsman, and a fierce bowling attack comprising of John Snow, Peter Lever, Norman Gifford, Dereck Underwood, and the captain Raymond Illingworth, a shrewd bowler, useful batsman, and the best cricket brain in business. It was going to be a closely fought series, and so it turned out to beThe background of Wadekar’s appointment is curious too. He was a moderately successful batsman before the 1971 tour of the West Indies with many other players in the team faring better than him, yet Vijay Merchant, the Chairman of the Selection Committee had vetoed his name in place of the charismatic MAK Pataudi. It was a bold decision and Merchant was criticized of favoring the fellow Bombayite Ajit Wadekar. However, the uproar had died down after the team recorded India’s first series victory in the West Indies. The unassuming “khadoos” attitude of Wadekar was needed to marshal the resources the team had, and Wadekar showed that he fit the job like a hand in the glove.

Wadekar grew up in the Mumbai maidans where even tennis ball cricket is played with only one motive. To win. He was aspiring to be an engineer, and a chance meeting in a BEST bus with Baloo Gupte made him into a cricketer. A languid graceful left-handed stroke-maker, Wadekar could stonewall equally effectively. He was a part of the Mumbai Squad who won the Ranji trophy 15 times on the trot from 1958 to 1971. He had played a pivotal role in India’s first overseas test win against New Zealand scoring 80 and 71 in the test. He captained India to their first overseas series win. Wadekar certainly knew how to win.

Out of the first eight matches against the county teams, India had won 5 out of which four were successive wins. The Morale was certainly puffed up, and the England team felt the heat in the first test at Lords. England’s first essay counted for 304 runs, the top scorer strangely, being their premier bowler John Snow (73). Bedi was the pick of the bowlers with four wickets. India fared only slightly better, mustering up 313 in their first Innings. The captain top-scored with 85, Vishwanath made a sparkling 68 and Solkar a dogged 67. England fared even worse in the second innings, and on a deteriorating pitch, they crumbled to 191 against Bedi, Venkat and Chandra. Only Edrich batted well for 62.

India were to chase 183 to win, which could have been their first test match win at the Lords. But the occasion had to wait for another fifteen years. Apart from a fighting 53 by the prodigal Sunil Gavaskar, there was no substantial resistance shown, and in the end Solkar and Venkatraghavan had to hang on by the skin of their teeth to ensure that the match was not lost. Rain came to the rescue too. When we think of this innings, it is a case of “what might have been…” Both Solkar and Venkatraghavan were no mugs with the bat and who knows, they might as well have scored the required 38 runs for the win. But the elusive win had to wait for a few more days. This was the first occasion where India had not lost the first test of a series in England against England.

But any pretense of complacency which might have creeped in due to the performance at Lords was quickly wiped out in the second test at Manchester. England were rocked by Abid Ali’s opening spell and stuttered at 4 for 25 yet posted 386 in the first innings riding on a captain’s knock of107 by Ray Illingworth and 78 by debutante John Jameson. With the Manchester pitch and weather known to have mood swings comparable to any self-obsessed film star, this was a mammoth total. India could make only 212 in reply and suffered a deficit of 174 runs. Gavaskar scored 57, which the little master himself rates as his best knock. Solkar made 50. No other batsman resisted the English attack. Peter Lever on his home ground broke the backbone of the Indian batting taking 5 wickets. In the second innings England rattled 245 for 3, Lackhurst making 101 and John Edrich 59. India were given a target of 420 runs to win. India batted for 27 overs scoring 65 for the loss of 3 wickets on the fourth day. The fifth day was washed out, and the match ended in a draw.

With two tests played in the series and each of the team having dominated one, Wadekar now started feeling the pressure of the over-expectant Indian public. His decisions of not including seamer Govindraj and Erapalli Prasanna (Whom Gary Sobers had rated to be the best off-spinner in the game) in the playing eleven was criticised. Wadekar had opted for Abid Ali owing to his ability to swing the cricket ball, and the portly Prasanna’s claims were outweighed by Venkat being better with the bat, a much fit and agile fielder and familiar with the English conditions.

Wadekar and India had much to prove in the final test at the Oval.The team had to utilize their vast reservoirs of resilience and be aggressive when the opportunity would present itself to grab it. And they did just that. Illingworth won the toss, England batted first and scored 355. Knott made 90, Jameson made 82, and Richard Hutton, justifying being the son of papa Len, made 81. Solkar’s medium pace brought 3 wickets and the rest were shared by Chandra, Bedi and Venkat. India replied with 284, Wadekar and Solkar making useful forties, and Sardesai and Engineer making 50s. India trailed by 71 runs.

England begin their second innings, and Jameson was run out with a freak throw from Chandra when the score was at 21. Wadekar called in Chandra to bowl. The medium pace of Abid and Solkar was largely proving ineffective, yet the ball was new, and hence Wadekar may have preferred Chandra’s fastish leg breaks (like Anil Kumble’s) over the finger spin of Bedi and Venkat. Chandra immediately obliged by castling the stumps of John Edrich and having Fletcher caught by Solkar, both not allowed to score. The wickets of D’Olivera, Knott, Hutton and Illingworth fell around Lackhurst, and eventually he too fell to Chandra scoring 33. Hutton and Snow threw their bats around and England barely managed to get to three figures, folding up for 101. Chandra’s 6 for 38 would be written in letters of gold in the history of Indian cricket, Venkat took two wickets, and Bedi had one.

India needed 173 to win. Doable, yet easier said than done. The ruthless professional Englishmen won’t give up easily. Snow bowled Gavaskar for a duck and fellow opener Mankad’s wicket followed quickly. Then the two Senior Pros, the “khadoosest” of Mumbai batsmen Sardesai and Captain Wadekar got together and took the score to 76, when Wadakar was run out for 45.

Jitters !!!

Then came the tiny Vishwanath to join the Burly Sardesai (Rajdeep’s papa) and the two added another 48 runs before Sardesai fell with the score at 124. India yet had to get 49 more, but Eknath Solkar, who had inevitably scored useful runs when the batting seemed wobbling on the tour, chose the most wrong moment to fail. He scratched around for 16 balls, scored a solitary run and was snared in the standard Underwood’s trap. Caught and bowled Underwood. In walked the Brylcream boy of Indian cricket, the debonair Farrokh Engineer. Along with Vishwanath, he took the score within 3 runs of victory, and Vishy fell for 33. In came Abid Ali, played 3 balls watchfully, smashed the fourth one for four, and won India the match and the series.
Wadekar’s Indians had tamed the English lions right in their den. Things were changing. Having beaten the West Indies and England, the best teams of the time in two successive series, Wadekar had turned the often written off Indian Cricket team to a fighting unit. A famous Victory bat was erected in Indore by fans to commemorate this victory. Wadekar was to repeat the feat in the following home series in 1972-3, when India beat England 2-1 in a five-match series.

With these two series wins under his belt, Wadekar again led the Indian team to England in 1974. However, things would be much different this time around. In order to accommodate two series in the season, against Pakistan and India, the English season was extended to August and India was to play it’s matches in one of the coldest and wettest English summer. Hardly cricketing conditions, yet the Englishmen were more adept at playing in these conditions. Old Pro Dilip Sardesai had retired. Wadekar had requested Tiger Pataudi to play, but he had declined.

England too were far from merry. They had been drubbed the previous summer by a resurgent West Indies and then outplayed in a return series in the Caribbean, from which they had emerged with an unlikely draw. What’s more, Mike Denness, appointed as England captain for that tour, was a far from unanimous choice and he had been under immense media pressure from day one.

The old custom of India losing first test on an England tour was restored as India lost to England by 113 runs. England batted first, made 328 for 9 (Fletcher 128) and declared their innings closed. In reply, India made 246, Gavaskar scoring a flawless 101 and Abid Ali made 71. England extended their 82 runs lead by a further 213 batting again( John Edrich 100), setting India 296 to win. Indian second innings was thrown into a disarray by England’s pace bowlers and they were all out for 182. Gavaskar made 58 and Vishwanath made 50, but it wasn’t enough.

Riding high, England scored 629 in the first innings of the second test at Lords. Dennis Amiss made 188, Captain Mike Denness made 118, Tony Greig 106 and John Edrich made 96. With Bedi tossing up the ball in a “no matter what” fashion, the English batsmen made merry. Bedi returned with 6 wickets, conceding a small matter of 226 runs. India replied with 302, Engineer making a swashbuckling 86, Vishwanath 52, and Gavaskar and Solkar getting useful 40s. India were asked to follow on and they followed on disastrously. They were shot out for 42 in 17 overs. Solkar (18 not out) was the top scorer. Wickets were shared by Chris Old (5) and Geoff Arnold (4). Bhagwat Chandrashekhar had injured his thumb and did not come in to bat in the second dig. Not that it would have made much of a difference.

Indian cricket had hit a new low. The summer of 1974 came to be known as the Summer of 42, a blot on the name of Indian Cricket. The team morale was shattered, and so was the unity. Defeats are orphans, Success has many fathers. The very people who had heaped praise on Wadekar, were now calling for his head. The Victory bat erected in Indore in 1971 was painted black and subsequently destroyed by angry fans. Wadekar was lonely. The footmarks of the earlier victories seemed to be washing away by waves of disaster. But he had to stand.

Off the field there was a lack of unity. The squad became involved in a public row when they were told they would not be admitted for arriving late at an Indian High Commission reception. Opener Sudhir Naik was arrested for shoplifting. The charge was then proved to be wrong. The team was in shambles, both on and off the field.

India began the third test at Birmingham on this background. They were put in to bat, and on the first ball of the match Gavaskar was removed by Geoff Arnold. India somehow tottered to 5 for 115, then Farrokh Engineer took over, scored 64 not out and India made 165 in the first innings. England replied with 459 for 2. Amiss made 79, Mike Denness helped himself to yet another 100, Fletcher made 51, and David (Bumble) Lloyd made 214. Bedi took 1 for 152 and Prasanna 1 for 101. India made 216 in the second innings. Sudhir Naik, putting the earlier humiliating incident behind him scored a valiant 77. Ashok Mankad made 43 and Engineer 33. India lost by an innings and 78 runs and took the series 3-0. The final nail was hammered into Wadekar’s coffin.

Wadekar was voraciously criticized by the Indian media, and promptly dumped by the selection committee headed by C D Gopinath. The most victorious captain of the Indian cricket team had no place in the Duleep and Irani trophy by the end of the season. The hurt Wadekar announced his retirement from all forms of cricket. He concentrated on his banking career and retired as a very high ranked officer from State bank of India. But he returned to his first love post retirement, and went on to coach the Indian team, and tried to instill discipline in the team successfully.

Despite the tragic end to his playing days, Wadekar will always be remembered as the Captain who taught Indian cricket team to win.

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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 6

In the latest part- From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 6, our story moves on to Mansoor Ali Khan (Tiger) Pataudi (The 9th Nawab of Pataudi)
After the 1959 debacle, India set out to play in England in 1967 and were granted only a 3-test series. Another prince was appointed to lead India, but this time none of his cricketing credentials were questioned. He had actually lived a heroic life even till then and had come up on the top. Like his father, he went to England for his education, earned the coveted Oxford Blue, broke all the batting records there (Including Jardine’s record of most runs scored for the University in a season which had lasted for 50 years, – A sweet revenge on the man who cut his father’s England career short when papa Pataudi Sr. was probably in the form of his life), made a name for himself with extremely attractive batting, lost an eye, yet made a come-back, debuted in tests for India one eyed, scored a fifty and a hundred in the first series, and in the next series, when Nari Contractor was appointed as the Indian Captain after a near-fatal injury was inflicted on Contractor by Charlie Griffith. And the rest as they say, “is history.”

From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 6
Mansoor Ali Khan (Tiger) Pataudi (The 9th Nawab of Pataudi)
Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi was only 26 in 1966-7 tour of England. There were all- rounders like Chandu Borde, and Rusi Surti, who had proven their mettle in the international arena, quality batsmen like Ajit Wadekar, Hanumant Singh (Who incidentally was a prince too- Of Banswara), Farrokh Engineer who was a great wicket-keeper too and three prodigal spinners in Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrashekhar and Erapalli Prasanna. The team was not a very strong one yet was not a bad team.

As in the first five tours, India lost the first test. But this six-wicket loss was not a display of ineptitude as were the first tests in the previous five tests. England piled up 550 in the first innings. Boycott scored an unbeaten 246 (& was dropped in the next test for selfish batting), Basil D’ Olivera scored a handsome 109, Barrington missed his hundred by 7 runs and Graveney scored 59. Indian bowling in this innings was dismal.

India replied with 164 in the first innings, Engineer making 42 and the captain 64, and were promptly asked to follow on. With 386 runs in arrears in their second essay, India lost make-shift opener Surti at the score of 5. Then the Bombay duo of Engineer and Wadekar put on 168 runs and India looked in a healthy position at 173 for 1. India then lost 3 quick wickets in the space of 53 runs and Hanumant Singh walked in to join his captain. The two put on 134 runs (which Steven Lynch certifies as the highest partnership in test cricket between 2 princes 😊). India avoided innings defeat and Tiger had made an assertive statement with his nonchalantly elegant batting. Here are a few glimpses of his innings.
Tiger rates this as the best innings of his life. England were set to get 125 to win and eventually got there losing four wickets.

The next test was at Lords, and the Indian agony at Lords continued. India made 152 in the first innings and Wadekar (57) was the only batsman to show some fight. England made 386, riding on a stylist 151 by a forty-year old Tom Graveney and 97 by Ken Barrington. Indian wickets in the second innings too fell in a heap, and India lost by an Innings. Tiger scored a brace of 5s in the match. Budhi Kunderan made 47 in the second innings. The series was lost.

England were relentless though. The third test was a dead rubber and England were tested, They made 298 in their first innings. John Murray made 77. India played four spinners and all of them shared wickets pretty much evenly. India replied with a Sorry 92, none of the batsmen making any contribution. England made 203 in the second innings and India were again set a huge target of 410 to win. They could make 277. Wadekar made 70 and Pataudi 47. India were whitewashed 3-0 in the series.

Yet, it was Tiger Pataudi who instilled self-belief in the Indian Cricketers. Instead of cribbing about India’s depleting fast bowling resources, he focussed on spin, and it was during his tenure that the great Indian Spinning Quartet became India’s most potent bowling force. He also made sure that his players rise beyond their regionalities and differences when they represented the nation.

Bishan Bedi once said, “He was our first captain who introduced a sense of Indianness in the dressing room. He’d say: ‘Look, we’re Indians first. We’re not playing for Karnataka or Delhi or Mumbai or Madras. We’re playing for India'”

And he was also the one with his feet always on the ground. He wore his royalty, fame and when he was stripped of these, he never cribbed. On the contrary, he was more comfortable without these. As a player, he was never shy of aggression and with his dry and occasionally wicked wit, Tiger Pataudi was one of the best conversationalists, in spite of being a man of few words.

Limelight was not new to him. His dad was a prince and a famous international cricketer, he married one of the most sought-after actresses of Bollywood, his son, daughters and daughter in law have been successful actors, and yet he maintained the dignity in his public life with a calm aloofness and a dry and honest wit. Tiger Pataudi was the first Indian Cricketer to overthrow the awe of the British from the minds of Indian cricketers.To conclude, I share this anecdote of his which pretty much sums up the kind of person he was.

Tiger had scored his maiden century against England in the 1961-2 series. He was keenly followed by the English right from his schooldays and they were pretty sad when he had lost his eye. The British press was wonderstruck with his comeback in tests, and he was asked, “When did you feel that you can make a comeback and play international cricket?”

“When I saw the English Bowling.” Pat came the reply.

Hope you liked- From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 6.Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com