There was hope and then there was despair. A familiar outcome when India plays cricket matches overseas. The 1st Test match at Edgbaston was no different. The setting was perfect for an India win. To score 192 for a win seemed a target the Indians could easily achieve, especially as they had enough time, to get themselves acclimatised and attuned.
The older Indian supporters were hopeful, as they reminisced a similar chase in 1971, when India beat England at the Oval. The younger fans were kicked, especially after the 5 wicket haul of Ishant Sharma. The lanky pacer’s spell had been the deciding factor in India’s 1st Test victory at the Lords, during its England tour in 2014. The sunny conditions were giving Indian cricket followers more reasons to imagine an India win. God, they felt, was with them.
Unfortunately, the game of cricket does not necessarily follow the analytical analysis and trends that one has got used to in the modern world. This was evident, as the Indian batsmen, apart from Virat Kohli, all looked technically out of depth and with limitations of both character and patience. So, India lost — to the despair of their millions of fans.
Interestingly, Sachin Tendulkar had been invited to ‘Ring the Bell’ at Lords before the start of the 2nd Test match. While at the iconic venue, Tendulkar must have wished that his arrival heralds an element of luck and blessing for India in this match. But Master Blaster left disappointed as weather continued to play the spoiler.
Cricket at Lords has this phenomenal aura about it. Although the 1st ever Test match in England was played at the Oval, Lords developed into what is now popularly referred to as the “Mecca of Cricket”. And India has a close affinity with Lords. It was here it played its 1st ever Test match — a significant piece of history that is etched in every Indian cricketer’s mind when he steps into these hallowed grounds.
Sitting comfortably in the Warner stand, my mind strayed on to some heartwarming performances by Indian cricketers of the past. The two greatest individual achievements on this ground are by the brilliant all-rounder Vinoo Mankad and stylish batsman Dilip Vengsarkar. In the Test match in 1952, Mankad achieved the best cricket feat ever by an Indian cricketer. India lost the match but scoring 72 runs in the 1st innings as an opener, bowling 73 overs, 24 of them maidens, getting 5 wickets for 196 runs and then getting India’s 1st century on the ground, with a brilliant 184 runs is a tale that no other Indian cricketer can boast of. This remarkable feat ended with Mankad bowling 24 overs in the 2nd innings when England required just 79 runs to win. The Test match quite understandably was called “ Mankad’s Test” or Mankad versus England. In a similar vein India’s 1stTest match at Edgbaston this season is being referred to as, “ Kohli versus England”. The second remarkable feat was three consecutive centuries by Dilip Vengsarkar. The best one was in 1986 when he made 126 not out in the 1st innings and India went on to finally win at Lords for the first time. The celebration picture of the Indian team with the ever-popular manager and the man who was the face of India at Lords, “Lord” Raj Singh Dungarpur on the balcony was when one felt that India is now one of the big boys of Test cricket.
The smiling Kapil Dev lifting the World Cup in 1983 on the balcony of Lords brings into my eyes tears of joy and the shirtless Sourav Ganguly celebrating the Nat West trophy in 2002 a smile of amusement.
The present Indian side will need to play with the same determination as did so many in the past. Being one down in the series is not the position the Indian side would have liked to be in, but England in the recent past does not have a good record at Lords and India did beat them in 2014.
The England side will miss their star all-rounder Ben Stokes and this should be an advantage that India must capitalise on. The sunny London weather is ideally suited for an Indian cricketer, as India has performed disastrously in the past when the weather was overcast, cold and cloudy. One hopes that the sun shines for them.
Patience is a virtue that the Indian batsmen will need to imbibe in both the innings and they have a coach in Ravi Shastri, whose patience and resolute century in 1990 as an opener etched his name on the famous Lords Honour Board. One hopes that the Indian team emulates him to the tee, or else the series may just become an impossible game.
(The writer is a former India cricketer)