If you are a cricket journalist, almost all the dinner conversations have a mention of cricket. My uncle, being a cricket enthusiast, has great memories of the Indian team during the 1970s and 80s. As I was researching about India’s tour of England in 1974, I asked him about it, hoping to get some better historic insights. Even before I could finish my description of the match, his face turned small and he said with a sigh, “Are you talking about the 1974 India vs England Test at the Lord’s, aren’t you?” His facial expressions and choice of words gave me enough hint of the emotion behind watching your country bundle out for an embarrassing 42.
June 24, 2017, marks the 43rd anniversary of one of the awful days in the Indian cricket. An unstoppable Indian team, led by Ajit Wadekar, toured England for three-Test and two-ODI series. The three Tests took place at Old Trafford, Lord’s and Edgbaston before the 50-overs games were played at Headingley and Kennington Oval. The Indian team was then World No. 1, having won series in West Indies, England and then defeated England at home, in the previous three years. Their strength lied in their spin attack. The quartet of spinners – Bishan Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna, and Venkat made all the difference for them. They were well backed by top batsmen like Sunil Gavaskar, Ajit Wadekar, and Gundappa Viswanath.
However, England’s fast and bouncy tracks aid the fast bowlers more and a lack of seam prowess in the Indian team eventually cost the leading side the series. Even the batsmen failed to play according to their potential. In addition to that, England’s chilly and damp weather troubled the Indians to a great extent. India and England locked horns in the first Test at the nippy Old Trafford. The Indians displayed mediocre cricket; their spinners failed to get accustomed to the alien conditions and hence the one-sided contest recorded England’s lowest-ever attendance of 19,700 over the five days. India lost the Test by 113 runs.
The Lord’s nightmare…
India’s winning streak was ended, right in the first game, by Mike Denness and his boys. Both the teams next head to the Mecca of Cricket, the Lord’s. If the Old Trafford Test was a one-sided contest, the second match touched the ultimate level of a lopsided match. England once again won the toss and opted to bat first. They piled up a record total at the Lord’s with 629 runs on the board. The batsmen who performed outstandingly for England were Dennis Amiss who scored 188, skipper himself who added another 118 runs and their third centurion was Tony Greig.
The situation for India got worse when Chandrasekhar injured his thumb on the first day of the match. The Indian team put up a great resistance but eventually were bowled for 302 runs in 101.5 overs. The follow-on was enforced on the visitors. Time only permitted two overs before the play stopped on the third day. India were 2 for no less. Sunil Gavaskar and Farokh Engineer resumed their innings on the morning of Day 4 and that’s when the nightmare began!
England’s swing bowlers Geoff Arnold and Chris Old took no time to unleash themselves on the already low-spirited Team India. Arnold drew the first blood for England when he dismissed Engineer for a nine-ball duck. The duo bowled eight overs each and grabbed four and five wickets respectively. The 10th man, Chandrasekhar did not bat due to the injury. Meanwhile, Mike Hendrick who could have done as well only ended up as a spectator. He was given just an over to bowl as the Indian debacle had ended in mere 17 overs. While all the talented batsmen were cheaply dismissed for single-digit scores, the highest run-scorer for India in the innings was Eknath Solkar with 18 runs off 17 balls.
England had whipped the Indian team by an innings and 285 runs.
The more humiliating aftermath…
Team India was clean swept by England 0-3 after the hosts won the third and final Test at Edgbaston by an innings and 78 runs. India’s total of 42 at the Lord’s still remains their lowest total in Tests. The Indian team ended the English summer without winning a match, in both Test and ODI series. Indicating at their degrading total of 42, the season was cited as the “Summer of 42.” (It was also a reference to the film Summer of ’42, which won an Oscar in 1972.)
An English website had reported that after the Lord’s Test there was a reception for the Indian team at Indian High Commission in which the Indians reached one hour late. The Indian High Commissioner, Brij Kumar Nehru, asked the Indian Captain Wadekar the reason for the delay. Wadekar said it was due to a traffic jam. The Indian High Commissioner eventually had canceled the reception.
The losing side, Team India, had a terrible welcome at the Mumbai Airport when they returned from England. According to sources, there were several angry fans that had come with garlands made of shoes.
Wadekar, who blamed the selection for India’s catastrophic performance in England, was sacked as the Indian skipper at the end of the 1974 tour. He soon retired from Tests after that. “We had problems on the tour. I am not offering excuses, but we didn’t have a great tune-up for the series. The selection was not too good either and above all, the law of averages caught up with us after three series win on the trot,” Wadekar said in 2009.