Friday, 28 October 2016

1984/85: England in India

This piece is a shortened version of my previous blogs on England's tour to India in 1984/85, which can be found here and here.

Selection headaches

England's 1984-85 tour of India was never going to be easy. Thrashed 5-0 at home by the West Indies in the summer of 84, and unable to defeat the Sri Lankans in a supposedly easy one-off Test at Lord's, confidence was understandably low as the plane departed for Asia. A plane that did not contain Ian Botham (opted out) and Graham Gooch and John Emburey (South African rebel tour bans). Without these key players, and with a struggling skipper at the helm - David Gower had a W0 D3 L6 record as captain - expectations were unsurprisingly low for England's hopes in the subcontinent.

Botham's spot in the line-up had been earmarked for Kent all-rounder Chris Cowdrey. After a productive county summer of 951 runs for Kent, Gower had backed the case for his close friend in the selection meeting, though as many found out in subsequent years, Ian Terrence Botham was a hard act to follow.

The batting line-up had some question marks hanging over it: opener Graeme Fowler was averaging a touch under 30 in his 16 Tests, although encouragingly he had played well in Pakistan earlier in the year; Tim Robinson, like Cowdrey, would be making his Test debut; Allan Lamb had enjoyed a successful home series against the West Indians, but had scored just 78 runs in five innings on his previous subcontinental tour to Pakistan; Mike Gatting was still trying to establish himself at Test level; and Gower had the captaincy burden to contend with.

The bowling would be heavily reliant on the experienced spinners Pat Pocock and Phil Edmonds, and an inexperienced pace attack, including Norman Cowans, who had struggled to live up to his early promise, Richard Ellison, playing in only his third Test, and Neil Foster.

Indian troubles

If England were a side on the decline - 12 Tests without a win since August 1983 - then India were not exactly flourishing either. In fact, the last time they had experienced the joy of winning a Test match was way back in November 1981, against England in Mumbai, a run of 31 matches without a win.

They still had their superstars, however; captain Sunil Gavaskar was the leading run scorer in Test cricket with a whopping average of 52.23; Kapil Dev was averaging slightly more with the bat (29.47) than the ball (28.10), a key indicator of a class all-rounder in any era; Mohinder Amarnath and Dilip Vengsarkar provided the batting with experience and runs aplenty.

The bowling looked a little weaker on paper. Medium pacer Chetan Sharma had only two Test caps, leg-spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan only one. Off-spinner Shivlal Yadav was averaging 38.70 with the ball and had one five-wicket haul to his name in his 19 Tests prior to the England tour.

Assassination and devastation

Competing in India would be difficult enough, yet England had to cope with a number of issues off the cricket square during the tour. As the touring party landed in India, the country was enveloped in political and religious upheaval on an unimaginable scale. On October 31, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her own Sikh bodyguards and within hours the country was thrown into turmoil.

Hindus throughout India sought revenge on Sikhs, who were blamed fully for the assassination, leading to thousands of deaths in anti-Sikh riots in the days following Gandhi's death. England's tour was inevitably cast into doubt, with the Daily Express reporting on November 2 that the tour was close to collapse, as all matches scheduled during the 12-day mourning period were postponed. The secretary of the Test and County Cricket Board, Donald Carr, and tour manager Tony Brown got to work, in an attempt to save the tour, get England some practice matches, and appease the players, who were naturally anxious about their own safety.

After a tense 48 hours, the tour was given the green light to recommence on November 12, after the period of mourning. The itinerary was adjusted, so that the first Test would be pushed back two days, allowing England to get three practice matches in before facing India. Sri Lanka came to the rescue in the meantime, allowing England to play two matches in Colombo (although the second was rain affected) during the unrest.

There would be more turbulence during the tour. On the eve of the first Test, Perry Norris, the British Deputy High Commissioner was shot dead, only half a mile away from the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, just hours after entertaining the England team. The players were understandably rocked by this news, and many were reluctant to play the following day. Brown clicked into gear again though, and after liaising with both the TCCB and Foreign Office, it was agreed that the first Test would be played as scheduled.

There would also be the tragedy of Bhopal to deal with, prior to the second Test. A chemical leak in the city killed, blinded and caused severe injuries to over 200,000 people (in 2006 the figure was estimated to be over 500,000), and a country in mourning after Gandhi's assassination was now forced to absorb another blow. Cricket was once again put into perspective against the background of a nation in despair.

Sivaramakrishnan puts England in a spin

Gower may have won an important toss at Mumbai, but England failed to take advantage. The main reason for this was 19-year-old leg-spinner Sivaramakrishnan, who had already warned England of his abilities when taking 4/27 for India's Under-25s earlier in the tour. He may have taken his first wicket when Fowler returned a full toss to him, but from this point on, the Indian youngster bowled beautifully to a string of bemused batsmen.

Sivaramakrishnan's 6/64 saw England dismissed for 195, and when India replied with 465/8 declared - a lead of 270 - it was simply a case of when England would go 1-0 down. England did at least make India bat again, but Sivaramakrishnan's 6/117 gave him match figures of 12/181, and his display looked to consign the tourists to a long winter.

However, from the third Test onwards, Sivaramakrishnan was a completely changed man, taking only four more wickets at a shocking average of 100.50, and although he claimed the man of the series award, the young spinner would only play three more Tests after this series. His flame may have only flickered briefly, but what an impact he made at the start of England's tour.

Gatting comes of age

Before the trip, Gower made a key decision that helped to shape the future of Mike Gatting. The Middlesex man had never truly established himself in the Test side, his average of 23.83 in 30 matches, hardly inspiring, and in his last England outing he had feebly padded-up twice at Lord's to Malcolm Marshall.

However, when Gower chose to appoint Gatting as his vice-captain, this provided him with extra security in the team, and the move paid dividends in a big way during a purple patch for Gatting that would bring him an average of 72.37 in his next 13 Tests, before he took over the captaincy from Gower himself in 1986.

Although England lost the first Test, Gatting at least got a personal monkey off his back. Finally, after 54 innings, Gatting scored his first Test century, openly admitting to feeling emotional as he reached his milestone: "I think there was a small tear there when I saw the three figures go up on the scoreboard." Chairman of Selectors Peter May hoped that Gatting's century would be the first of many. He wouldn't be disappointed.

Here's to you Mr Robinson

After Gower lost the toss in Delhi, England frustratingly appeared to have thrown away an unexpected opportunity, allowing India to recover from 140/6 to 307 all out. At 181/4 in reply, the match was on a knife edge, before a quite sublime innings from opener Tim Robinson put England in a strong position. His 160, in just his second Test, helped England to a first innings lead of 111 (the first time England had passed 400 in nine Tests), and the English press were quick to hail Robinson.

Already comparisons were being drawn up between England's new batting star and one Geoffrey Boycott. "Of course I am an admirer of Boycott, and his approach to batting and I will be delighted if I get half the Test runs he has," declared Robinson. It obviously didn't work out quite as Robinson would have liked, but up until the West Indian tour of 1986, all looked well set for his international career.

Admittedly it wasn't exactly a competition filled with hundreds of entries, but the fifth day at Delhi on December 17, 1984, must rank highly in England's greatest days of Test cricket during that decade. The victory still looked unlikely at lunch, as India had six wickets intact and a lead approaching 100, with the Test apparently drifting towards a draw.

Gower, however, sensed something could still happen, and for once lost his rag with his players. Rob Steen writing in A Man Out Of Time noted: "Not, mind, before the pessimistic mood in the dressing room at lunch on the final day had prompted the captain to blow what little there was of his top." It obviously worked, as after lunch India lost six wickets for just 31 runs - Pocock and Edmonds finishing with four wickets each - leaving England a target of 129 runs off a minimum of 32 overs to level the series.

After a solid opening stand between Fowler and Robinson, Gatting and Lamb saw England home with 8.2 overs remaining, the latter smashing cafeteria bowler Gavaskar for a six and a four to finish the match. It was England's first Test win in 475 days (since beating New Zealand at Trent Bridge in 1983), their first away win since the dramatic Melbourne Test of 1982, and Gower's first win as skipper. "For such a bad side, it wasn't such a bad effort," grinned Gower. "Oh, what a beautiful morning" sang the headline on the back of the Daily Express. The series was now alive.

Mohammad Azharuddin announces himself

Kapil Dev was surprisingly dropped for he third Test in Calcutta, although the match turned out to be a damp squib. Rain, bad light, and a tedious batting display by India, meant that the home team finally got around to declaring the first innings of the match on day four, and there was no chance of a result. Yet one young man would make an immediate impression on the international stage, and would do so in the rest of the series.

A 21-year-old Mohammad Azharuddin had already come to England's attention during his 151 for the Under-25s, so his debut Test century was merely confirmation that there was a talented new kid on the block. Further centuries would follow in the next two Tests - the only man to achieve three tons in his first three Tests - and it was little wonder that John Woodcock stated that Azharuddin "played like an angel" and "has a style which charms away routine, and the balance and footwork of the greatest natural players."

Foster makes his mark

England finally made a change for the fourth Test in Madras; Neil Foster drafted in for Richard Ellison, and it proved a wise decision. Gower again lost the toss, but on a wicket that provided encouragement, and in useful atmospheric conditions, England, and Foster, enjoyed a dream day. India were dismissed for 272, their only partnerships of note a 110 stand for the fourth wicket between Amarnath (78) and Azharuddin (48), and 74 for the seventh wicket pair of Dev (53) and Kirmani (30 not out).

Foster fully justified his selection, taking Test best figures of 6/104, and with Cowans and Cowdrey each taking two wickets, it appeared as if the wicket had been sent from Headingley. India's total, scored at a frantic rate of four an over, looked way short of a competitive score, and so it would prove (more of which in the next section).

With a first innings lead of 380, Foster quickly got to work again, a spell of 3/5 reducing India to 22/3, and although Amarnath and Azharuddin rescued India once more with a 190-run partnership, Foster and England would not be denied. In taking the key wicket of Amarnath, and then Sivaramakrishnan later in the innings, Foster finished the match with figures of 11/163, only the third English paceman to take ten wickets in a Test in India (John Lever and Ian Botham being the others). Not bad for someone who had only taken twelve Test wickets prior to this match.

Double tops

Incredibly things got even better after Foster's first innings heroics. Fowler and Robinson put on a record 178-run opening stand for England against India, before Sivaramakrishnan had Robinson (74) caught behind. India's pain was far from over, however. Fowler and Gatting became the first Englishmen to both score double-hundreds in the same innings of a Test match - after 108 years and 610 Tests - and their record second wicket partnership against India of 241 put the playing strip fully into context.

For both Fowler and Gatting, the heat proved energy sapping, with Fowler telling a great story regarding the last over of the second day. After Gatting informed Fowler that he would face the last five balls of the final over, Fowler retreated to the comfort of the non-striking end. "So I bowed my head, closed my eyes and counted the next five balls. But when I got to three, I heard the umpire say 'Over'. I had actually fallen asleep."

"Double dazzlers" declared the Express, with the Daily Mirror opting for "Double tops" as their headline. England closed day three on a dreamy 611/5, a lead of 339, and on their way to taking a remarkable lead in the series. Eventually England would declare on 652/7, and after further Foster magic, England reached the victory target of 33 with just one wicket down, to take a barely believable 2-1 lead in the series.

The groundsman makes a stand

"I'm getting to enjoy this feeling of winning," said a delighted Gower at the end of the match, but his opposite number was not so impressed. "We threw the door wide open for them in Delhi. Now they have become like the guests who stayed on to be owners of the house," Gavaskar stated prior to the final Test in Kanpur. Eager to avoid the embarrassment of a series loss, Gavaskar promised an under-prepared pitch. Alas, it didn't quite work out as the Indian skipper had hoped.

India's hopes of squaring the Test series at Kanpur were dashed by groundsman Anand Shukla. Shukla had prepared a fair cricket wicket, declaring his disgust at being asked to aid the home team: "I refuse to be party to any manoeuvres to cook the wicket. I am an honest man." It was the final nail in the coffin for Gavaskar's India.

Although they won the toss and made 553/8 declared, England responded with 417, albeit not without a few wobbles on the way. Having reached Billy Birmingham's favourite score of 222/2, England then slumped to 286/6, still a distant 68 runs away from saving the follow-on. Fortunately, Gower chose a fine time to return to form, and his 78, along with a determined 49 from Edmonds, dragged England to a secure position. India simply did not have enough time left on the final day in which to conjure up a positive result; incredibly, England had won the Test series 2-1.

Any other business

There were other snippets from the tour that also deserve a mention. Amber Roy, India's Calcutta based selector, slating England before the first Test: "It's difficult to recall a weaker England side coming to India. I appreciate their problems now that they've lost that great pair of bowlers Bob Willis and Ian Botham. But I can't see them getting India out twice in a Test match."

Gavaskar calling for neutral umpires after a few questionable decisions in the opening Test; fruit thrown at Gavaskar after his extremely late declaration in the third Test; Allan Lamb taking his only Test wicket, and Tim Robinson bowling his only over in Test cricket during the same match.

England winning the one day series 4-1; the first ODI being delayed due to unhappy Indian supporters hurling bottles, wood, stones and shoes; the final ODI reduced to a 15 over an innings affair, the match described as a farce by Chris Lander in the Daily Mirror, and a "big yahoo" by Colin Bateman in the Daily Express; Ravi Shastri warming up for the fourth Test by equalling Sir Garfield Sobers' record of hitting six sixes in an over in a Ranji Trophy match.

There was very rarely a dull moment on England's tour to India in 1984/85.

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