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Lost in England

By Srinivas Venkataraghavan
January 23, 2003 18:02 IST
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Srinivas VenkataraghavanAs the eighth World Cup draws near, I am reminded of the first one-day international cricket match that India played in the summer of 1974. It was a dismal summer for us in England. After we lost the three-Test series squarely under Ajit Wadekar, we played two one-day games against England, for the Prudential Trophy, at Leeds.

In the first match, on July 14, 1974, batting first, we scored a praiseworthy 265, with Wadekar (67), Brijesh Patel (82) and Farokh Engineer (32) being the principal scorers after Sunil Gavaskar (28) and Sudhir Naik (18) gave India a good start. But we did not last the full quota of 55 overs. The innings came to an end in the 53rd over as sheer inexperience saw us losing five wickets in 13 deliveries.

Our inexperience was much more visible when England started their reply against a defensive field setting. England chased the target without much ado, making the runs in 51 overs.

In the second match, India's decision to pack the side with batsmen proved disastrous, as our innings folded up for a mere 171 runs. From 40 for one, India collapsed to 94 for six, before Gundappa Viswanath (32) and Ashok Mankad (44) got together to improve things a bit. England, who were better equipped as an one-day team, coasted to victory in the 49th over.

Inside 12 months, we were back in England for the World Cup in 1975. We were considered novices at that time. Farokh Engineer, Bishen Bedi and myself had the experience of having played in the English counties and one-day games. But experience at the one-day level for other Indian team members was very limited. Thus, the team was basically picked on domestic performance in the Deodhar Trophy one-day tournament, introduced in 1974. But one can agree that the Indian players at that point of time were short in experience, which was mainly due to lack of international exposure in the shorter version of the game.

The format was also against us as we had only three matches before the semi-finals. We were pitted against England, New Zealand and East Africa. We had talent but there was not much of preparation. Except myself and Bishen, who was a master in both types of cricket, others did not bowl to their potential.

But reality was harsh. In the opening match at Lord's, England took first strike and raced to 334 for 4 in 60 overs. Dennis Amiss (137), Keith Fletcher (68) and Chris Old (51 off only 28 deliveries) dominated the proceedings. All the medium pacers came in for severe punishment and they were carted all over. However, Bishen, who bowled well, and myself (12 overs - 41 runs) revealed that quality spinners can always hold their own in any type of the game.

Sunil GavaskarFaced with such a daunting task, our reply was pathetic. Just 132 runs came from 60 overs. This was the match which ruffled the feathers of one of India's greatest opening batsmen. The anti-climax was the batting performance of Sunil Gavaskar, who batted through the 60 overs to make 36 runs. I dare say that inspite of reminders he did injustice to the viewing public. The wicket was pretty good and I do not know what was going on in his mind. He never heeded to the reminders sent to him. Endless debate can go on as to what others did but the fact remains that India was comprehensively outplayed in every department of the game by England.

In the following game we registered our first victory in limited-overs cricket. Actually, it was a mis-match. East Africa had no clue whatsoever about the guiles of Bishen, who gave away just six runs from 12 overs with one wicket. This remains one of the most economical bowling in the limited-overs game.

In this match, Farokh opened with Gavaskar, and India raced to a 10-wicket victory, scoring 123 runs in 30 overs. Actually, Gavaskar scored 64 runs as against Farokh's 54, and I must say that his batting practice against England was not wasted.

However, the euphoria of our emphatic win over East Africa evaporated as New Zealand managed to defeat us in the next match, which sealed our chances of progressing further.

We did post a respectable total of 230 in 60 overs, with Anshuman Gaekward (57) and Abid Ali (70) being the main contributors. But the experienced Glenn Turner, who slammed a superb 171 against East Africa, joining Gavaskar in carrying the bat, came up with yet another batting feat. He made an unbeaten 114 to guide his team to a four-wicket victory with only seven balls to spare.

Bishen Singh BediBishen proved his abilities once again, conceding only 28 runs in 12 overs as compared to my figures of 39 runs in 12 overs. The other bowlers failed to check the flow of runs yet again.

As captain of the team, I had to take the brunt. Nevertheless, I had played enough cricket at higher levels and knew what winning and losing was. We got on the wrong foot in the first match. We needed to beat New Zealand but our progress was halted by Glenn Turner, who was in tremendous form. New Zealand could win only in the last but one over as they had the experience to carry them through, which our team lacked.

As I said earlier, I am not blaming my players because they lacked the application and temperament that goes with one-day games. And, there was no proper planning to pace up the innings for the first 15 overs, the next and so on. That sort of mental attitude was not there.

From the board's point of view, I would say that they had done well by introducing the Deodhar Trophy to prepare the team for the World cup. But playing on the sub-continent wickets in the early part of June and in England in June are entirely different propositions. We had flat or spin-aided wickets in India. Apart from the difference in day and night temperatures in England, the moisture in the atmosphere helped swing bowlers with lateral movement of the ball.

Moreover, the water content on the pitch and the moisture ratio used to be more in northern England as compared to the south of England. Also, we did not acquit ourselves as well as we were expected to. We had all-rounders and had the experience in the spin bowling department. I felt that if we had the chance to play some more matches -- like a team playing the other twice as was the case in the later World Cups -- we could have qualifed for the semi-finals.

Again I have to harp on the point that the West Indies won the title mainly because most of their players were permanent in English county cricket -- something which our players lacked. I do not think that the balance in the team was lacking. We had the balance. Our team had three medium-pacers and two spinners. Amongst our batsmen, Sunny had four years and Vishy six years of Test cricket. But one has to accept the fact that England that time were considered a better and superior side.

Mind you, if I had won the toss and batted first, it might have been a different situation altogether. Such things always happen in one-day cricket. One has to give credit to the players because those days we never had a coach or physio or systematic training. We did all that individually. I had no problem as far as fitness was concerned, but the feedback information as to what was happening was lacking. Even when you sit back to review a match or a tournament, we never had any back-up material.

Even if we had played a few warm-up matches things would have been different. We should have played against few county clubs before our World Cup match. We went into the tournament straightaway. Considering all these factors, warm-up matches would have given the other players some exposure and helped them acclimatise to the conditions; warm-up matches would have gone a long way in our preparation for success.

Venkataraghavan led India in the first two World Cups, in 1975 and 1979. He is now on the ICC's elite panel of Umpires.

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