Cricket

How a Kapil Dev-led Team India stormed the final bastion of English cricket to conquer Lord’s in 1986

  • Anindya Dutta
  • June 25th, 2020
  • 10:30:49 IST

In 'Nostalgia Drive', Anindya Dutta celebrates a significant victory in Indian cricket which occurred in that corresponding month in history.

***

He had unleashed a 175 horsepower tsunami at Tunbridge Wells that swept Zimbabwe away, then taken a captain’s catch to dismiss Vivian Richards and deliver India its first World Cup against the greatest odds in cricket history.

Bursting through the web of spin that for two decades had precluded anyone with a run up more than 10 paces making the Test XI, he had shouldered the burden of being India’s entire fast bowling arsenal for eight long years. He was the kind of leader men would follow to the ends of the earth.

Maninder Singh, then a 20-year old youngster, was one such player. In a recent conversation, he told me: “We had a very positive captain in Kapil Dev. He always had this belief that we can beat any team in any condition. Now if your leader has that confidence and belief then it rubs off on the team.”

And yet, 20 Tests as captain had passed by without his ever experiencing the elation of victory. As he walked out to toss at Lord’s, Kapil Dev looked up to the balcony where three years before he had held aloft the Prudential World Cup. It all seemed like a dream now. His inability to stitch together a Test victory hung around his neck like an unbearable millstone.

Over the next five days of exhilarating cricket, all that was about to change.

On Firstpost — 'We dominated England on all days': Kiran More recalls debut and India's first Test win at Lord's in 1986

***

The 1986 Test side that Kapil Dev led to the British Isles was different from the others that had toured England in the past, in one important aspect — it had genuine opening bowlers with the pace to match the Englishmen, and the ability to move the ball enough to worry them.

At Northampton, just before the first Test, Kapil Dev, Roger Binny and Chetan Sharma had bowled the county side out for 118. This success, and especially that of Kapil who, moving the ball from leg to off or cutting it back, took four wickets in eight balls, brought home to the Indians the vulnerability of English batsmen in home conditions.

In addition, under Kapil’s leadership, despite his occasional run-ins with Sunil Gavaskar, the team gelled well. Maninder recalled: “We had a very well balanced team which enjoyed each others’ successes. Almost every evening on that whole tour we all were together for dinner. That made for a fantastic equation as a team.”

One 10 June 1986, India won their first Test at Lord's. Image via Twitter/@ICC

One 10 June 1986, India won their first Test at Lord's. Image via Twitter/@ICC

Close as the team was, coming into England, it was never far from anyone’s mind that India had been struggling in Tests, winning only four matches of the 52 it had played that decade. The nation had not experienced an away win since February 1981.

But fortunately for them, the opposition was in great disarray.

David Gower’s captaincy was under threat after a 5-0 loss in the West Indies. His record (W5 D7 L13) was hardly confidence-inspiring. It had caused the selectors’ chairman Peter May to confirm Gower as captain only for the first Test at Lord’s.

To make matters worse, as always there was Ian Botham. ‘Beefy’ Botham faced four charges from the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB): smoking cannabis, writing a newspaper article (an exclusive in the Daily Mail) admitting to smoking cannabis, admitting this after he had previously denied it, and writing a newspaper article without the permission of his county Somerset. In the end, he had been slapped with a two-month ban, ruling him out of the India series. Without his strike bowler, Gower was out of the limelight and in the soup.

***

With memories of the previous match fresh in his mind, it was inevitable that Kapil would ask Gower to bat when he won the toss. But when England went in to lunch at 81 for 1, the Indian skipper was having his first doubts.

PG Wodehouse, in one of his many delightful cricket themed pieces, had once written: “Volumes might be written on the cricket lunch and the influence it has on the run of the game; how it undoes one man, and sends another back to the fray like a giant refreshed.”

Such would be the case with young Chetan Sharma who Wisden once described as ‘a pocket battleship of a fast-medium bowler’. Right after lunch, Sharma shifted into his most destructive gear. 92/1 quickly became 98/4, as he ripped out the middle order of Gower, Lamb and Gatting.

Maninder told me about Sharma and that spell, awe in his voice: “I always believed he was one the best fast — and I mean fast — bowlers India has ever produced. He was good in all conditions. That spell showed why I think he would have taken 300 Test wickets in his career but for his injuries.”

Graham Gooch, who had often been India’s nemesis, hunkered down, taking 165 balls and 213 minutes over his first 50, before upping the ante and just 90 more deliveries to complete his century. Gooch was out five minutes before the close of play, his sixth Test century helping put on 147 for the fifth wicket with Pringle (51 not out), and leaving England at a reasonably comfortable 245/5 overnight.

If there had been no reason this far to despair about the future of Test cricket, England made a wonderful case for it the next day with the most sleep inducing display of batting seen in many years at Lord’s. Occupying the crease for 32-overs, they added 49 runs before being dismissed that day.

Markus Berkmann in his book Rain Men would write: “It was punishingly boring… Pringle was unquestionably the instrument of God’s vengeance, sent to torture us into eating our sandwiches long before lunchtime.” Possibly lulled into semi-consciousness, India followed the English script, putting on 82 runs for the loss of one wicket in a mind numbing 51 overs. In his match report that night in the Daily Express Pat Gibson wrote: “It was surely the dreariest day of Test cricket ever seen at Headquarters (Lord’s).”

The unseasonal and invigorating chill in the air the next morning may have had something to do with the Indian batting masterclass that unfolded to brush aside memories of the previous day.

Mohinder Amarnath with 69, Gavaskar with 34 and Azharuddin with 33 provided the entertainment, but the innings of the match came from ‘Colonel’ Dilip Vengsarkar. Vengsarkar’s brilliant unbeaten 126 was his third Test century at Lord’s, his majestic and uncharacteristic hook over square leg defining the complete dominance over the English bowling. He became the first overseas player to achieve the triple, joining an illustrious list — Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Dennis Compton, Geoffrey Boycott and John Edrich — of batsmen who had scored three or more Test tons at Headquarters.

With Maninder Singh keeping him company, Vengsarkar helped India gain a 47-run lead. “I feel lucky to have got the great chance to be out there and be part of a partnership that allowed Dilip bhai to get his third century,” Maninder recalled.

With a lead behind him, Kapil Dev got into the act. Tim Robinson, Gooch and Gower were all back in the hut with England still 12-runs behind. Gatting and Lamb repaired the damage with a 73-run stand before Lamb edged one from Shastri, and Chetan Sharma bowled Gatting.

At 173 for 6, Maninder Singh, a veteran of 15 Tests at the tender age of 20, not expected (by English commentators) to have much of an impact on the Test, got into the act. Bowling 20 overs of probing spin, unrelenting in its accuracy, growing in confidence and guile as the overs went by, he ran through the lower order to finish with incredible figures of 20.4 – 12 – 9 – 3.

England was all out for 180, leaving India 134 runs to get for a famous win.

Eager to get to that elusive victory, India was soon struggling at 78 for 4 and then 100 for 5. A battle of the weather gods then ensued — the pagan English ones against the multiple deities the 11 Indians had summoned to their cause. Play was delayed by 20 minutes and it seemed likely that the match would peter into a disappointing draw. But in the end there was enough time for India to wrap up a five-wicket victory.

Fifty four years after CK Nayudu led India’s first Test team onto the hallowed turf, India had stormed the final bastion of English cricket. Lord’s had been conquered.

Anindya Dutta is a cricket columnist and author of four bestselling books. His latest, Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling won India’s Cricket Book of the Year award for 2019 and is long-listed for the MCC Book of the Year.

Updated Date: June 25, 2020 10:30:49 IST

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