By R. Mohan
The Indian team, playing an ODI in Sialkot that day, abandoned the match midway and spent a couple of days in Karachi wondering whether to stay in Pakistan or come back home. The time was far more taxing for Team England who were shunted away to Colombo and then ferried to Mumbai after things had settled down in India.
They were also fractious times in Indian cricket in which the selectors and the board played ducks and drakes with the captaincy, snatching it from Kapil Dev even though he had just won a World Cup (yet lost 3-0 in Tests ad 5-0 in ODIs to a vengeful West Indies under Clive Lloyd) and giving it back to Sunil Gavaskar.
The rivalry, imagined or otherwise, between the two men made all the chatter in cricketing circles in those days. The truth was not always clear as tales spread of disaffection in the team, especially at a time when exhibition matches were all the rage for the World Cup winning players to cash in on their surging popularity.
There was no hint, however, of anything being amiss in the home team when it took the first Test with a young leg spinner who bagged wickets by the bucketsful and victory may have helped seal over any seething discontent.
Trouble was not far away and it is to the touring England team’s eternal credit that they plugged away at the matter of standing up to wrist spin, working things out individually in the absence of any great technical inputs from support staff, of who there were really none except a bowler who was assistant manager.
The scales turned dramatically in New Delhi in the fourth innings to leave England victors with time to spare. This is when everything blew up with Kapil accused by the selectors of playing a careless shot and hence putting the team at risk of defeat. Gavaskar who battled on in trying to force the draw was ultimately to step away from the stumps to play Pocock against the turn and was comprehensively bowled, a stroke which, if not careless, was certainly not the most cautious under the circumstances.
As a disciplinary measure, Kapil was axed for a Test, a decision that was bound to trigger more turmoil in the team. Unimpressed by the pace at which the next (drawn) Test was played in Kolkata, the selectors gave a clear message asking India to get on with it in an effort to win the series rather than settle for a draw. The batting was too brilliant on the opening day at Chepauk where India were bowled out for 275 on a cracker of a surface.
And England, scenting an opportunity, batted on and on with Gatting and Fowler making double centuries and putting India hopelessly behind.
It’s not often that India loses a series after going 1-0 up at home but in those divisive times the team managed to beat themselves, although it must be conceded that England had two quality spinners in their ranks then – Pat Pocock and Phil Edmonds.
The pair was crafty enough to keep chipping away at the patience of Indian batsmen, none of whom really got going in the whole series. The one-day series was also lost, including in pitch dark conditions in an ODI in Cuttack where England chased and Paul Downtown hit the ball around in the dark to get his team home.
The selectors were, however, wise old birds who admitted they had made certain errors of judgment in the course of England’s visit. They kept their faith with limited-overs specialists and also included the leg spinner Sivaramakrishnan on the premise that he could get batsmen to mishit in the big Australian grounds. From the depths of despair amid deep divisions, Team India resurrected themselves to win the World Championship of Cricket in Australia and all the rancour and the acrimony was quickly forgotten.
Gavaskar graciously stepped aside after attaining the heights of a win against the best in the world and the reins were handed back to Kapil under whom India won the Rothmans Trophy in which his team pulled off a remarkable defence of a total of 125, bowling Pakistan out for 87.
Those were exciting times even if England were handed the opportunity to actually win a Test series in India after Tony Greig’s team had demolished a far weaker home side in 1977.
No touring England team has been able to achieve those heights again even if they did well enough to share honours as India, with skipper Rahul Dravid opting to bat second, playing some of the most irresponsible strokes against Shaun Udal in Mumbai on the fifth afternoon. By the 1984-85 yardstick many should have lost their places. But that, curiously, is Indian cricket – famous for enigmatic, fitful, and inscrutable, always and forever.
By R. Mohan