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4 great innings by Indian batsmen in England

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England_India_Test_CricketEngland host India for a series of 5 Tests, with the first having commenced on the 1st of August. India’s Test record in England makes for pretty dismal reading. They have contested 17 Test series in England with the hosts winning 13, India winning 3, and 1 drawn series. England have won 30 out of the 57 Tests and India 6, with 21 draws.

Despite the lopsided numbers, India’s batsmen have previously entertained viewers and spectators with their delectable and scintillating stroke play in England. Indian batsmen have scored as many as 39 centuries in these 57 Tests. Here we recap 4 of the finest innings – remembered for their sheer significance, importance in history and the degree of difficulty – by Indians on English soil.

Sunil Gavaskar, 221, Oval, London, 30th August- 04th September 1979

This was the last of 4 Tests. England were leading the series 1-0. They had set a target of 438 for India to square the series. This was almost unthinkable in those days, as the scoring rates in Tests had not yet increased exponentially due to ODI cricket.

Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan put on 76 runs for the 1st wicket as India reached close of play on the 4th day without losing a wicket. They still did not harbor hopes of a victory and would probably have been satisfied with an honorable draw, as they had yet to notch up a score in excess of 300 in the previous 3 Tests. However, Gavaskar gave them belief on the 5th day.

India kept themselves in the hunt on the final day, scoring 137 runs in the first 3 hours. Gavaskar is known as a stodgy, defensive batsman, but in the company of Dilip Vengsarkar, he played the role of aggressor and attacked the English bowling. The Englishmen began to panic and Gavaskar put India in the driver’s seat, with the score reading 366/2.

Indian skipper Srinivas Venkataraghavan made a blunder by promoting Kapil Dev and Yashpal Sharma ahead of Gundappa Vishwanath and India paid the price for his folly. This put pressure on Gavaskar and he lost his wicket when David Gower took a smart catch in the covers of Ian Botham’s bowling. Gavaskar’s innings of 221 off 443 balls lasted 490 minutes with 21 boundaries.

After his dismissal, India lost their way. Coupled with England’s slow over rate, the Test ended in a draw, India finishing at 429/8. Without Gavaskar’s knock, India would have almost certainly tasted defeat.
This remains one of the greatest innings played in the 4th innings in Test cricket. Len Hutton said that Gavaskar’s innings should rank alongside Stan McCabe’s 232 at Trent Bridge and Wally Hammond’s 240 at Lords.

Dilip Vengsarkar, 126*, Lords, London, 05-10 September, 1986

In the history of the game, only one overseas batsman has scored more than 2 centuries at the home of cricket. Vengsarkar holds the record with 3. In Test history, some batsmen have an affinity for a particular ground. Vengsarkar was the undisputed king of Lords.

In 1979, Vengsarkar’s century had saved India from certain defeat, and his century in 1982 had come in a losing cause. In 1986, he drove the English bowlers with elegance and finesse and pulled them with brute power. One particular square drive of Graham Dilley delighted the connoisseurs of the game.

But India suffered a collapse and were at 264/8. The ‘Colonel’ looked to run out of partners before he reached his century. However, Kiran More gave him adequate support and Vengsarkar had reached 95 when More was dismissed. With only the ‘rabbit’ Maninder Singh to give him company, Vengsarkar essayed a drive of sublime brilliance through mid-wicket to reach 99.

Off the next ball, Vengsarkar played the classic tip and run and Maninder scampered through, making Vengsarkar the first overseas batsman to register 3 centuries at the hallowed venue. The Colonel’s century enabled India to take a vital first innings lead of 47 and they won the match by 5 wickets.

Mohammad Azharuddin, 121, Lords, London, July 26-31, 1990

This was Azhar’s first year as captain and he was still learning on the job. He won the toss and made a mistake of monumental proportions by putting England in to bat. England filled their boots, making 653/4 declared with Graham Gooch helping himself to 333. Azhar received a lot of flak for that decision but when India batted, he played an innings that old-timers still remember fondly.

In the modern era, with the advent of Twenty20 cricket, most batsmen wield the bat like an axe. Azhar used it like a surgeon with a scalpel. Even though Gooch scored 333 in the first innings and Kapil Dev saved India from following on by striking Eddie Hemmings for 4 consecutive sixes, true aficionados remember the glorious stroke play from the wand of Azhar.

Off the very first delivery bowled by Chris Lewis, he just seemed to play a forward defensive push past the bowler which rocketed towards the mid-off boundary. He batted with a silken grace instead of muscling the ball, whether he was driving through the off-side or flicking through mid-wicket. Even so, some of the short balls were square cut with rasping power past point.

Azhar reached his century off just 88 balls, which was rare in those days. The century contained 20 boundaries. He was dismissed for 121 off 111 balls, with 22 boundaries. The brilliance of the innings can be gauged from the fact that it overshadowed Gooch’s triple century. The 3 hours that Azhar entertained at the crease were as close to batting perfection as one is likely to witness.

Rahul Dravid, 148, Headingley, Leeds, 22-26th August 2002

India were trailing 1-0 in the series. They needed a win in the 3rd Test to keep alive their chances of winning it in the 4th Test. Sourav Ganguly won the toss and bravely decided to bat on a green pitch, as India were playing 2 spinners and he wanted to give the pitch a chance to deteriorate.

India lost Virender Sehwag with just 15 runs on the board and Dravid joined Sanjay Bangar at the crease. Dravid knew that the longer he batted on the green pitch, the more it would help India’s bowlers as well as help post a challenging total. He was repeatedly beaten by the vagaries of bounce and lateral movement and the score hardly progressed apart from the odd one and two runs scampered.

Dravid, as was his wont, was happy to shoulder arms and watch the ball go through to the wicket-keeper. He played only when absolutely necessary and reached his fifty in 153 balls, which may seem pedestrian but was worth his weight in gold, given the difficult conditions.

He reached his 12th Test century by clipping Hoggard off his legs for four. His century took 300 minutes and came from 220 balls. He was finally stumped for 148 by Alec Stewart off the bowling of Ashley Giles. Even though Tendulkar scored 193 in the same innings, it was Dravid’s knock that was more valuable and helped India triumph by an innings and 46 runs.

 

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