Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Indian Test Cricket

India completes it 75 years of playing international Test cricket, a game that is almost a religion in this country of one billion and has simply overshadowed every other sport in passion and popularity. From humble beginnings when cricket was still considered a game of the elite, cricket is today perhaps the only sport that can nearly bring the country to a halt - more so if India is winning.

Led by the redoubtable Col. C.K. Nayudu, a bunch of novices stepped on to the hallowed turf of Lord's on June 25, 1932 to face the then mighty England on a glorious summer. But the backroom intrigues that are so much a part of Indian cricket now were very much around - if not greater - then. Well before the Indian team left for England in April 1932, there was intense jockeying for who would sponsor the team.

The frontrunner was a minor prince - the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, better known as Vizzy to the cricketing fraternity. In end-1931, he offered to pay Rs 50,000 to the cricket board, of which Rs 40,000 would be for the England tour. He, however, had a formidable opponent in the Maharaja of Patiala, who in November 1931 announced his intention to sponsor the trials for the Indian team as well as take care of the touring party’s expense for a whole month. Patiala’s offer won the day.

India had to wait until February 1952 for their first win, a victory by an innings and eight runs against England in Madras. It was not until February 1968 that India won its first Test match and series away from home shores. India has thus far played 405 Tests but the country's dismal record away from home remains a cause for worry. Of the 198 Tests India have played abroad, it has won only 28, lost 84 and drawn 86. Overall it's been a paltry 90 wins and 131 losses.

It’s the Englishmen that they have faced the maximum number of times – 94, followed by the West Indies, who have played India in 82 Tests. Australia and Pakistan are the only other two of the 10 Test-playing nations to have faced the Indians in more than 50 Test matches. Until 1932, all countries had played their inaugural Test match against England but since then Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have all chosen to face India for their opening Test, indicating a definite power shift in the cricket world.

Bangladesh, who have faced India in five Tests, remain the only nation yet to play a Test match on Indian soil, something the neighbours are trying hard to correct. This has, however, met with stiff opposition from the Indian cricket board so far. The Chepauk ground in Chennai, the scene of India's first Test victory in February 1952, has been witness to 11 Test wins for the country, followed by New Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla and Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium, where India have nine Tests each. Kolkata's Eden Gardens has played host to the maximum number of 34 Tests followed by Chennai and New Delhi with 28 apiece.

During the past 75 years, India has seen 29 captains, though five were stand-in leaders for only one Test. Sourav Ganguly holds the record for having led India in the highest number of 49 Test matches, two more than Sunil Gavaskar and Mohammad Azharuddin. The captain’s club is rather exclusive when looked at from another statistic: only 13 players have led the country in more than 10 Tests. Lala Amarnath was the first to achieve the landmark and current skipper Rahul Dravid is the latest.

The youngest Indian Test captain was Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, nicknamed Tiger, who took over from Nari Contractor in very unfortunate circumstances during the 1962 West Indies tour. Ifitkhar Ali Khan Pataudi and 'Tiger' Pataudi have the rare distinction of being the only father-son duo ever to lead India. Sachin Tendulkar leads all Test players with 137 appearances and still counting. Currently Anil Kumble (115) and Rahul Dravid (108) are the others with more than 100 Test caps. Sourav Ganguly has 93 and would be hoping to join the elite club by the end of the 2007-08 season.

Test cricket, though it still retains its charm for purists, has been relegated to a secondary status behind the limited overs version of the game. Having completed 75 years, the infrastructure needs more attention. The level of domestic cricket has also gone down. Its an irony, The Marylebone Cricket Club is marking the 75th anniversary by commissioning a Pataudi Trophy, named after the Nawab of Pataudi Senior, who played for both England and India during his 14-year career. The UK post office is bringing out a stamp in honor of 75 years of Indian test cricket.

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