England in India: Never a team to be taken lightly

Few teams have met with resounding success in India in the last 50 years. Australia has won just one series, in 2004, since Bill Lawry’s team won in 1969. Pakistan won once in 1987 under Imran Khan a series that was contested fiercely. To England goes the credit of winning three series in India in the last 50 years — 1976-77, 1984-85 and 2012-13.

England played its best cricket in decades on the 2012-13 tour of India. The teams were evenly balanced, but the difference was Kevin Pietersen and his all-time great knock of 186 in Mumbai.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

India-England Test contests have always commanded the interest of cricket fans in both countries for many reasons. The rivalry may not have attained the intensity of an India-Pakistan or an India-Australia clash, but England has, over the years, produced some exciting cricket in India. In fact, England has, in recent times, adapted better to Asian conditions than Australia.

The success in Sri Lanka prior to the tour of India showed England had taken the right steps in preparing for the series. “They remain one of the skilful teams in world cricket because of their setup. Never an opponent to be taken lightly,” said former India all-rounder Madan Lal, who spent more than 20 years playing club cricket in England during the summer.

England gave early indications of a close competition when it won the opening Test in Chennai with an outstanding performance. India was swept off its feet by a masterly double century from Joe Root. In fact, it proved the decisive innings of the match as the England captain crafted his runs with flawless skills. The temperament that Root is famous for was on demonstration and there was nothing that India could do as he came up with one of of the finest innings by a visiting batsman.

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True, the toss made the difference in the first Test, and that was confirmed in the following match when Rohit Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin stifled England with strikingly dominating performances. Rohit’s century on a pitch that commanded discipline was followed by Ashwin’s spectacular century on the third day when batting continued to be a tough task. In addition, Ashwin stuck richly with the ball to leave a huge impact on the match. The fans went delirious watching their hero single-handedly destroy England with a clinical approach to the job. Ashwin’s was an all-round show that is bound to find a place in cricket folklore.

Few teams have met with resounding success in India in the last 50 years. Australia has won just one series, in 2004, since Bill Lawry’s team won in 1969. Pakistan won once in 1987 under Imran Khan a series that was contested fiercely. To England goes the credit of winning three series in India in the last 50 years — 1976-77, 1984-85 and 2012-13. The series in 2012-13 saw the arrival of Joe Root and some incredible batting by Kevin Pietersen, not to forget the excellent James Anderson, who got the ball to reverse swing so effectively.

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The performance by England in the 1976-77 series was marred by the “Vaseline controversy” by John Lever as India captain Bishan Singh Bedi took up the issue in his position as captain. Sadly, he lacked support from the Indian board, which allowed Lever and England to get away.

Mohammad Azharuddin’s 182 in the opening Test in Calcutta set the trend for the 1992-93 series. The Eden Gardens was on fire that day as Azhauddin waded into the attack to create a batting symphony that won the hearts of the fans.   -  V. V. Krishnan

 

Lever had reportedly applied Vaseline to the ball, which had begun to swing prodigiously and cost India the series. To this day, Bedi maintains his stand that the English had used unfair means to get the ball to swing. “There never was a doubt,” insists Bedi of that bitter series in ’76-77. The controversy also cost him his benefit match at Northamptonshire for causing an embarrassment to English cricket with his accusations.

England also won the one-off Test in 1979, but lost 1-0 in the five-match series in 1981-82, before returning to winning ways two years later. The 1984-85 series stood out for the gripping cricket produced by England under the most testing conditions. The nation was in turmoil following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and England had fallen in the first Test in Bombay to the guiles of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. It was a stellar performance by Siva in only his second match. It’s a pity his career did not extend beyond another seven Tests.

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Sivaramakrishnan and Chetan Sharma, the current chairman of the national selection committee, figured in that match. Sharma made little impact, but Siva ended the match with six wickets in each innings. The English were known to be suspect against leg-spinners, and Siva only reconfirmed that impression with brilliant spells to fashion India’s comprehensive victory. Siva worked his magic in the first innings of the next Test with another six-wicket strike but failed to live up to his expectations in subsequent appearances.

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That England managed to recover and win the 1984-85 series 2-1 confirmed the team’s ability to counter the Asian conditions with expertise even though the cricket was made memorable by the sensational arrival of Mohammad Azharuddin, who hit centuries in each of his first three Tests. However, all the English plans of a repeat crashed to the spin web that coach Ajit Wadekar spun in 1992-93. The disappointing tour to South Africa in 1992-93 put Wadekar and skipper Azharuddin under tremendous pressure and led to the host nation falling back on its spin strength.

Azharuddin’s 182 in the opening Test in Calcutta set the trend. “I knew I had to perform and I have always loved playing at the Eden Gardens. I had the confidence of performing and it remains one of my best knocks,” remembered Azharuddin. The Eden Gardens was on fire that day as Azhauddin waded into the attack to create a batting symphony that won the hearts of the fans.

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England played its best cricket in decades on the 2012-13 tour, thanks to the inputs by coach Andy Flower, who had always succeeded against India. The teams were evenly balanced, but the difference was Pietersen and his all-time great knock of 186 in Mumbai. Many rate that knock as the best in India-England Test history and one would go by what the batsman thought was one of his top “three” innings.

The temperament that Joe Root is famous for was on demonstration in the first Test in Chennai and there was nothing that India could do as he came up with one of the finest innings by a visiting batsman.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

 

Anderson’s incisive spells were the highlights of the series keeping in mind the strong Indian batting lineup. “After a long time, one got to see such attacking bowling from a fast bowler in Indian conditions,” former ace Kapil Dev had observed. Anderson set new benchmarks in seam bowling as he commanded respect from the likes of Sachin Tendulkar.

England may not have been the most popular of teams visiting India, but it has had a strong connect with the fans. Andrew Flintoff did not really enjoy playing in Mumbai when the crowds jeered him, but he did win the hearts of the Indians with his quality response to the challenges from the home team. In fact, Pietersen, Flintoff, Anderson and Root have enjoyed a huge fan following in India.

Root is the most popular and impactful English batsman in modern cricket. He was hailed as the next big thing in English cricket when he made a compact debut in Nagpur in 2012 with an innings of 73. It was a flawless knock and constructed with the diligence of a worker who knows the importance of laying a solid foundation. The double century at Chepauk was a tribute to his power of adapting.

England brings quality to the competition and its reputation as one of top three Test nations in all conditions is a tag earned the hard way. Its success in Asia is a pointer to England’s growing stature as a well-equipped travelling unit in world cricket under the stellar leadership of Root, easily one of the top batsmen on the international circuit along with Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Babar Azam.