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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 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.

Hope you liked- From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 10. Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com

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 !

Hope you liked- From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 9.Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com

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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