IT IS 70 YEARS SINCE INDIA’S FIRST TEST WIN

Partab Ramchand

By: Partab Ramchand

Email: partabramchand@yahoo.com

February 15, 2022: Indian cricket has been going through a fairly successful phase for some time now. In the new millennium in particular, starting with the unforgettable events of Kolkata 2001, it has gone from strength to strength rising in Tests more than once to the No 1 spot in the ICC rankings, producing players who are all time greats, shaping some of the most glorious moments in the game’s history and winning matches and series abroad while continuing to be near invincible at home.

But one must never forget the struggles that Indian cricket went through in the formative years from the 30s to the 60s when defeats, debacles and disasters were commonplace, when the team set dubious records some of which unfortunately stand. But there were the few heroic players who with their gallantry and ability to fight the odds stood like Horatio on the burning deck and took the fight to the strong opposition.

Such are the thoughts that come to mind on the 70th anniversary of India’s first Test win at Chepauk in Madras in February 1952. It was the 25th Test India played and they had lost 12 and drew 12 of the previous 24. It had taken them almost 20 years since they played their first Test at Lord’s in June 1932. Indian victories are a dime a dozen these days and cricket fans expect the team to win. And yet 60 and 70 years ago a draw was considered a moral victory.

So naturally when India finally registered its maiden Test win it was hailed as “the greatest day in Indian cricket.” There were victory celebrations all over the country and cables flowed in to Madras from everywhere. President Rajendra Prasad and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sent congratulatory messages to the victorious captain Vijay Hazare who in turn paid a handsome tribute to the team that he emphasized had worked together for this victory.

Actually, despite the fact that India had not yet notched up their first Test win. there was always the realistic hope when the five-match contest started in November that the series represented the home team’s best chance to break their cricketing duck. The England team that came over was hardly representative of the best that the visitors could send.  Most of the leading names were missing. Among those not making the trip were Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Peter May, Alex Bedser, Freddie Brown, Reg Simpson, Willie Watson, Jim Laker, Trevor Bailey and Godfrey Evans.  It was a second-string side that came over with hardly any established stars and even future all-time greats like Tom Graveney and Brian Statham were then in their first year of international cricket.

The Indians on the other hand even then had a fairly good record at home and with players of the calibre of Hazare, Vijay Merchant, Lala Amarnath, Vinoo Mankad, Mushtaq Ali, Polly Umrigar, Hemu Adhikari, Dattu Phadkar and Ghulam Ahmed did appear to have a squad capable of winning not just a Test but even the series. However, the first three Tests were high scoring draws and England sprung a surprise by winning the fourth Test at Kanpur by eight wickets. The Indians with Mankad and Ghulam in their ranks had prepared a turning track but they were hung by their own petard with England’s spinners Malcolm Hilton and Roy Tattersall proving to be more destructive than the Indian duo.

So, the Indians came to Chepauk for the final Test surprisingly one down but this time they did not falter. With history beckoning the team rose to the occasion with a heart-warming performance that resulted in a historic denouement.  First Mankad underlined his stature as one of the world’s leading players by bagging eight wickets for 55 as England were restricted to 266. This was the best innings figures by an Indian in Tests. The batsmen then followed up on Mankad’s splendid work. Centuries by Pankaj Roy and Umrigar were the highlights of India’s reply of 457 for nine declared. With the pitch now helping spin there was no escape route for England as again Mankad, this time with help from Ghulam, relishing the conditions, got to work. Both got four wickets each as England were bowled out for 183 giving India victory by an innings and eight runs. Mankad’s match haul of 12 wickets were the record for an Indian till he himself broke it less than a year later.  Local boy CD Gopinath took the last catch to dismiss Statham off Mankad even as the clock atop the Chepauk pavilion showed 2.54 pm. India in fact won with a day to spare – a fitting way to celebrate their 25th Test.

(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)