It was on 24th August 1971 that India beat England for the first time ever in England. The day also happened to be Ananth Chaturthi back in India and as luck would have it some Indian fans had hired an elephant and brought it to The Oval ground. It was thus an auspicious omen though the overnight batsman skipper Ajit Wadekar was run out in the first over itself.
India was chasing 171 runs to win but with the shrewd Ray Illingworth as the England skipper it looked like it was 1000 runs more. Illingworth is the canniest captain I have seen in international cricket and there’s been no one who has come even close in the years that I have been involved with test cricket as a player and now as a media person.
It was so difficult to get even a single so precise were his field placements in that game. Wadekar and Dilip Sardesai had stitched together a good steadying partnership after both Ashok Mankad and I departed early in the chase the previous evening. Wadekar after his run out came back to the change room and dropped off to sleep and was woken up by the late Ken Barrington when India needed just a few runs to win. India were on the brink of a famous win thanks to the partnership between Gundappa Viswanath and Farokh Engineer when Vishy went for a hoick that would have been the winning runs and was caught behind off Luckhurst.
Bringing the opening batsman Luckhurst on to bowl was the only indication that Illingworth had given up since only 4 runs were needed by India to win the game. Those were scored by Abid Ali as he square cut Luckhurst for a boundary and ran first towards the pavilion then back towards the pitch to try collect a stump as a souvenir. It was a truly memorable day and as India won at Trent bridge on 22nd August a couple of days before the 47th anniversary of The Oval win those memories came flooding back . They were all the more poignant because the skipper of that team Ajit Wadekar had passed away just a few days earlier.
Virat Kohli and his team deserve all the kudos as they came back after being two nil down in the series to win at Trent Bridge. The skipper himself held the batting together in both the innings and with the others also contributing the bowlers had a cushion of runs to play with.
The 60 plus opening starts given by Dhawan and Rahul in both the innings were crucial as they made life easier for the batsmen to follow. Having said that the batting of the skipper was simply superb as he shepherded Ajinkya Rahane in the first innings and Cheteshwar Pujara in the second innings. Both these batsmen getting runs as well as the starts from Dhawan and Rahul is a good sign for the two tests to follow and with young Pant showing he is not overawed by Test cricket and Pandya also chipping in with a fifty the batting looks as if it’s found its mojo.
It was Pandya’s incisive spell in England’s first innings that destroyed the home team. He got just enough movement to get the outside edge and by keeping a fuller length he showed he was learning quickly how to bowl in English cricket conditions . In the second innings Jasprit Bumrah bowled fast and furious to pick a second consecutive five wicket haul in test cricket. It was not just the win but the manner of that win that was most impressive.
It was heart warming to see both openers playing with bat close to the pad and not poking at deliveries outside the off-stump as it was to see the slip fielders crouching with their palms held forward rather than standing with hands on knees.
The catching behind the wicket was nothing short of phenomenal as Rahul and Pant gobbled everything that came their way. The catch Kohli took to dismiss Pope in the second innings was astounding and if India keep catching like this then they will dismiss sides far cheaper than when they drop the catches.
It was only the 7th time India have won a test match in England so it’s not something to tom tom from the rooftops but it’s the comeback and the way they have won that makes one believe that it could be nine wins by the time of he series ends.