Fond memories of England's last tour of India

Published : Nov 24, 2001 00:00 IST

IT is good news that the England team is finally coming to India for a Test series in nine years. Is it not a pity that it has taken so long for England to visit India?

I remember most fondly the last time the Englishmen played in India. I can recall every moment of that fantastic series which we won 3-0. It was quite an emphatic statement of India's superiority against a side which was strong overall and on paper did not look as weak as the end result portrayed.

Those were the days of the revival of Indian cricket, or should I say the renaissance of the art of spin. We had some of the finest exponents of spin and what a series it turned out to be.

I was so glad to be part of a winning combination after having missed out the preceding tour to South Africa. The surging crowds and the euphoria that followed our Test victories was a heady feeling. I vividly remember the lively cricket fields and the joyous dressing room as India scripted an authoritative triumph against a team which was expected to beat us on our soil.

It was a series I shall remember for the splendid manner in which our spinners baffled the Englishmen. I must say that the English batsmen had no clue when facing Anil 'Jumbo' Kumble, Venkatapathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan. They were simply mesmerised and what a time we all had.

It was a series which saw the emergence of Kumble. I was lucky I was in the same side as Jumbo because he produced some unplayable deliveries and I really pitied the Englishmen. Kumble got the right support from Raju and it was this lethal combination which laid the opposition low. Then there were occasions when Chauhan provided the breakthrough with his guiles.

The English team had arrived in India with the usual hype but it had not done its homework right. It was also the team's misfortune that it ran into a side which had a collective strength that could match any team. The batting looked awesome and the bowling was quite incisive. Imagine, Kapil Dev bowling just 50 overs in that series. From statistics I have gathered Raju bowled four times that number and Kumble three times. It should tell you the story of that series.

Playing at home is always an advantage for any team and we were no different. We played to our strength and it was a big relief to the cricket fans that India had the right kind of bowlers to carry on the job. The man behind the revival was, of course, Ajit Wadekar, who was quick to realise the importance of having quality spinners to do the job.

I remember the Englishmen making all kinds of excuses for their poor performance. They blamed the pitches, the weather and the food but the truth was that India played far better cricket. We had the right balance in batting and bowling and the strong point of the triumph was the excellent close-in fielding right through the series.

The English should have expected the kind of pitches we had for them. Spin was our strength and we relied on it. There was nothing wrong with it and there was absolutely no truth in critics saying the pitches were doctored. I don't understand how could a home team be blamed for preparing favourable conditions. It is done by all the countries and we did nothing wrong.

There were some glorious moments to cherish for the cricket fans. The magical innings by Mohammed Azharuddin that sent the crowd at the Eden gardens into raptures. It was one of the finest knocks I have seen. The knock actually decided the course of the series and England could never recover from that brilliant assault.

Then there was a dazzling century at Madras by Sachin Tendulkar. It was a knock which took the match away from the Englishmen and gave the bowlers enough to defend. India won by an innings.

The Test series was wrapped up in grand style at Bombay when Vinod Kambli slammed a double century. Some of his strokes were incredible and I remember how thrilled as Sachin was when his best friend passed the 200-mark. It looked though Sachin had earned the distinction for himself. It was a fine example of their friendship that they cared so much for each other.

I would like the current Indian side to watch that series on video and see for themselves how we dominated the Englishmen. Not many from that series figure in today's team but the two key men - Sachin and Kumble - are still around.

Even as India battles the South Africans, I would advocate playing to our strength at home. We have to rely on our spinners and especially when we have the best pair in international cricket.

The success of Harbhajan Singh against the Australians should serve as an ideal example and now with Kumble having recovered and doing well, it will be great to watch them work in tandem. Of course India has to tackle the South Africans before that.

The criticism surrounding India's performance in South Africa is quite justified even though at times I feel it does not reflect the actual potential of the Indian team. True, there is room for improvement in every department but it is also true that some of the players have been playing below expectations. The defeat in the first Test shall rankle but then the team has to look ahead.

Test cricket is a high intensity game and some of the youngsters in the side have done well to understand the significance of collective strength. Matches can not be consistently won on the basis of individual brilliance and it is here that I hope the Indians need to concentrate. The effort has to come from every quarter. I know we have discussed and debated this issue on many occasions but sadly the Indians do not seem to come to grips with the demands of the situation.

The collective effort of the home triumphs against England and Australia is what the players need to remember as they prepare for cricket this winter.

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