By Gulu Ezekiel
The 1967 Indian tour of England was a disaster from start to finish. A lack of pace bowlers, miserably wet weather leading to the first Test match and a spate of injuriesâ€¦the list of woes of the tourists was endless. Little surprise then that England completed a whitewash of the series.
There was a silver lining though and that was the manner in which captain Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi led his country's fightback in the opening Test at Headingley, Leeds from a seemingly hopeless position after the first two-and-a-half days.
India went in with two debutants, opening bowler Subrata Guha and batsman Ramesh Saxena.
Injuries in the field to two of their key players, all-rounder Rusi Surti who was to open the bowling and the batting as well, and spin bowler Bishan Bedi were crushing blows to India's hopes.
It was Surti who made an early breakthrough, having John Edrich caught behind by Farokh Engineer in the second over of the match after Brian Close had won the toss and elected to bat.
That would be Surti's lone wicket as he was struck on the knee while fielding and the rest of the bowlers-Bedi could bowl just 15 overs-toiled all day as England piled up 281 for three on the opening day.
Ken Barrington was run out for 93 and Tom Graveney chipped in with 59. But the talking point was the snail-paced batting of local hero and opening bat Geoff Boycott.
Against the woefully inadequate Indian bowling, Boycott crawled to 106 in the full day's play and the critics were baying for his blood.
So painfully slow was the Yorkshireman's batting that even his loyal fans left the ground in dismay in the last session of play in which he ground out 43 runs in the last two hours.
This was in fact a distinct improvement on the start as till the lunch interval Boycott had plodded to a miserable 25!
The next day he stepped up the rate and was 246 not out when Close declared the innings closed at a massive 550 for 4. Boycott's partnership with Basil D'Oliveira was worth 252 runs for the fourth wicket. The opener had scored 140 runs in less than four hours on the second day, but it was not enough to save him.
Accused by the selectors of selfish batting, Boycott was dropped for the second Test, though he was back for the third and final one. It was a slight the legendary opening batsman has carried all his life. England's selectors though were under pressure from the press and felt they needed to make the decision in favour of brighter cricket.
By the time the tourists had stumbled their way to 86 for six at the end of Day Two, most journalists-and probably some of the Indians themselves-had written off the match as a contest. It looked like it could be over in three days.
Despite Engineer's bright 42 at the top, the rest of the batting had failed miserably and it was left to the captain himself to salvage some pride on the third morning.
This he did with a gallant 64 with some assistance from Surti, batting with a runner. Still, the total of 164 was woefully inadequate and there was no escaping the follow on.
After the second day's play, Pataudi had given his troops a pep talk. "This is beginning to be a good batting wicket, almost as good as Madras or Bombay and certainly the best you'll have to play on during the tour. If you can't get runs here, you won't get them anywhere. From now on we are going to take charge of the match."
They may not have taken charge of the match, but with Pataudi leading from the front, they certainly took the fight to the enemy camp.
The turnaround began on the third day that ended with India looking good at 198 for 2. They still needed another 188 runs to make England bat again. But the way the batsmen took control the second time round was indeed a revelation.
Once again Engineer, who was outstanding behind the stumps as well, showed the way with a belligerent 87, including 14 fours. He added 168 with Ajit Wadekar at better than even time for the second wicket and suddenly the dire predictions of gloom that had descended like a dark cloud over the Indian camp had miraculously lifted.
Off spinner Ray Illingworth removed Wadekar for 91 early on the fourth morning. Chandu Borde soon followed for 33.
But this time the rest of the batting refused to fold. The stage was now set for the two princes, Hanumant Singh and Pataudi to unfurl their regal strokes.
Save for Illingworth and fast bowler John Snow, the English bowling was not at its strongest and the pair took India to the doorstep of making England bat again. Their stand was worth 134 before Hanumant was out to Illingworth for a sparkling 73.
Pataudi had reached his third century against England and when stumps were drawn on the penultimate day, India's score of 475 for 8 meant they led England by 89 runs.
Thanks to the skipper's expert marshalling of the tail-enders, the last four wickets added a precious 122 runs. 'Tiger' was ninth out for a brilliant 148, bowled by Illingworth and when Bedi was last man out, the innings had ended on a scarcely believable 510--a remarkable turnaround from the first innings.
It meant England needed the small matter of 125 to wrap up the Test, a cakewalk surely considering their depth in batting.
Now came the final twist of a topsy-turvy Test match. Chandrasekhar sent back Edrich, Barrington and Graveney cheaply and with Prasanna accounting for John Murray, the stunned spectators had to rub their eyes in disbelief at the score-92 for 4!
Catches though continued to go down as in the first innings and England made it home by 6 wickets. Another 70 or 80 runs and who knows what would have been the result?
'Pataudi Inspires Remarkable Recovery' read the headline in The Cricketer magazine. No wonder the English media now dubbed 'Tiger' the 'Nawab of Headingley'.