Wednesday, 2 July 2014

1986: England v India First Test

Cricket, like most sports, has a few examples of history repeating itself. Just ask Peter Moores. In 2007 Moores took charge of an England side that had lost 5-0 in Australia, and then suffered a series defeat at home to an Asian team after previously having that country nine wickets down at Lord's in an agonising draw (I'm ignoring the West Indian series for the purposes of my comparison). Sounds slightly familiar doesn't it?

Want another example? No? Well you're going to get one regardless. In 1985, a 28-year-old left-handed batsman led England to a home Ashes series win (after winning away in India) and all seemed rosy in the English garden. But then followed a demoralising 5-0 reverse in a series overseas, which snowballed into a home series defeat against an Asian team that they were expected to beat. Alastair Cook may think things are tough at the moment, but at least he has managed to cling on to his job. In 1986, David Gower was not so lucky.

The pressure Gower was under after England's Caribbean nightmare was plain for all to see, a situation hardly improved when the Chairman of Selectors Peter May announced at the start of the summer that the England captain would effectively be on trial for the two one-day internationals against India and the first Test at Lord's. Surely after two years and 25 Tests in charge here was a case of either back him or sack him, the press and Gower both sharing the belief that nothing could really be gained by the decision taken by May and his fellow selectors Alan Smith, Phil Sharpe and Fred Titmus.

Gower decided that humour was the way forward, getting thirteen t-shirts printed before the Texaco Trophy one-day series, one with "I'm in Charge" emblazoned on the front, the other twelve with "I'm not" on them. Following English cricket was no laughing matter at the time though, the disastrous winter and Gower's captaincy struggles soon to be dwarfed by the cannabis cloud of smoke looming on the horizon.

At least the actions of Ian Botham took Gower's name out of the firing line temporarily. After exclusively revealing in a Mail on Sunday article that he had smoked pot, Botham's and England's summer was about to get off to a rocky start before it had even begun. Hauled up in front of a TCCB disciplinary panel, Botham faced four charges: smoking cannabis, writing a newspaper article admitting to smoking cannabis, admitting this after he had previously denied it, and writing a newspaper article without the permission of his county Somerset.

Many predicted a year ban. Ray Illingworth, not Botham's greatest fan, wanted a two-year suspension. Some even wondered if Botham's Test career would be cut short for good with the all-rounder just one short of Dennis Lillee's Test wicket record. In the end, Botham was given a two-month ban until August 1, meaning that he could be available for the final two Tests of the summer against New Zealand, a mere slap on the wrist according to the likes of Sir Len Hutton. However, Gower was now without the services of his mulleted superstar, and even if Beefy had performed poorly in the Caribbean (like most), an England team without Botham was considerably poorer.

Although these things are all relative, not everything in the Indian setup was running smoothly. Amidst talks of growing tensions between captain Kapil Dev and his predecessor Sunil Gavaskar, the team was struggling in the Test arena, winning only four matches out of the 52 that they had played in the decade, and without an away win since February 1981. Gower may have had a shaky captaincy record (W5 D7 L13) but Dev was still looking for his first win in his 21st Test in charge (admittedly he had only lost six matches in that time, but he was still winless as India's Test captain).

India's strength was undoubtedly their batting. As well as Gavaskar (playing Tests in England for the final time), India's top six contained varied talents in Kris Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar (who had already scored two Test hundreds at Lord's), Mohammad Azharuddin (three hundreds in his first three Tests against England in 1984/85), and Ravi Shastri.

Dev provided the all-round quality, and he would be supported in the bowling attack by Roger Binny, the promising 20-year-old Chetan Sharma, slow left-armer Maninder Singh, as well as Amarnath and Shastri. Kiran More would make his debut behind the stumps, and enjoy a better match than in 1990, when he dropped Graham Gooch on 36, as the Englishman cashed in and made his famous 333.

India's standing in the one day game was not in question though, and this showed in the first match of the two game Texaco Trophy series at The Oval. The 1983 World Cup and 1985 World Championship winners easily brushed England aside, the home team only managing 162 in their 55 overs. Gower did not help his cause, flicking a ball nonchalantly to mid-on for a golden duck, and annoying some onlookers by standing in the outfield with his hands in his pockets. The second match would be much more enjoyable though.

Gower's fine 81 helped England chase down India's 254/6, and although the visitors took the Texaco Trophy on a faster scoring rate, at least Gower and England had reasons to be cheerful. The man who got England across the line was Derek Pringle, his unbeaten 49 temporarily easing the burden on his shoulders of being viewed as Botham's direct replacement. Filling Botham's shoes was not an easy task, however, as English cricket would discover in subsequent years.

Despite calls for widespread changes, England's selectors shocked many by sticking with eight of the eleven who had lost the fifth Test in Antigua two months before. The luckiest player seemed to be Tim Robinson, who had suffered the most at the hands of the West Indian pace attack, scoring just 72 runs at an average of 9.

Robinson's place looked likely to go to Wilf Slack, who had shared a century stand with Gooch in Antigua, but an untimely injury before the ODIs and Robinson's fine record in England went against him. With Allan Lamb, Richard Ellison and Paul Downton also fortunate to be given another go, John Woodcock's assertion that "it may be no easy matter getting into the England side, but just try getting out of it" seemed spot-on.

Quite why England chose to go into the Lord's Test with just five specialist batsmen is baffling. Surely a team of such brittle confidence needed the reassurance of six batsmen, but no, the powers that be decided in their infinite wisdom that this was the way to go. On winning the toss, Dev opted to test England's mettle, inserting them on a slow, green wicket. At first all looked hunky-dory, with Gooch and Robinson putting on 66 for the first wicket, and going in at lunch on 81/1, England had definitely taken the honours in the morning session. But things would take a turn for the worse after lunch, as England gave us a reminder of what they were capable of.

Soon 92/1 became 98/4, as Sharma ripped out the middle order of Gower, Lamb and Gatting, leaving the Essex pair of Gooch and Pringle to perform a rescue act. This they did, albeit in a painstaking fashion that no doubt had fans yearning for Botham. Gooch, who had become the proud father of twins just two days before the Test, took 165 balls and 213 minutes over his first fifty, before upping the tempo and taking just 90 more balls to reach his ton. He was out five minutes before the close of play, his sixth Test century helping to put on 147 for the fifth wicket with Pringle (51 not out), and leaving England on a slightly more comfortable looking 245/5 overnight.

Anyone with a ticket for the second day must have struggled to get through it awake. I adore Test cricket, but hand on heart, I am not sure how I would cope with a day that saw 132 runs scored in 83 overs. England took 32 overs to add just 49 to their total - Pringle taking 70 balls to score 12 runs - with Sharma the pick of the bowlers, ending with figures of 5/64, assisted by Binny (3/55), as England were dismissed for 294. Apart from Srikkanth, India then did very little to increase the entertainment, plodding to 83/1 from 51 overs.

It was little wonder that a banner appeared pleading for the TCCB to "Bring Back Botham". Pat Gibson, writing in the Daily Express, stated "It was surely the dreariest day of Test cricket ever seen at Headquarters". The Daily Mirror's Paul Weaver wondered if the 15,000 spectators present "must have felt they were witnessing an obscure piece of go slow industrial action". And Marcus Berkmann, who was unlucky enough to attend that day, wrote in Rain Men: "It was punishingly boring....Pringle was unquestionably the instrument of God's vengeance, sent to torture us into eating our sandwiches long before lunchtime".

For a long time it did look as if the match would inevitably crawl along at the same rate, a draw the obvious conclusion of two teams playing cautiously and a little nervously (especially in England's case). Saturday was at least a bit more enjoyable for spectators, with India batting in a determined fashion in order to attempt to gain a first innings lead. Amarnath scored 69, with Gavaskar (34) and Azharuddin (33) providing useful runs, but it was Vengsarkar who stole the show. His unbeaten 126 was his third Test century at Lord's, the first overseas player to achieve this feat, and he joined an illustrious list containing Hobbs, Hutton, Compton, Boycott and Edrich, as someone who had scored three or more Test tons at HQ.

Both teams could point to periods of play in which they held the position of power. India reached 232/3 before Azharuddin got slightly carried away and his dismissal precipitated a collapse to 264/8. At this stage, England had hopes of gaining a first innings advantage, but a cameo from More of 25 from 31 balls, and a resolute 59-ball knock from number 11 Singh, helped Vengsarkar add a priceless 77-runs for the last two wickets. Neither side looked equipped enough to seize the initiative though, and as England closed on 8/0, the draw still looked odds-on.

And then came the decisive day. The kind of day that we became sadly accustomed to during the 80s. Before England had even managed to overturn the first innings deficit of 47, Dev had seen off Robinson, Gooch and Gower, and although Gatting and Lamb repaired the damage with a 73-run stand, the bold decision to have Pringle coming in at six, was now looking a bit unwise.

Downton and Ellison reduced the embarrassment a little by putting on 43 for the seventh wicket, yet England's total of 180 in 96.4 overs was pitiful. Dev's 4/52 and Singh's 3/9 meant that India would only need a total of 134 come the final day, as an England team that might have held a vague hope of declaring on the final day had the decision taken out of their hands. Gibson, amongst many, was not impressed. "England's batsmen have an uncanny knack of turning seemingly blameless pitches into veritable minefields". Gower's head was firmly in the noose.

Play may have been delayed 20 minutes, and rain predicted to disrupt proceedings, but there was enough time for India to wrap up a five-wicket victory on the Tuesday. England's chances were slim, and they were not aided when Graham Dilley's hamstring prevented him from bowling (after he had taken 2/28) and a back injury meant John Emburey could not bowl at all. India suffered a few wobbles on the way - reduced to 78/4 and 110/5 - yet Dev hit Edmonds for three fours and a six to seal India's first Test win at Lord's, and only their second ever win in England.

And so to the predictable sacking that followed, and the appointment of Gatting. Unsurprisingly it was not handled in the most appropriate manner, Gatting apparently offered Gower's job by Peter May before Gower had even been told himself. For Gower, it completed a horrible few months, and a painful match. As well as losing the captaincy, Gower had collided with the Lord's boundary wall during the Test, and was on painkilling injections.

May was fairly tight-lipped about the situation, only declaring that "We felt it was time for a change and what happened today played a part". The press were refreshingly sympathetic towards the position Gower had found himself in, but less so when it came to defending his style of captaincy. "The simple reason is that he (Gower) will never be a particularly good captain," wrote Weaver, before putting another boot in by pointing out "It had become clear that Gower has lacked both a tactical insight and the ability to motivate players in adversity".

Perhaps the most damning verdict came from Illingworth: "He has been too content to sit back and wait for things to happen. That's no good. Captains should make things happen". Shades of the criticisms levelled at Cook in the modern era. Whether the analysis of Gower as a leader was fair or not, it could not be disputed that the team's confidence was at the lowest ebb imaginable, and the greatest skipper in the world would have struggled to get a tune out of that side.

Gower displayed a mixture of emotions after his sacking. Sadness that it had ended in the way it did, but almost a sense of relief that someone else could now take the flak. There was still a bit of time for fun, as Gower threw the "I'm in charge" t-shirt towards Gatting and posed in front of the cameras with him. Gatting, who had only been appointed for two Tests (such confidence) now had the unenviable task of trying to revive a team that had lost six Tests in a row. However, as the 1986 entry in my blog on England's 1980s batting collapses proves, there was worse still to come.

None of this was a concern to India though. "We believe in ourselves now and can win the series," stated a bullish Dev, and with justification. Dev had finally won a Test as captain in his 21st Test in charge, and the next would not be long in coming. India's eventual 2-0 series win was their first outside of Asia since 1971, and would be celebrated wildly in England and India. English cricket may have been in the doldrums, but in 1986 India were to enjoy a fine English summer.

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