India's maiden series triumph

GULU EZEKIEL

Lala Amarnath, who became the first captain to lead India to victory in a series, with his Pakistani counterpart A. H. Kardar.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

THE year 1952 was a tumultuous and eventful one for Indian cricket. Twenty years after making its bow on the international stage, India recorded its first Test victory as well as a maiden series triumph.

The first victory had come against a weak MCC (England) side at Madras in February. The series was drawn 1-1 but it was a different story altogether when India toured England that summer.

Debutant fast bowler Freddie Trueman struck terror into the batsmen's hearts and India was routed in three of the four Tests.

Now two months after its return from England, a traumatised India was set to face Pakistan, the newest entry to the international scene. Just five years after becoming a sovereign nation and with India backing the case in the ICC, the visit naturally aroused tremendous interest in both India and Pakistan.

The Indian selectors brought back Lala Amarnath as captain, having dropped him for the England tour. He replaced Vijay Hazare who was retained in the side as a batsman.

Pakistan played its inaugural Test in New Delhi. But two of its players — captain Abdul Hafeez Kardar and Amir Elahi, had already represented India in Test cricket. Amarnath won the toss and took first strike. Pakistan's medium pacers caused early problems for the Indian batsmen and half the side was out with only 110 on the board.

Hazare, dropped on 17 off Fazal Mahmood held the top order together with an obdurate 76. It was a rollicking last wicket stand worth 109 between Hemu Adhikari (81 not out) and Ghulam Ahmed (50) that took the total to a respectable 372.

Openers Nazar Mohammed and Hanif Mohammed — both of whose sons would score double centuries against India decades later — gave Pakistan a handy start. But after adding 64, Nazar was run out for 27 and the collapse set in.

"Our batsmen were totally at sea against the guile of the left arm spinner and India's leading all-rounder Vinoo Mankad," Hanif wrote in his autobiography.

Mankad had the outstanding figures of eight for 52 from 47 overs as the visitors crumbled to 150 all out. Holding the fort was 17-year-old Hanif with 51 in nearly four hours of defiance.

Following on, Pakistan bettered its first innings total by just two runs and India won by an innings and 70 runs. Mankad this time picked up five wickets while Ghulam took four.

Lala Amarnath takes a fine left-handed catch to dismiss Nazar Mohammed off Ghulam Ahmed in the 1952 Calcutta Test. This was Lala's farewell match.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Euphoria swept the country. But it would not last long. The crushing defeat was a harsh lesson for the babes of Test cricket — Fazal referred to it as "painful". But it was a lesson learn't quickly.

Intrigue, subterfuge, dirty politics — these all went hand-in-hand with Indian cricket and the unfolding of events before the second Test match which followed three days after the Delhi Test brought all these unsavoury aspects to the fore. Three of the heroes of the first Test — Mankad, Adhikari and Hazare — withdrew ostensibly due to injuries.

Then the Test, which was to be staged at Kanpur was shifted to Lucknow at a ground which lacked a turf wicket. Mat was laid over the pitch which played right into the hands of the tourists, particularly Fazal Mahmood, known as the `Matting King'. It was only at the insistence of the Indian captain that the coir matting was replaced by one made of jute. But it did not make much difference.

Fazal tore through the Indian batting with figures of five for 52 and seven for 42. India crashed to 106 and 182 and with Pakistan recording 331 the roles were reversed from the Delhi Test.

It was a great moment for Pakistan cricket. It won by an innings and 43 runs and Indian cricket fans who just a week earlier were hailing the heroes, now turned on the team in fury.

But India, now back to full strength, regained the lead in the third Test at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay. Kardar won the toss and elected to bat. The decision backfired as Amarnath grabbed four quick wickets to have the Pakistanis tottering at 60 for six. They struggled to 186 all out and now the Indian batsmen piled up runs. With Hazare and Polly Umrigar both scoring centuries, India reached 387 for four when Amarnath made a surprise declaration.

With just enough time to bowl a few overs before stumps on the second day, he reckoned the Pakistanis would have been exhausted after spending the whole day in the field.

The ploy paid off as Nazar was snapped up by Umrigar off debutant opening bowler Bal Dani for a duck. Facing a deficit of 201 runs, it was now time for the batsmen to make occupation of the crease their priority. The young Hanif led the way and batted for nearly six hours for his 96. He and Waqar Hasan (65) added 165 runs for the second wicket to give the side some hope. But it was not enough as the rest of the batting folded up to be all out for 242. This time Mankad picked up five wickets. This helped him to complete the `double' of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in only his 23rd Test — a world record that would be broken by Ian Botham 27 years later.

The Indian openers knocked off the handful of runs in quick time to seal victory by 10 wickets. Two of the four days of the next Test match at Madras were lost to rain, but not before Pakistan gained the upper hand. Just as India had recorded a last wicket stand of 100-plus in the first Test at Delhi, now it was the turn of Pakistan through Zulfiqar Ahmed and Amir Elahi. Facing a total of 344, the Indian batsmen struggled to reach 175 for six before the weather intervened.

However, a storm of another kind was brewing off the field in Madras. The day before the Test the selectors met to decide the captain for the forthcoming tour to West Indies even before the end of the current series. They chose to replace Amarnath with Hazare but kept the decision a secret.

Or so they thought. The news was leaked out and a journalist informed Amarnath, who during a function hosted by the Board at the end of the Test, stunned the Board officials and audience with this bit of `secret.' Then a furious Amarnath declared he would play the final Test at Calcutta under the captaincy of Hazare.

But Hazare diplomatically withdrew on `health' grounds and an unhappy Amarnath made sure of a draw to seal India's 2-1 series triumph. The Test was significant for the century on debut by young left-hander Deepak Shodhan.

The man who in 1933 became the first Indian to score a Test century, that too on debut, had played his final match for the country. But in the process he also earned the distinction of being the first captain to lead India to victory in a series.