Previous Test matches between England and India in Chennai have produced some memorable anecdotes, both on and off the field, writes Kanishkaa Balachandran.
For cricket starved fans in Chennai, the fifth Test against England at the MA Chidambaram Stadium was something to look forward to. There was a huge scare that the timing of Cyclone Vardah would shift the Test to another city, but thankfully, plans didn’t have to change.
India-England Tests at Chepauk have left behind some colorful anecdotes going back decades. Let’s look back at some of them.
Did you know that India registered its first ever Test match win at Chepauk? The opposition was England. In 1952, twenty years after its birth as a Test team, India finally won a Test. Of course, discount a few years due to the Second World War, during which there was no cricket. But ahead of this game, England had already won the series so perhaps there was a lack of competitive edge from their side, but nevertheless it was a wonderful victory for India. Vinoo Mankad, probably India’s first true all rounder, took 12 wickets in the match. Something happened midway through the Test that may have contributed to England’s downfall. King George VI had died and the second day of the game was declared a rest day. Did that affect them mentally? We can’t say for sure but the Indians weren’t complaining.
Let’s move to the 1970s. In 1976-77, England were led by the charismatic captain Tony Greig – or the “Greigarious” Tony! The tour was a very successful one for England. India were in a mess leading into that third Test in Madras. They lost the first two games and the series was on the line. This match was known for its Vaseline controversy. Two England fast bowlers, John Lever and Bob Willis, came up with an ingenious way to counter the heat and humidity of Madras. They wore Vaseline gauze strips across their foreheads to control the sweating. The Vaseline was inadvertently applied on the ball as they used it, and as a result, the ball started swinging a lot more. The umpires suspected something unusual and alerted the England captain. The Indian captain Bishen Bedi was alerted as well and this spiraled off into a controversy that later escalated into a rift between the two cricket boards. Bedi was furious but he didn’t do himself any favours by accusing England of cheating and ball-tampering. With India behind in the series, this distraction wasn’t needed.
But this incident didn’t help India in the end. They batted poorly, making 164 in the first innings and in the second, they fared worse, scoring 83 and the series was lost.
“Where’s my cake and champagne?”
In 1984-85, England returned under David Gower. Things weren’t looking so great for India yet again, coming into the fourth Test at Madras. They won the first Test, lost the second, the third was drawn and before the fourth, a team rift threatened to pull them apart. There was a feud between the Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev and the Indians arrived in Madras not in the best frame of mind. England capitalized on that.
Three players excelled for England. Neil Foster, the fast bowler, took 11 wickets; Graeme Fowler and Mike Gatting both scored double centuries. India were totally outplayed and ended up losing the match and later the series. There was an interesting anecdote at the end of the match. At the team hotel, the hotel manager had left chocolate cake and champagne in the rooms of Gatting and Fowler, but he completely forgot about Foster. Poor Foster was not pleased and he went around looking for his share of the reward! Not a bowler’s game, even back then!
Ironically, in 1993, when England returned, they didn’t have such pleasant memories of the hotel. On the night before the Madras Test, England captain Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting ordered prawns for dinner at the Chinese restaurant. Both woke up the next morning sick, Gooch pulled out and Alec Stewart had to lead. But England already looked battered ahead of the game – they lost the first Test and were thrashed in Madras by India’s spinners in particular. India went on to sweep the series 3-0, for the first time against England. England were so psyched by that prawns incident that the rest of the players survived on corned beef, baked beans and naan for the rest of the game.
A Sachin treat
Fifteen years later, England arrived for their next Test in Chennai. This match was a special one for Sachin Tendulkar’s century. India were chasing a massive 387 in the fourth innings. Virender Sehwag, Sachin and Yuvraj Singh knocked it off fairly easily. Tendulkar played perhaps his finest Test innings. This game happened soon after the Mumbai terror attacks and both teams, as a token of gesture, donated a portion of their match fees towards relief efforts. The win was a gift for Indians after and shock and gloom.
As we’ve seen, there’s always been plenty to talk about when one remembers the England team visiting Chennai, some cheerful, some not so. Even this time, there was anxiety that the match would become a non-starter with the passing of chief minister Jayalalithaa, followed by the cyclone. Next time England visit, these incidents will be recalled.
(The featured image at the top is that of Indian bowler Vinoo Mankad who starred in India’s first ever Test win at Chepauk. Photo credit – Sportskeeda)