Spellbound by a withered arm, and the dream of a lifetime: two memories of an Indian summer

Guerilla Cricket’s own Tony Bishop, and Divya Rao, an Indian cricket enthusiast now based in Denmark, are two different generations of cricket lover whose paths crossed in their day jobs. Here they share their recollections of series past.

Shirting his responsibility: Ganguly left it to Mohammad Kaif to see India home in 2002

TONY’S MEMORY (England v India, 3rd Test, The Oval, 1971)

In 1971 I was 12. Already playing and acquiring my lifelong love of the game, a touring side from India seemed extremely exotic, lent an additional soupcon of mysticism by the tongue-twisting unfamiliarity of their names but more importantly by the deadly variety of their spin attack.

None attracted my attention more than Bhagwath Subramanya Chandrasekhar. My father spoke in hushed and awed tones about his “withered arm”, the result of childhood polio. However, Chandrasekhar had overcome this, turning misfortune to advantage and using his disability to spellbind batsmen with an unpredictable yet spiteful mix of sharp googlies, top spinners and leg breaks. They were all delivered at near medium pace from the back of his hand – all with a whipping action.

In today’s language he was the very definition of “hard to pick” and unplayable. He was one of a quartet of spin bowlers along with Bishen Singh Bedi, Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan, and Erapalli Prasanna – the latter consigned only to the tour matches – who combined to befuddle and bamboozle opposition batsmen with their lethal cocktail of slow left-arm, off-spin and leg-breaks.

For all this, an Indian touring side had never won a Test match in England despite first playing here in 1932. Conversely, England had just retained the Ashes in Australia and then beaten Pakistan in the summer’s first Test series. To my young eyes, they were invincible (oh how age and experience corrupt the naivety of youth!).

As well as their spinning four horsemen of the apocalypse, India also had a very able batting line-up, with household names including Sunil Gavaskar, Ashok Mankad (son of Vinoo who gave his name to the dubious practice of Mankading), Ajit Wadekar, Gundappa Viswanath, and behind the stumps Farokh Engineer, who served Lancashire with distinction for so many years.

England included such redoubtable names as Geoff Boycott, John Edrich, Brian Luckhurst, Dennis Amiss, John Snow, Peter Lever, Ray Illingworth, Derek Underwood and Alan Knott. On home turf an England win was confidently expected. However, under Wadekar’s captaincy, India were stronger and more formidable on UK soil than their forbears. By winning the final Test at The Oval by four wickets after the first two matches were drawn, India not only broke their cricketing duck in England but also took the series.

Chandrasekhar weaved his magic even on a sluggish pitch and took six for 38 as England’s second innings collapsed (unbelievable but true) to 101 all out. Despite the early jitters caused by Snow and Deadly Derek, stubborn contributions from India’s middle order of Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai and Viswanath took them most of the way to the 173-run target and Engineer finished the job.

With the final two balls of the morning Chandrasekhar had ripped the heart out of the innings. His team-mates referred to his faster ball as his Mill Reef – after the Derby winning horse of that summer – and he used it with devastating effect to remove Edrich and Keith Fletcher in successive balls.

“In Bombay, the birthplace of Indian cricket, unprecedented scenes were witnessed,” Wisden noted. “There was dancing in the streets. Revellers stopped and boarded buses to convey the news to commuters. In the homes, children garlanded wireless sets over which the cheery voice of Brian Johnston had proclaimed the glad tidings of India’s first Test victory in England, a victory which also gave them the rubber.”

DIVYA’S MEMORY (England v India , NatWest Series final, Lord’s, 2002)

My earliest memory of anything cricket was the keen interest of my father watching a county cricket match in our Bangalore house – much to my mother’s annoyance as that it seemed to be the epicenter of his priorities.

The ODIs were like the exchange student who was a classmate for one semester and left everyone charmed in their brief time with you. England were always a formidable team to take on when it came to playing on international pitches. Despite having Mr Reliable Rahul Dravid, and Sachin Tendulkar, the reincarnated God of cricket, playing England on their home turf was going to be an acid test. That is probably why the final of the 2002 NatWest Series stands out in my memory.

The English team had Nasser Hussain captaining the team. He had by then attained a reputation as being a mastermind of strategy and field placing.

Backing him were a bevy of expert batsmen and all-rounders. Marcus Trescothick, who first registered as a rather weird, three-syllabled name to the Indian ear, had established himself as a real threat to a rather inexperienced bunch of Indian bowlers. It was therefore a relief when the other batsman in the opening pair, Nick Knight, fell to a fresh-faced Zaheer Khan, dismissed by a cool delivery that nicked the bails off.

Trescothick seemed to make use of every ball he faced and with the Indian bowling tepid and field-placing seeming to leave so many open spaces, Hussain batted like he had a point to prove – and he proved it. They built a partnership of 185 runs and when Trescothick was dismissed for 109 by Anil Kumble, there were still 14 overs to go.

Freddie Flintoff was brought in and his hit-out or get-out strategy worked as he hit mercilessly to the boundary, including one magnificent six. In the end, India were left staring at a target of 326 – next to impossible even in 50 overs in those pre-T20 days.

But there was faint hope in Sehwag’s unpredictable smashes, Dravid’s stability, Ganguly’s square cuts and Tendulkar’s presence, right? Turns out, no. The safe bets mentioned above may not have all failed – there was 45 for Sehwag, 60 for Ganguly – but all had come and gone in under 25 overs.

When Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif came to the crease, I distinctly remember chatter in the house about who these boys were. Yuvraj was only 20 and Kaif, 21, was almost an unknown entity. The England bowling unit were growing in confidence while the inverse was true in the Indian pit.

But as Yuvraj took guard, something changed in the tectonics of the game. Runs began flowing – fours, sixes, quick singles. Even after Singh fell to Paul Collingwood, it was remarkable to see Harbhajan Singh add a quick 15. It’s still difficult to know how he gets runs with the way he holds the bat. And Kaif held the fort, until Zaheer Khan, coming in at No 10, hit the winning runs off Flintoff with three balls to spare.

I still don’t know what made this match so memorable – the wonderful turnaround, Ganguly’s shirt-swirling antics from the balcony, or just that this was a match meant to be won by India! A few days ago, the BCCI and Kaif, who was named the man of the match in the final, tweeted out photos and Kaif said: “I lived a dream, a dream of a lifetime.”