Wednesday, 12 December 2012

1984/85: India v England - Gower's Glory

For my piece on the first test of the series, please click here.

England didn't have much time to lick their wounds after their crushing defeat in the first test at Bombay. Just two days later, the same XI - except for Vic Marks replacing Pat Pocock - won the first one day international at Pune, causing the home fans to show their disgust by hurling objects on to the field, almost causing a postponement in the process. Amongst the mayhem, another century from a rejuvenated Mike Gatting led England home, justifying Gower's decision to install the Middlesex man as his vice-captain at the start of the tour. A drawn match in Bombay against North Zone, with a decent return of 3/29 by Richard Ellison in the first innings, and a century from Tim Robinson, gave England slight cause for optimism as the second test at Delhi neared. On and off the field though, not all was well.

An already turbulent tour was again rocked with the news that a chemical leak at Bhopal had killed, blinded and caused severe injuries to over 200,000 people (in 2006 the figure was estimated to be over 500,000). A country in mourning after Gandhi's assassination was now forced to comprehend the tragedy of Bhopal, and cricket was once again put into perspective against the background of a nation in despair.

On the field, all the problems seemed to lay with England. Their inability to cope with the 19-year-old leg spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan at Bombay, had forced the England team to line up an array of Indian spinners in the pre-test nets. Skipper Gower was under pressure to score some runs, and to win a test as captain. And such was the poor state of the national team, that back home an inquiry was set up by the Test and County Cricket Board, into just what was wrong with the England team. Apparently, the organisation and management of the national team was to be assessed, the standard and training of young cricketers at pre-county level analysed, and the general structure of first-class cricket scrutinised. What became of this hastily arranged report I have still to find out, though judging by the fact that Lord MacLaurin was still trying to fix the same problems on his appointment as ECB Chairman in 1997, and looking at the overall record of the test team in the 80s and 90s, it is safe to say that the panel were not that successful in solving anything.

England decided to stick with the same side that had lost in Bombay, somewhat surprisingly in an era of constant squad rotation (not in a good way mind). Gower lost the first of his seven tosses of the tour, but on a good batting strip India failed to take advantage (sound familiar?). England took three wickets in each of the first two sessions, reducing the hosts to 140/6. Unfortunately, England did not take full advantage, as a stand of 68 runs between Dev and wicketkeeper Kirmani dragged India up to 208/6 at the close of play. That five of the wickets had fallen to the spin duo of Edmonds and Pocock did not seem to bode well for England's hopes, with Sivaramakrishnan lurking in their minds.

As ever, it looked like the second morning would be crucial in deciding who would hold the position of strength come the remainder of the test. Although Dev fell to Ellison's second ball of the day, India's tail wagged, the last three wickets putting on 99 runs, as India reached 307. All eleven Indian batsmen had scored first-class centuries, but even so, the frustration of letting India surpass 300 was all too familiar. It prompted the Daily Express' Colin Bateman to slightly prematurely surmise that "...any realistic hopes of winning the match and levelling the series had slipped away in the morning." On the plus-side, Ellison had recorded test best figures of 4/66. Now it was over to England's batsmen.

The reply did not start too well, Prabhakar claiming his first test wicket in his third over, Fowler edging to Gaekwad at second slip. Robinson and Gatting led England to 60/1 just prior to tea, before Gatting was unluckily bowled by Yadav for 26. Fortunately, Robinson continued his fine innings after the break and reached his maiden test half-century before the close of play, ably supported by a determined Allan Lamb. Stumps were drawn with England on 107/2, and after the rest day they would set about trying to compose an imposing first innings score.

Robinson and Lamb began day three in much the same way as day two had ended, and at 170/2 England were in an undeniably strong position. However, Lamb (52) fell to Yadav, and when a hopelessly out of form Gower (5) was Sivaramakrishnan's first victim, at 181/4 it looked as if the old friends of England and collapse would be meeting again. Robinson and Cowdrey, who it should not be forgotten were both only playing in their second test match, calmed English nerves, their 56-run partnership proving timely. Sivaramakrishnan dismissed Cowdrey for a vital 38, but from then on the day was all about England and Robinson. The Nottinghamshire opener ended the day on a quite sublime 157 not out, England closed on 337/5 - a lead of 30 - and 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.

Although Robinson departed early on day four, Paul Downton's highest test score of 74 managed to get England to 418; a useful lead of 111. It could have been slightly better had Sivaramakrishnan not ripped through England's tail, taking 4/11 in 21 balls, but at least England had passed 400 for the first time in nine tests. Norman Cowans then bowled a hostile spell, removing Prabhakar (opening in place of the injured Gaekwad) and Vengsarkar in quick succession, but with India still 90 runs behind Gower made what looked like a strange decision in removing the paceman from the attack. When Cowans did return, India were only one run behind, and as they closed on 128/2 (a lead of 17), questions were again being asked of Gower's captaincy.

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. Edmonds and Pocock had accounted for Amarnath and Gavaskar respectively in the morning session, and the game appeared to be 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 pointed this out: "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, and amazingly England now needed 129 runs in 32 overs for the most unlikely of victories.

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, who then rewarded himself and Robinson with a five-day break, tiger-spotting in Rajasthan. 

"Oh, what a beautiful morning" sang the headline on the back of the Daily Express, and it was hard to disagree. It was now India's turn to take a very careful look inwardly, with Patil and, in a stunning move, Dev both dropped from the side after their ill-advised shots in the collapse. England, under Gatting's captaincy, crushed East Zone in the next tour match, the home team only managing scores of just 117 and 52, as Edmonds continued his great tour, taking six wickets in the match, Marks and Foster also weighing in with wickets. Momentum was building, as England won the second ODI in Cuttack in the fading light by one run (chasing a revised target) to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

The third test in Calcutta was a damp squib of a match, in more ways than one. Rain, bad light, and a tedious batting display by India, meant that the home team finally got round to declaring the first innings of the match on day four. India's 437/7 did contain a debut hundred from 21-year-old Mohammad Azharuddin, and Ravi Shastri's scored an equally weary century, but an unbelievably late declaration on day four by Gavaskar led to another near riot in the stands, as fruit was hurled in the direction of the skipper. The tide was turning against the hosts, and although England were skittled out for 276 in 100.3 overs, there was no chance of a result. There was time for Allan Lamb to claim his only test wicket - Prabhakar lbw for 21 - and for Tim Robinson to bowl his only over in test cricket. Test cricket had certainly not been the winner though in Calcutta.

A drawn match against South Zone in Hyderabad saw a five-wicket haul in a first tour outing for Jonathan Agnew - who had been flown out to replace the injured Paul Allott - a century for Yorkshire's Martyn Moxon, and Gower's second innings 41 hinting at a change in form. Meanwhile Shastri changed gear from his Calcutta efforts, warming up for the fourth test by equalling Sir Garfield Sobers' record of hitting six sixes in an over in a Ranji Trophy match.

England finally made a change for the fourth test in Madras; Neil Foster drafted in for Ellison. For India, Kapil Dev was brought back from the naughty step, and Kris Srikkanth replaced Gaekwad for his first test in two years. 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 272, scored at a frantic rate of four an over, looked way short of a competitive score. Fowler and Robinson batted through to 32/0, on a near perfect day for the tourists.

Incredibly things got even better over the next two days. 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 two 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. "Double dazzlers" declared the Express, with the Daily Mirror opting for "Double tops" as their chosen 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.

After the rest day, England declared on 652/7, an overall lead of 380 and their highest total against India. Very quickly Foster had India reeling again, his spell of 3/5 reducing India to 22/3. Amarnath and Azharuddin again rescued India in a 190-run partnership before Foster had Amarnath caught hooking just five short of his century. In a hithertho unsuccessful match for England's spinners, Edmonds and Pocock toiled for 31 successive overs without taking a wicket, as India closed day four on 246/4, still 134 runs behind. Azharuddin's second hundred in as many matches proved a rare highlight in another trying day for the Indians.

Gower surprisingly held off from taking the new ball on the fifth morning, but he was rewarded immediately as 259/4 soon became 259/6; Pocock accounting for Azharuddin and Edmonds for Shastri. Dev and Kirmani yet again proved a thorn in England's side, their partnership of 82 forcing Gower to take the new ball. It did the trick; Cowans dismissing Dev for 49, and Sivaramakrishnan providing Foster with his eleventh wicket of the match (he would finish with match figures of 11/163). When Cowans removed Yadav, India were 361/9, still 19 short of making England bat again. It took a last wicket stand of 51 in 85 minutes between Kirmani and Sharma to prevent an innings defeat, but it was simply delaying the inevitable, as Edmonds finished the innings off, with Kirmani falling for a brave 75. Although Sivaramakrishnan did for first innings hero Fowler, England knocked off the 33-runs needed and completed a comfortable nine-wicket victory.

"I'm getting to enjoy this feeling of winning," said a delighted Gower at the end of the match, as his team were forced to down six bottles of champagne provided by the British High Commission. Sunil Gavaskar was less impressed about another loss against England: "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 did promise an under-prepared pitch for the final test in Kanpur. Alas it didn't quite work out as the Indian skipper had hoped.

Before the fifth test was the small matter of the last three ODIs. England wrapped up the series with a three wicket win in Bangalore, India winning their only match in Nagpur, despite 3/38 from Agnew in the run-chase. England won the final match in Chandigarh, a 15-over a side affair due to rain, described as a farce by Chris Lander in the Daily Mirror, and a "big yahoo" by Bateman. Twenty years later, international matches of this nature would become the norm, but this kind of nonsense just wasn't acceptable in the 80s.

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; England had won the test series 2-1.

It should not be underestimated just how much of an achievement England's series win in India was in 1984/85. Certainly it wasn't the strongest ever Indian side assembled, although in relation to England - without the 600 plus test wickets of Botham and Willis - they were probably in slightly better health before the series began. India then strengthened their position by winning the first test, and with Sivaramakrishnan seemingly possessing a Warnesque type hold over England's batsmen, few gave England a prayer. And then came that crazy afternoon session in Delhi; a rare moment of joy for English cricket in a turbulent decade. The series was turned around, and Foster, Fowler and Gatting performed heroics in Madras, and along with a little help from Gower at Kanpur, the mission was complete.

From an out of form, winless captain, Gower was all of a sudden hailed as a great leader, the Daily Mirror labelling him Captain Wonder. It is true that the tour was a triumph for the Leicestershire man, although the calls from the press for him to be appointed captain for the Ashes summer in England seemed a little hollow after the stick they had previously handed out to him. Fortunately the Chairman of Selectors Peter May chose the sensible option, even if Gower's appointment was initially only to cover the Texaco Trophy and first two Australian tests. Thankfully, an already marvellous Indian summer of 1984/85 stretched into the 1985 Ashes series, and Gower in particular - 732 runs at a frightening 81.33 - probably didn't want 1985 to end.

3 comments:

  1. Great description! As a 9 year old Indian boy, I still remember Foster's beautiful run-up and Edmond's stifling spin. I was also intrigued by David Gower's batting and the intrigue would turn into full-blown admiration, when I became older. No doubt England deserved to win, and if they win this series, they deserve this one too!!

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