When India conquered Lord’s in 1986……


It had taken India 39-years and the greatest bowling performance of the twentieth century from a leg-spinning genius with a polio-afflicted bowling arm to register her first win against England in England. But that 1971 Oval victory on the back of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar’s incredible 6 for 38 was but a single bright buoy in a dark ocean of Test losses that successive Indian teams had suffered in the British Isles since 1932.

When Kapil Dev’s Indian side landed on British shores in the summer of 1986, they brought with them the confidence of the 1983 Prudential World Cup victory at Lord’s and the 1985 Benson & Hedges triumph at the MCG. But that was in limited overs cricket. Test cricket was another matter altogether. Would the bowling be good enough to dismiss England twice in the Tests playing in the early part of the English summer with its unsettled weather?

The Dawn shows the Day

India’s 1986 Test side was different from the others that had toured England in the past in one important aspect – it had genuine opening bowlers with the pace to match the Englishmen and the ability to move the ball. It was a far cry from 1967 when Tiger Pataudi had thrown the ball to wicket keeper Budhi Kunderan to open the bowling at Edgbaston so that the shine could be taken off before his Spin Quartet got down to doing the real job of bowling the Englishmen out.

The first sign that India had matured in the pace department 20-years after that event came at Northampton, where Kapil Dev, Roger Binny and Chetan Sharma bowled the county side out for 118. This success, and especially that of Kapil who, moving the ball from leg to off or cutting it back, took four wickets in eight balls, brought home to the Indians the vulnerability of English batsmen in English conditions. This changed everything.

The Indian think tank went into a huddle after this match. Decisions were taken that were to have a profound impact on the series. The seam bowlers would stick to the traditional virtues of line and length and peg away at the traditional vulnerability of batsmen of balls moving away from their off stump, and alongside them, India would play two left-arm spinners who would also attack the England batsmen on and outside the off stump.

Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. Image Courtesy: Mid Day

India was not however without its problems. There had been for long growing tensions between captain Kapil Dev and his predecessor, Sunil Gavaskar, the team was struggling in Tests, winning only four matches of the 52 they had played in the decade, and without an away win since February 1981. Gower had a shaky captaincy record (W5 D7 L13) but Kapil Dev was still looking for his first win in his 21st Test in charge. To his credit, he had only lost six matches in that time, but he was still winless as India’s Test captain.

The English camp, on the other hand, was short of both confidence and ideas. And it would only get worse before the series started.

David Gower’s captaincy was under threat after a 5-0 loss in the West Indies. The situation hardly improved when Chairman of Selectors Peter May announced at the start of the summer that the England captain would effectively be on trial for the two one-day internationals against India and the first Test at Lord’s. Gower decided that humour was the best way forward, getting 13 T-shirts printed before the series, one with “I’m in Charge” emblazoned on the front, the other 12 with “I’m not” on them.

Then Gower found himself hidden behind the haze of Ian Botham’s cannabis revelations. Botham faced four charges from the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB): smoking cannabis, writing a newspaper article (an exclusive in the Daily Mail) admitting to smoking cannabis, admitting this after he had previously denied it, and writing a newspaper article without the permission of his county Somerset. In the end, he was slapped with a two-month ban ruling him out of the India series. Without his strike bowler, Gower was out of the limelight and in the soup.

Conquering the ‘Headquarters’

Kapil Dev walked out to toss at Lord’s, the memories of the 1983 win very much in his mind and it may well have been his positivity that convinced lady luck to favour him at the toss. Asking Gower to bat first on a slow green wicket was a no brainer. But at lunch with England at 81 for 1, the first doubts about the strategy were beginning to creep in.

But right after lunch, Chetan Sharma who Wisden described as “a pocket battleship of a fast-medium bowler” shifted into his most destructive gear. 92/1 became 98/4, as Sharma ripped out the middle order of Gower, Lamb and Gatting, leaving the Graham Gooch and Derek Pringle combine to perform a rescue act. Gooch, took 165 balls and 213 minutes over his first fifty, before upping the tempo and taking just 90 more balls to reach his century. He was out five minutes before the close of play, his sixth Test century helping to put on 147 for the fifth wicket with Pringle (51 not out), and leaving England on a reasonably comfortable 245/5 overnight.

Kapil Dev in action. Image Courtesy: ESPNcricinfo

The next day the two teams’ batting aptly demonstrated why Test cricket was in decline as far as fan interest was concerned. 132 runs were scored in 83 overs. England took 32 overs to add just 49 to their total – Pringle taking 70 balls to score 12 runs – with Chetan Sharma the pick of the bowlers, ending with figures of 5/64, assisted by Roger Binny picking up 3 for 55, as England was dismissed for 294. India plodded through 51 overs to score 83/1, a strike rate that arguably could have been far worse if Krishnamachari Srikkanth had not been at the crease.

Pat Gibson wrote in the Daily Express: “It was surely the dreariest day of Test cricket ever seen at Headquarters (Lord’s)”. Markus Berkmann in his book Rain Men would be almost Cardusian in his recall of sitting through that day: “It was punishingly boring… Pringle was unquestionably the instrument of God’s vengeance, sent to torture us into eating our sandwiches long before lunchtime.”

The next day, however, India decided to up the ante in a bid to take a first-innings lead. Mohinder Amarnath with 69, Gavaskar with 34 and Azharuddin with 33 provided entertainment, but the innings of the match came from ‘Colonel’ Dilip Vengsarkar. Putting in a masterclass of batting at the Mecca of Cricket, Vengsarkar’s unbeaten 126 was his third Test century at Lord’s. He became the first overseas player to achieve this feat, and he joined an illustrious list – Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Dennis Compton, Geoffrey Boycott and John Edrich, of batsmen who had scored three or more Test tons at Headquarters. Along with Maninder Singh to keep him company, Vengsarkar helped India gain a 47-run lead.

With a lead behind him, Kapil Dev got into the act. Tim Robinson, Gooch and Gower were all back in the hut with England still 12-runs behind. Gatting and Lamb repaired the damage with a 73-run stand, but with Shastri relentlessly pegging away at the off stump line, it was just a matter of time before Lamb edged one to Kiran More behind the stumps. Chetan Sharma then bowled Gatting and Kapil Dev’s out swinger was too much for Derek Pringle to handle, More taking the catch. Wicket keeper Paul Downton exhibited the grittiness that the men in gloves always do when welding a willow, taking the English score to 173 for 6.

And then Maninder Singh, a veteran of fifteen Tests at the age of twenty, who was not expected (by English commentators) to have much of a role in the Tests, got into the act. Bowling twenty overs of probing spin, unrelenting in his accuracy, growing in confidence and guile as the overs went by, he first removed the dour resistance of Downton and then picked up the wickets of his fellow tweakers John Emburey and Phil Edmonds to finish with incredible figures of 20.4 – 12 – 9 – 3.

England was all out for 180, leaving India 134 runs to get for a famous win.

The start was anything but auspicious, Srikkanth dismissed for a duck with India’s score at 10. None of the top order got going and India was soon struggling at 78 for 4 and 100 for 5. Then ensued a divine battle – the English weather Gods against the multiple deities the eleven Indians had summoned to their cause. Play was delayed by 20 minutes and it was expected that rain would disrupt proceedings, but in the end there was enough time for India to wrap up a five-wicket victory, Captain and vice-captain, Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri, seeing India through to her first victory at Lord’s in eleven attempts and only the second victory in England in India’s 56-years of Test cricket.

The Headquarters had been conquered.

A Series to Remember

As India rejoiced over a famous victory and Kapil Dev celebrating his first win in his 21st Test as captain issued a statement saying, ”We believe in ourselves now and can win the series,” repercussions of the loss were being felt in the English camp. Mike Gatting was made the captain for the next two Tests without Gower being informed. In a typical David Gower response, he called the cameramen over and posed for the press while handing over the “I’m in charge” T-shirt to Gatting.

Two weeks later at Leeds, Kapil Dev would fulfil his dream and his promise. India made some injury driven changes. Mohinder Amarnath was replaced by Chandrakant Pandit brought in as a specialist batsman, and Chetan Sharma was replaced by Madan Lal who was not in the squad but playing the Lancashire League. Pandit scored a few runs before Madan Lal and Roger Binny ran through the hosts top order in the first innings picking up 8 crucial wickets between them and helping dismiss England for 102. Vengsarkar scored another magnificent century in India’s second innings, and England were then dismissed for 128 the second time around. India won the Test by 279 runs and the series 2-0.


Kapil Dev’s boys may have arrived early well before the warmth enveloped the English countryside, but the quality of their performances and the first victory at Lord’s ensured that 1986 would forever be remembered for its Indian Summer.

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