Rule Britannia –
In the early 60’s, when players like Ted Dexter and MJK Smith led the MCC to England, it was rare that a full-strength English side would make the trip to England. Fred Trueman never came, Colin Cowdrey came only in an emergency, and hence the team was usually referred to as “MCC”, rather than England and we had our first Test victory over just such a team in ’5.
In those early 60’s, we gave the MCC teams a run for their pounds, but it was not until ’72, when Tony Lewis brought his full-strength side to India and we, under Wadekar, defeated them that it felt like we had truly defeated England on our soil, honestly and squarely defeated England.
And who was at the heart of the defeat? And the defeat the previous summer in England, that glorious summer of ’71? Sunil Gavaskar — Sunny – The Little Master – in any era of any sport, there is always the ‘Man’. In his era, it was Gavaskar, for almost fifteen years. Then, of course, Sachin was the ‘Man’; with Dravid taking the title for those unbelievable years at the beginning of the 2000’s – -and now Kohli.
But in ’72 it was Gavaskar – yes, Vishwanath was a Crown Prince, and always was – Dilip Sardesai was the elder statesman on the verge of retirement, Wadekar was captain casual, the spin trio was magic, but Gavaskar, in only his third series, was the ‘Man’. When he walked out to bat, strutted out to bat, the game was his. My dear friend Brij Lal and I went to see the first Test at the Kotla in December of ’72. North Indian weather — parathas and omelettes packed for the day – Test cricket at its best. But the English were ready.
Tony Greig was tall and taunting, Underwood menacing, Alan Knott perfection behind the stumps, and Tony Lewis a wise and fascinating captain. But we managed to take them, in a closely fought series, with Chandra at his best. He bowled Keith Fletcher, England’s best player of spin, in ’72 at the Kotla, and then in ’76 again. Same ball, same result, same ground, same friends with me and same parathas and omelletes, but the series was not the same.
Tony Greig, in one of the most underrated displays of both captaincy and cricketing tenacity and talent, led England to a series victory over India – in India. 3-1 in a six Test series. One of the first times we saw our team live on television, but even that excitement could not lessen the pain. As Greig now fights with cancer, I can still picture him in ’76 – tall, stooping to conquer – playing that long, endless innings in Calcutta. Tony, we are with you; and Derek Randall, entertainer par excellence, swooping and cart wheeling in the covers. What a team and what a series.
And then Gavaskar, as captain and ‘man’, took his revenge in the next series in ’81. Botham had arrived – the one and only Botham – but Gavaskar captained as he batted in those days, with no frills and only grit, and we took a series full of draws and endless days in the sun and delaying tactics and Fletcher as captain outwitted and outdone by the Little Master. Then in ’84 the English took revenge again – under Gower, one of my all-time favourites .
Kapil and Gavaskar fought, and Siva spun his temporal magic, but the big guns of England fired too heavily for us. That was Gavaskar’s last home series against the English, but the next series, in England, was the famous 2-0 series victory for us in England. So the pendulum keeps swinging between the two traditional rivals.
England trounced us – thrashed us – humiliated us – although we actually humiliated ourselves – last year in England. So this time we will take the series, just watch, and the new “Man”, Kohli, will just grow from step to step, innings to innings.
Now, if only he would give up doing ad films – what an example that would set for an entire generation of young Indians looking for something more than just money, money, money and fame, fame, fame –
But that might be just too much to ask of the ‘Man” –
Whatever, we have a great Test series on the rise and with England coming to India so early, and playing important warm-up matches, not only are they getting ready, but the public interest in the series is growing – someone, probably English, is finally thinking cricket again.
And thousands and thousands watching Ranji Trophy in Ghaziabad? – stars, a small-town ground – the perfect combination – is any Indian cricket loving official listening, or watching, or caring?