As India readies to play its 500th Test, a look at how its 'milestone matches' have played out
As India readies to play its 500th Test, a look at how its 'milestone matches' have played out
On Thursday against New Zealand, India will play its 500th Test match, a feat previously reached only by England (976 Tests), Australia (791) and West Indies (517). England's landmark occasion was a low-scoring thriller against Pakistan at Headingley in 1974, but a fifth-day wash-out meant the match was drawn, showing yet again that the British weather has no respect for any occasion.
Australia's quinquennial Test saw them defeat their oldest enemy in an Ashes clash at the MCG in 1990, while the West Indies celebrated theirs by crushing Bangladesh at Gros Islet in 2014.
Captain Virat Kohli is a man you suspect will undoubtedly wish to keep the razzmatazz to a minimum, but even the great steely browed one has been drawn into the celebrations, on Saturday cutting a commemorative cake at the team hotel. In further glitz, luminaries invited to attend the prize match in Kanpur include Sachin Tendulkar, Dilip Vengsarkar and, perhaps surprisingly for some, Mohammad Azharuddin, who after his infamous advice to Younis Khan in England, continues his recent involvement in century-based landmarks.
The match itself has India cast firmly as favourites, though thoughts of their Mitch Santner-inspired collapse on home soil to the Black Caps in this year's World T20 will undoubtedly be lingering, albeit very quietly, at the back of a few home players' minds.
So, while we can perhaps expect a win for Kohli and Co in their team's 500th Test, here's a look back at how India has fared in their previous "century" Tests:
100th Test, England in Birmingham, 1967: India won just ten of their first one hundred Tests, perhaps something to bear in mind for those impatient with Zimbabwe and Bangladesh's progress. And even their hundredth ended in defeat, a result that sealed a 3-0 series whitewash for England. After two heavy losses in the first two Tests, a wounded India, led by Tiger Pataudi, fell 132 runs short of an unlikely 410-run target, undone by England's pair of tweaking Yorkies, Ray Illingworth and Brian Close, who took eight wickets between them.
The tour was not, however, without its successes. Pataudi, Wadekar and Engineer were three of the six highest run-scorers, while Chandrasekhar claimed 16 scalps at 27. Playing his first overseas matches, a young Bishan Bedi in that Edgbaston Test also achieved the rare feat of having Geoffrey Boycott stumped; one of only two occasions the stoic opener was so dismissed in the longest form, Boycott was here provoked into an uncustomary charge having returned to the side after losing his place mid-series for a notorious 'go slow' in the First Test at Leeds. "I was terrified in case I played a maiden over," said the normally Teflon-willed batsman. "I felt as if the whole press box was waiting for me to play a defensive stroke."
So, while the result of their hundredth Test may not have been memorable for India, they could at least take comfort from the fact the match featured that most unique of sights: Geoffrey Boycott trying to bat like Yusuf Pathan.
200th Test, Pakistan in Lahore, 1982-83: A draw this time for India, in the first match of an ultimately highly disappointing series against Pakistan, which they went on to lose 3-0. Batting first, the home side racked up 485, with Zaheer Abbas making a double ton, his hundredth first class century. India's creditable response of 379 was largely due to an unbeaten 109 from Mohinder Amarnath, whose knock was a sign of impressive things to come, both in this and India's next series, away against the West Indies. In those 11 matches, he accrued 1182 runs at 69.5 with five centuries, an effort which led Imran Khan in his book All Round View to call him the best batsman in the world.
Despite ending in a tame draw, the match was notable for its impact on one of India's finest, though underutilised, spinners. Dilip Doshi, a man with dip so late it should have apologised, took a five-fer in Pakistan’s first innings, a haul which proved something of a pyrrhic triumph and also illustrated his uneasy relationship with captain Gavaskar.
Having already had the validity of an injury questioned by his skipper in a previous tour of Australia and New Zealand, Doshi felt he was often the victim of Sunny's perceived favouritism towards Ravi Shastri. In Lahore, he thought his wickets were not granted enough kudos by Gavaskar, with whom he also argued over field placements. The left-armer, having only played his first Test at the autumnal age of 32 three years earlier, went on to appear in just four more after India's 200th, leaving behind a career notable for both its achievements and relative sparsity.
In his book Spin Punch, Doshi termed Sunny, whose own personal efforts in Lahore saw him pass 7000 Test runs, a man "bogged down in personal likes and dislikes". But then, in truth, which of us are not?
300th Test, South Africa in Ahmedabad, 1996: Pleasant memories here for current coach Anil Kumble, who alongside the mustachioed comet of grace that was Javagal Srinath, bowled India to a 64-run victory in Ahmedabad over a strong South African side.
Having been set just 170 to win after debutant VVS Laxman had ground out a second innings half-century (his side's sole fifty in the match), Hansie Cronje's men had no answer to Jumbo and Javagal, who took nine wickets between them, the paceman finishing with a staggering 6 for 21.
Played out in front of a vociferous crowd, the intensity of the occasion at one point spilled over into violence when visiting spinner, the one man game of twister, Paul Adams, was struck by a small piece of concrete thrown from the stands.
Dustier than the inside of a hoover, the pitch was always going to prove difficult to bat on last up, so much so that Cronje labelled it unsuitable for Tests. Quite what he would have made of the surfaces during South Africa's last visit to India in 2015 is anyone's guess. These powdery demons did, however, allow Laxman to offer an indication of what was to become one the themes of his future career — the ability to score difficult second innings, match-winning runs when others failed.
Another truism of cricket was also on display, Jonty Rhodes' astonishing fielding being responsible for the wickets of both Tendulkar and Azharuddin in India's first innings.
This was very much a team win for India, yet Srinath rightly received the majority of plaudits, plaudits perhaps somewhat unfairly lacking throughout his illustrious career. Running in with his characteristic long sleeves billowing in the wind, he was a yacht of a bowler, gliding serenely through opposition line-ups, his express pace covertly shielded by the relaxed finesse of his action. His defenestration of the Proteas here allowed India to go one-up in a series they eventually won 2-1.
400th Test, West Indies in Jamaica, 2006: The match was significant not only as India’s 400th Test, but also as the game which clinched the visitors' first series victory in the West Indies for 35 years. After being unexpectedly hammered 4-1 in the preceding ODI series, the first three Tests were all bat-dominated draws, with the sides producing three 500-plus innings scores between them.
The fourth Test, however, shared some remarkable similarities with the 300th in Ahmedabad, with Kumble again a prominent figure in a low scoring encounter and another second innings saviour, this time Rahul Dravid chiseling vital runs out of his granite desire. Like Laxman's effort 10 years earlier, Dravid's twin 50s in the match were again the only time an Indian batsman crossed the half-century mark in the entire game.
After India posted 200, the home side were skittled for just 103, Harbhajan Singh taking five. Although India themselves then struggled to a modest 171 in their second innings, Brian Lara's team never looked like getting the 269 required and ultimately fell 49 short. There was resistance from a young Ramnaresh Sarwan but it went without reward. Kumble took 6 for 78 to secure a famous series win, only India's second series triumph in the Caribbean after the Gavaskar-driven win of 1971.
An unhappy Lara denounced both the selection chaos blighting West Indies cricket (a premonition of what Sarwan would to have to get used to) and also the fact that the pitch "seemed to have been prepared for the Indians". No matter how many centuries of Test matches teams play, dissatisfaction with boards and pitches are clearly two perennials of cricket that will never, ever disappear.
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