“Since 2000, India have won 16 Test matches away and 14 at home. They have won Test matches in every Test playing country bar New Zealand. India has won more away-Tests than England (14), South Africa (13), Pakistan (13) and Sri Lanka (10) in the same period. Australia leads the pack with 26 away-wins”. — Dileep Premachandran
The 3rd and final nPower Test between England and India commences at The Oval today.
This Test assumes special relevance for India. One simple fact that makes this Test very different from any other Tests is that India have, to the best of my knowledge, never gone into the last Test of a series with a series lead. Ravi Shastri says, “This is probably the most important Test for India in the past five-six years because they’ve never been in a position to win the series with one Test to go”.
India is in a position to win an away-series — and these do not come often.
There are several other factors that combine to add much spice to The Oval Test match. Some of them are:
- India will want a win or a draw in The Oval Test match to clinch an away-series-win to add to the away-series-win the team scored in the West Indies in 2006.
- England will be desperate to win to ensure that their home-turf record stays; England have not lost a home-series since 2001.
- Michael Vaughan, the England captain has not lost a home series as captain of England.
- More often than not, India have lost a Test match immediately after winning a match — especially in an away-series. India will be desperate to lose the team-that-takes-its-foot-off-the-pedal tag while, at the same time, scoring an important away-series-win.
- Michaeal Vaughan, on the other hand, has always captained his team to wins immediately after losing a Test match. This is indeed an impressive record; one that he is quite proud of. Vaughan will not want to lose his home-series win-record or the win-immediately-after-a-loss record.
- Barring some miracle, it is almost certain that this will be the last Test match that the Famous Five — a bit tired of the Fab Four tag! — will be playing in England. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman and Anil Kumble will want to sign off from England on a victorious note.
If we look back to the best duration for Indian cricket in recent memory, two periods perhaps jump out more than any other.
The first is the period from 1983 to 1986 where India seemed to have developed the ability to win One Day games. This was the period when India won the World Cup and followed it with the World Championship in Victoria, Australia.
The second period, in my view, commenced in 2001. Although the first year or so of this period was a bit stop-start, it is important to anchor this period in Kolkata and then travel through to the point I wish to make.
- It was in Kolkata on 11 March 2001 — the second Test between India and Australia in that brilliant 2001 series that the period was conceived, in my view. Although India’s Fab Four were around for a while before then, it was perhaps only in that Test match that Team India fans started having visions of backs-to-the-wall victories. The team seemed to have developed confidence in itself, fed by a mix of ability, skill, class and swagger.
- Much was expected after that incredible series win against Australia. India seemed to have found bowlers in Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan to back Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath. The Fab Four were firing. So, post-conception optimism was high. However, in a period of morning-sickness, India stuttered through to Zimbabwe, where India won an away-Test and lost the next Test match immediately; a pattern that has continued to haunt its travels since then!
- India then travelled to Sri Lanka, where the team struggled without Tendulkar and Laxman and coped with Kaif and Badani instead! Once again, an away win was secured in the 2nd Test. However, the trend of losing a match immediately after winning one continued as India lost by an embarassing margin in the last Test of the series. However, these away wins were accumulating. Perhaps India was coping with the pregnancy after all!
- A rude and forgettable series to South Africa followed this, dominated somewhat by the antics of Mike Denness.
- A somewhat listless series followed between India and England in India in which Ashley Giles’s negative bowling to Sachin Tendulkar possibly exposed the great batsman’s weakness to left-arm-over defensive bowling. India won this series.
- India then travelled to West Indies in early-2002. Although India lost this series 1-2, this series too saw India score an away win followed immediately by a crushing loss. The enduring image from this series would be the one of Anil Kumble bowling with jaw strapped to face in a losing cause.
- After the trials and tribulations of conception and gestation, in my view, the baby was finally born in Headingley when India toured England in the summer of 2002. This Test match will be one of India’s most famous victories, after the Kolkata Test. It launched what was possibly the best time for Indian cricket in recent memory. The period was brief, but it did exist! And for once, an away win wasn’t followed by an immediate loss! But the Headingly win was a watershed; an important landmark in Indian cricket. Headingly was to an away-win-buff what Kolkata was to a home-bully-buff! This series also included the NatWest Trophy that India won.
- A forgettable away series to NewZealand was followed by the 2003 World Cup in which India reached the finals.
- India then travelled to Australia in November 2003 for Steve Waugh’s final matches as Australia captain and player. Just as Headingly was an important win, the draw that India secured in Brisbane and the win in Adelaide marked important milestones. But once again, a thrilling win was followed up by a sorry loss; India lost the next Test in Melbourne! But, the baby had almost grown up by now!
- If evidence of the growth were needed, India produced that in Pakistan in 2003, where thanks to the Sultan of Multan (Sehwag’s 309) and Dravid’s efforts at Rawalpindi (a majestic 270), India clinched an away series win! But yet again, India had lost (at Lahore) immediately after winning (at Multan).
And that is where I stop this recollection. India did then score wins against Pakistan in India (followed by a loss!) and India did also score a famous away-series-win in the West Indies that included a Dravid-inspired win at Sabina Park. However, it would be fair to say that, despite an away-Test win in South Africa (followed, predictably by a loss!) the child that was conceived in Kolkata had gone a bit wayward. With the departure of John Wright, who incidentally had oversight of the above era, it seemed that the Indian fans’ visions of consistent wins overseas were fading.
Team India has an opportunity to resurrect over the 5 days of the 3rd and final nPower Test match against England. India should go into the match in a buoyant mood. This is possibly the last hurrah for the Famous Five. The team will want to do well for these five warriors. The pressure is on England who will not want to lose their proud home-win record.
India has rarely converted thrilling away Test wins to away series wins. In a thorough article Dileep Premachandran analysed India’s away-performance and clinically demolished the “home-bully-away-silly” tag that Indian teams have been stuck with. Since then, even Tony Greig and Ian Chappell have started saying how good India are are travellers these days! Just goes to show how serious journalism can erode myths and create new cliches almost at will!
India’s batsmen will want to sign off positively from England. Zaheer Khan will want to show that he has added “consistency” to his quiver. The Indian openers will want to continue their good showing thus far on the tour. Sree Santh will want to put the nightmare of Trent Bridge behind him. It is even likely that, while England have been concentrating on tackling the prodigious swing of Zaheer Khan and R. P. Singh, Sree Santh could sneak under the radar to wreak some havoc.
But it is Kumble that holds the key for India, I believe. By his own high standards, Kumble has had a poor series. The conditions at The Oval are tailore made for him. It has bounce and carry early on and spin as the match progresses. Will he be able to recreate the magic that the great B. S. Chandrashekar created at The Oval? While Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly stay on for the ODIs, Kumble will bid adieu to English Test grounds after this match. The stage is set perfectly.
While a draw would do for India to clinch a historic away-series-win in England, India should play positively and look to win this one. If India wins, we may be able to claim that the kid that was somewhat lost, has been found again! This Test marks an important milestone especially since some of the more senior cricketers will be entering into their baton-passing stage in the near future.