Does everyone remember the first cricket match they saw on TV? I certainly do. It was a winter morning in New Delhi, when Ravi Shastri, a relatively obscure left arm spinner plucked out of the Mumbai Ranji team (some say, not without justification, only because SMG wanted him) came out as a nightwatchman against Willis and Botham and scored 93. The year was 1981 and and I was hooked.
In those pre-historic days without cable tv, there was just good ol' DD to introduce you to the collective charms of Dr. Narottam Puri, Kishor Bhimani, Ravi Chaturvedi, Akash Lal and Anupam Gulati. The language was archaic, the coverage sometimes bordering on ludicrous, with the camera focussing on the wicketkeeper rather than the fielder chasing the ball and the breaks were not commercial but the rather more conventional off-break and leg-break. But just maybe, the cricket was much closer to the heart.
So rather than defending those romantic notions about black and white televisions, white flannel and batting without helmets (and generally sounding old and utterly boring) what I will try and do is to piece together some arresting visuals I remember from those days. It is not in any order of significance, its just what I remember.
A struggle between two ultra-defensive captains as to who will bore the crowds more. India winning the Mumbai test quite unexpectedly. SMG scoring a rather painstaking 172 in the second test at Bangalore. Arrival of the original dashing opener, KM Srikkanth. Ravi Shastri playing that gutsy innings in only his second series. GR Viswanath (222) and Yashpal Sharma (140) sharing a quite sublime partnership in Chennai in what turned out to be GRV's swansong.
In those golden (hmph !!!) days of test cricket a draw was the most likely outcome for any match. I remember people getting mildly surprised when a test actually produced a result. Let alone a result, it was difficult to complete an innings each in lots of cases. And obviously the preparation of those flat bat beauties had a lot to do with our great captain being mortally afraid of losing a series. One really felt for Kapil, bowling his heart out in those conditions. And those lovely late outswingers ... how come no other Indian bowler has come even close to reproducing those gems. And how come people like Mukul Kesavan are bemoaning the current sad state of test cricket. Has he forgotten this series?
What else but the world cup ! The crowd invasion after every match ... Kirti Azad turning out to be the killer bowler against England .... Sandeep Patil and Kapil holding their nerves in that tense semi-final ... Srikkanth cutting, driving and pulling Holding, Roberts, Marshall and Garner with such mighty disdain in the final and still scoring only 38 in what will ironically be the highest score of the match.
Balwinder Sandhu bowling the delivery of his life ... the banana swinger which Greenidge shouldered arms to ... Richards cracking 7 boundaries in his 33 ...... Kapil running back 20 yards to catch him off his right shoulder .... Amarnath bowling Dujon with his dollies .... Kapil lifting that cup ... Chika smoking in the Lord's balcony.
So how did this bunch of no-hopers run away with greatest prize of them all? How come, Kapil never ever reached that pinnacle of his batting prowess again ... the cliff he so effortlessly climbed in that famous morning at Turnbridge Wells. And how did so many people get out to the collective wiles of Roger Binny, Madan Lal and Mohinder Amarnath? Well some mysteries will always remain unsolved.
The season when the team came down to earth with a thud. The friendly series against Pakistan in which the teams played out two well-mannered draws obviously did not prepare the Indian team for what was to come. The abiding memory of the Ind-WI series will be SMG losing his bat against Marshall in the Kanpur Test. It really set the tone for the series which had so many other moments to cherish .... WI 157/5 at Kanpur recovering to 454 through their unlikely batting heroes Dujon and marshall ... SMG equalling the Don with that blitzkrieg in New Delhi ... Mahinder Amarnath putting up an international telephone number (001000) with his scores .... Kapil with his unbelievable bowling at Ahmedabad .... SMG leg glancing Wayne Daniels to go past Boycott and the highest test score ... India still managing to lose the test within four days ..... Desmond Haynes out handled the ball in Mumbai ... SMG out first ball at Calcutta ... someone shouting "Guest Artist" from the Clubhouse stands ... WI again recovering from 213/8 to 377 courtesy the man they used to call Supercat .... Holding bowling 5 unplayable balls to Vengsarkar in one over and then clean bowling him with his 6th ... Andy Roberts 200th test wicket is SMH Kirmani's middle stump flying towards Dujon .... SMG coming at No.4 in Chennai to avoid Marshall ... that idea backfiring with India sliding to 0 for 2 .... the birth of "strokeless wonder" NS Sidhu .... if only people knew how he his going to make up for those missing strokes with his motoring mouth later on .... the double century to erase Bradman and Vinoo Mankad from the record books.
What struck me the most in this series was the wide gulf between the teams. I mean the sustained hostility those four horsemen of apocalypse could generate every single day of that series and which none in the other team could match. And the way they blew apart the much vaunted Indian line up .... after all M/s Gavaskar, Gaekwad, Vengsarkar, Amarnath, Shastri, Kapil Dev wasn't so bad on paper, was it? It has to be the familiar argument of "lack of spine against genuine pace", then. And that favourite remedy being offered " let's make bowler friendly fast wickets in India to train our batsmen for the challenges". Pray how will we win the home series' then?
[To be continued]