Wednesday, February 15, 2012

60 years of India's first Test match victory

This post by the author appeared on Cricketcountry on 10th February 2012

Vinoo Mankad
With Test matches turning more and more into torture tales for India, the team is currently scraping the bottom of the barrel of cricketing fortunes. However, in a somewhat off-key note of the music of time, they also celebrate the 60thanniversary of their first victory in Test cricket this Friday.

The moment of history in Chepauk on the afternoon of February 10, 1952 took nineteen and a half years in coming, a staggering statistic that turns somewhat palatable when we consider that the number of Test matches played during that barren period was a paltry 24. On ten of those occasions the country had ended up on the losing side.

Success had painfully eluded the expectant young nation by a whisker two years earlier at the Brabourne Stadium against the West Indies. A spirited chase of 361 runs in 395 minutes had ended six runs short with two wickets in hand when time had run out.

The dramatis personae

Vijay Hazare
Vijay Hazare, who had built the platform of that near victorious chase with a masterly 122, was now the captain of the side. The team, in stark contrast with the India of recent times, was a sparkling collection of all-round talent. Vinoo Mankad was the star all-rounder at the peak of his abilities. Lala Amarnath was still a force to reckon with both bat and ball. Dattu Phadkar had an excellent record going into the Test, averaging over 40 with the bat and in the early 30s with his medium-pace. Hazare himself, one of the finest batsmen ever produced by India, was a decent medium pacer. And young Polly Umrigar, then striving to establish himself in the side, was a canny off-spinner who could also open the bowling when required and eventually ended up with two five wicket hauls in Test cricket.

There was a fair mix of youth and experience at the top of the order with the talented Pankaj Roy combining with the aging artist Mushtaq Ali. With the ball, Mankad’s left- arm spin found wonderful accompaniment in Ghulam Ahmed’s off-breaks, while the combination of Mankad with wicket-keeper Prabir Sen in luring the batsman forward and catching him short ground is a part of Indian cricketing folklore.

In contrast, India’s majorly low-key performances over the years had induced England to send a second string side. Absent from the squad were names such as Len Hutton, Cyril Washbrook, Denis Compton, Bill Edrich, Alec Bedser and Jim Laker. A rookie Tom Graveney was the only one who would end up as a major heavyweight with the bat while Brian Statham and, to some extent, Roy Tattershall lent some degree of class to the bowling.

Adding to England’s problems, captain Nigel Howard had a torrid series with the bat, and was injured for the final Test – and the team had to be led by Donald Carr. Yet, when Hazare and Carr went in to toss the coin in Madras, England led the series 1-0, having secured a nine-wicket win in the low scoring fourth Test at Kanpur.

Mankad magic on a placid track

Carr called correctly and England batted on a true first day track. There were moments when Dick Spooner, the wicket keeper doubling up as opening batsman, and Jack Robertson batted as if a big score was on the cards. However, some exceptional bowling by Mankad – on a largely unhelpful wicket – restricted them to a modest 224 for five at the end of the first day.

The death of King George VI – the monarch so excellently portrayed by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech – made the administrators tweak the arrangements and convert the second scheduled day of play into the Rest Day. WhenEngland resumed their innings after the longish break, Mankad ran through the lower order and the visitors could manage just 42 more. The loop and flight, uncannily always on or just outside the off stump, lured four batsmen out of their crease to be stumped by Sen – Graveney, Carr, Malcolm Hilton and Statham all deceived by the inviting trajectory and stranded down the track. Robertson, who resisted for four and a half hours for 77, was induced into misjudging the length and pushing a return catch brilliantly held by the bowler. Mankad’s analysis of eight for 55 was testimony to his class, underlined further by a near-perfect batting wicket. Most of his battles were won in the air – a lesson that holds good even today when the tweakers increasingly push it through and are often overly pampered by dustbowls that turn square from the first session.

There was a sense of expectation in the air and excitement in the temporarily attached makeshift stands of Chepauk – brim-full to their 25000 capacity. The Indians had got a whiff of the long-awaited Test win, and it showed in the way the batsmen approached their task.

Roy and Umrigar pile up tons

Mushtaq, Hazare, Mankad – batting at No 4 – and Amarnath all put their heads down and got starts, but the one who rode on the crest of brilliant batting form was Pankaj Roy. While the rest got out in their 20s and 30s, the opening batsman from Bengal, with already one century in the series, stroked 15 boundaries around the wicket in a pleasing innings of 111.

However, when Tattershall had snared Roy into lobbing a catch, the score read 191 for four, which soon became 216 for five when Amarnath edged one from Statham – the early advantage seemed to have been squandered and the match hung in balance.

It was then that young Umrigar joined Phadkar in the middle and proceeded to play one of the most important of his many splendid innings that would make him a mainstay of Indian batting.

Had it not been for a sprained wrist of Hemu Adhikari, Umrigar, still searching for a decent score in Test cricket, would have been sitting out. Now, seizing the opportunity, he guided the second half of the innings, with solid, safe application, largely eschewing the scintillating big hits he was capable of. He put on 104 with Phadkar, and then took the match beyond the Englishmen with a 93-run stand with local batsman Coimbatarao Gopinath. When Hazare declared the innings to make England bat through the uncomfortable final few minutes of the third day, he was still unbeaten on 130 and the lead had stretched to 191.

The final rites

With two full days remaining, England neither had much of a chance, nor did they look like creating any. After Phadkar and his new ball partner Ramesh Divecha had got rid of the openers, Mankad and Ahmed made excellent use of a wearing track, picking up four wickets each. Only Robertson and Allan Watkins provided some resistance as only four batsmen reached double figures.

The match could not have ended more appropriately. Mankad ran in with three short steps, and let the ball loop in the air, descend in the slow inviting arc on the off stump – Hilton, unable to contain his instincts, came out for the drive and was beaten by the wicked turn, and Sen behind the stumps collected the ball with by now practiced efficiency and whipped off the bails.

CD Gopinath
points out
histeam mates
The spectators went delirious and the ovation was deafening. The two decade wait had ended with a victory by an innings and eight runs. Mankad finished with 12 wickets in the match, 34 in the series to go with 223 runs. And according to the only surviving member of the team, CD Gopinath, the only way the Indians celebrated was by patting each other on the back. 

Missing zeroes

Landmark win, a run of history brought to a grinding halt and a new beginning scripted with immortal feats … but those were the days when flow of champagne in dressing rooms was unthinkable, cash awards unheard of and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), believe it or not, was an organisation pitifully short of cash. Often players had to be put up in private homes to save on the hotel costs. Hence, the eleven men who had kick-started the winning ways of Indian cricket congratulated each other and went home with their individual match fees of Rs 250.

When MS Dhoni’s India crushed Sri Lanka by an innings and 144 runs at Kanpur to bring up their 100th Test win, BCCI announced a cash award of Rs 25,00,000 for each member of the team.

However, some memories are invaluable enough to go beyond the number of trailing zeroes accompanying the remuneration figure. As CD Gopinath puts it, “It was the first time we beat any team in Tests. And it came 20 years after we became a Test-playing nation. Even we were taken by surprise. It was unbelievable. It gave us a great feeling of satisfaction. It still does.”

Brief scores:

 266 (Dick Spooner 66, Tom Graveney 39, Jack Robertson 77, Donald Carr 40, Vinoo Mankad 8 for 55) and 183 (Jack Robertson 56, Allan Watkins 48, Vinoo Mankad 4 for 53, Ghulam Ahmed 4 for 77) lost to India 457 for 9 declared (Pankaj Roy 111, Dattu Phadkar 61, Polly Umrigar 130*, CD Gopinath 35) by an innings and eight runs.

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