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500 stories to tell

1st October 2016

Boria Majumdar

PART-- I

500 Test matches. A journey that has never been short on drama and achievement, intrigue and controversy and has always been exciting. Boria Majumdar divides the matches gone by into three stages, infancy, adolescence and maturity.
Infancy-
India Debuts in Style
When the Indians traveled to England in 1932, nothing much was known of their capabilities. By the time they returned, C.K. Nayudu and his teammates had established themselves as a force to reckon with.
And soon after the Indian team arrived in England on 13 April, 1932, the Evening Standard commented on the socio-political significance of the tour:
No politics, no caste, just cricket. This is the unofficial slogan of the cricket team that has come from India after a lapse of 21 years to try its strength against England and the first class counties.
There has never been such a team of contrasts meeting on the common footing of cricket. The 18 players speak eight to ten languages among them; they belong to four or five different castesThe team contains six Hindus, five Mohammedans, four Parsees and two Sikhs. The Mohammedans forswear alcohol by religion and most of the others do so by choice. The Sikhs, who will play cricket in turbans, are similarly denied smoking. There are no training regulations but when serious cricket comes along there is a voluntary rule of 9 o clock bed
However, it was in the first and only test match at Lords that the Indians shocked the English in the first half-hour itself. The MCC was reduced to a dismal 19-3 by some excellent Indian bowling and fielding. Wrote The Birmingham Post: The All India cricket team has administered a few shocks to the dignity and confidence of England today. If there were among the 24,000 spectators at Lords some who imagined that the granting of a Test match by the MCC to the tourists from the Indian empire was merely an amiable concession, then they had a very rude awakening before the close of play
Though India eventually lost the match by 158 runs, the courage and grit shown at Lords clearly conveyed to the world that the Indians, in little time, would carve out a niche in the world of cricket.
The credibility the Indians had raked up on tour duly paid dividends when the Marylebone Cricket Club, taken by Indias impressive Test debut at Lords in 1932 sent a competent team to India in the winter of 1933. Most significant was that Douglas Jardine, born in India and master of Bodyline, was chosen leader of the party.
In the first ever Test match on Indian soil at Bombay, while an English victory was almost a foregone conclusion, the teen sensation Lala Amarnaths batting overshadowed all else. No one who watched Amarnath bat in the afternoon of 17 December 1933 could ever forget the experience.
1940s
If this Indians did well on debut, the follow up wasnt great. The 1940s was the decade of struggle in Indian cricket history. While the Indians lost 0-1 in England, they were battered in Australia succumbing to the brilliance of Bradman.
However, no matter where the team was playing, AER Gilligan wrote, the same story can be told of record gates, because the public realized that the Indian team would always play cricket in its greatest sense. Whenever they appeared there was always something to look forward to.
1950s
The first Test win- Chepauk 1952
For 20 years India had not won a Test match and in 1952 they were down 0-1 going into the fifth and last Test of the series at Chepauk in Chennai (then Madras).
Finally, when at 3 pm on 10 February 1952, C.D. Gopinath, the youngest member of the side caught Brian Statham, history was made. Vijay Hazare had led India to her first ever Test victory.
The chief architects of the victory were the famous five, Mankad, Ahmed, Roy, Umrigar and Sen.
When England ended Day 1 at 224-5, not many could have predicted the historic outcome. But the second morning was All-India (read Mankad) and England was soon all out for 266.
When Roy and Umrigar both struck centuries, the Indians were firmly in the box seat and could smell the elusive victory. Hazare finally declared the Indian innings at 457 an hour before the end of the third days play. The fourth and final day of the match saw India at her best. Mankad and Ghulam Ahmed ran through the English batting to give Indian fans what they had been dreaming for 20 years-the coveted Test victory.
Reminiscing the occasion in his memoirs, Pankaj Roy declared, It was one of the best moments of my life. Our first Test victory and that too against the country, which had been our master till five years before, this victory had a special significance for every Indian. The scenes we witnessed after the match cant be described in words. I had seen tears in peoples eyes, and celebrations were on all over Madras. Thousands had assembled at the hotel to catch a glimpse of the victorious Indian team, and we were heroes overnight. It was one of the best things to have happened to me.
Despite this victory, however, it was not until 1971 and away victories in the Caribbean and England that Indian test cricket entered its next phase.


To Be Continued...