It was on June 25, 1932 that an Indian team first appeared in a Test Match – against Douglas Jardine’s England at Lord’s (India, incidentally, is one of only two nations whose Test career started at the Mecca of Cricket – the West Indies are the other, having made their debut just four years earlier). It has been a long journey for the sport, beginning from elitist roots to its current "cricket is a religion" days. So as India play their 500th Test Match, what better time than this to look back at ten of the nation’s greatest Test Matches, in chronological order: (Some might consider the list to be a bit skewed towards the seventies and the eighties but rather than sheer nostalgia, this is because we feel that the achievements of those teams were more significant given the fact that India, far from being a Test power, was actually considered a punching bag of sorts for most teams)
India vs England, Chennai, 1952
It had been twenty years since India had started playing Test cricket and in this period, it would be fair to say that the Indian team had not exactly emerged as contenders for world supremacy. They had their share of gutsy performers but had yet to register a single Test win – a draw against the likes of England and Australia was still considered at par with an actual victory . So there were many in the country who were not too displeased with India going into the final Test of their home series against England only 1-0 down, even though many felt that this wasn’t the strongest of English teams to visit Indian shores (many stars made it a habit of skipping Indian tours – it was too far, not worth the multiple infections and even the opposition was not considered too worth all this angst). However, legendary Indian all rounder Vinoo Mankad clearly wanted more than just another draw. A brilliant spell of spin bowling from him (8-55) saw England being dismissed for 266, a total that looked even more modest when India, spurred by centuries from Pankaj Roy and Polly Umrigar amassed 457. An English defeat – almost as unthinkable as an Indian win – now seemed on the cards, and Mankad again played a role, taking 4-53 as England were knocked over for 183, giving India an innings victory and their first ever win in Test cricket.
India vs England, Leeds 1967
The Nawab of Headingley
A defeat as one of India’ss greates Tests? We know some might raise an eyebrow at that but a little context might help. India went into the series as massive underdogs and no one expected any fight at all from a team that had – rather unfairly – earned a reputation for flinching against pace bowling. And things seemed to be going to script in the opening Test when England amassed a massive 550-4 (Geoff Boycott scoring an unbeaten 246, having little idea that he would be dropped for ‘slow scoring’ but THAT is another story for another day) and then dismissed the visitors for a mere 164. India were asked to follow on and many felt that an English win was but a formality. They had, however, reckoned without Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the captain of the Indian team. Deprived of proper vision in one eye because of a car accident, he nevertheless was on his day one of the bravest and most exciting players in world cricket. And with his team facing imminent defeat, he now proceeded to play the innings of his life. Fifties by Farokh Engineer, Ajit Wadekar and Hanumant Singh set the platform for recovery and Pataudi then proceeded to unleash some of the most ferocious strokeplay as he scored 148 to help India amass 510. England now needed just 125 runs to win the match but were dealing with a Indian team that had got as Tigerish as their skipper. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna wove spinning patterns around a befuddled top order. In the end, England reached their target but after losing four wickets and scoring runs at a trickle. India might have lost the Test but in the eyes of many, it had won self-respect. That amazing second innings would lay the legend for great Indian second inning fightbacks – no team would ever take an Indian team batting for a second time lightly. An English newspaper headline summed up the impact of the Indian performance. England had won the Test but a newspaper headline simply read: Nawab of Headingley!
India vs West Indies, 1971
Sunny Days Begin!
If there ever was a single year in which Indian cricket came of age, it was probably 1971. It remains as per many the greatest single year for Indian cricket and getting it underway was a tour of the West Indies. Although the West Indies were seen as a team in decline at that stage with the likes of the three Ws and Wes Hall no longer on the horizon, they still were a formidable side at home, and had one of the greatest all rounders of all time, Sir Garfield Sobers, in their ranks, as well as legendary batsman Rohan Kanhai. India on the other hand had their famous spinners but were otherwise not considered anything special, and were under a new captain, Ajit Wadekar. However, it became clear that this would not be a cakewalk for the home team when India against all odds and riding high on a Dilip Sardesai double century made the West Indies follow on in the first Test, which was ultimately drawn. The teams then moved on to Port of Spain, and India proceeded to create history. They first skittled out the West Indies for 214 (Erapalli Prasanna taking 4-54) and then batted gutsily to reach 352, thanks to another century from Dilip Sardesai, who for many was emerging as the star of the series. Then with Srinivas Venkatraghavan bowling a wonderfully tight line, the West Indies were restricted to 261 in the second innings, leaving India 124 to get to win their first Test in the Caribbean. These were duly knocked off, with some help from a youngster playing his first Test Match. He followed a solid 65 in the first innings with a very sensible unbeaten 67 in the innings. India would go on to win the series, and the young man would set a record for the most runs in a debut Test series that has still not been broken. Dilip Sardesai might have been the star of the show until then, but the spotlight would move slowly to a certain Sunil Manohar Gavaskar!
India vs England, 1971
Unofficial World Champs!
Indian cricket’s Miraculous Year continued with a tour of England no one could have predicted. Although the Indians arrived on the heels of a surprising win against the West Indies in the Caribbean, they were not given too much of a chance against a team that many considered to be the best in the world, Ray Illingworth’s well-organised English team. Once again, the Indian side surprised people by refusing to roll over the die – the visitors held their own for periods of the first Test and and ended it 38 runs short of victory with two wickets in hand, and then hung on for a draw in the second Test as well after conceding a massive first innings lead. England however seemed to have the third and final Test in their grasp when the scored 355 and then dismissed India for 284. But then India’s legendary spinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar got into one of his freak moods and it was as if a gale storm in the shape of fizzy spin had hit English cricket. England were skittled out for 101 in their second innings, leaving India 173 to win. England made them fight for every run and the nervous visitors took more than a hundred overs but in the end, Abid Ali hit the winning boundary to seal a famous Test and series win, earning India for a very short time the unofficial title of world champions!
India vs West Indies, Port of Spain, 1976
The Great Chase!
Five years after shocking the West Indies, India repeated the dose and in a much more telling manner. If the West Indies team in 1971 had been one in gradual decline with no clear strike bowlers, the 1976 side was a very different kettle of fish with the likes of Lloyd and Richards at close to their best and the seeds for the pace revolution that would dominate the eighties were already being sown through the emergence of Andy Roberts and Michael Holding. When the hosts won the first Test by an innings and 97 runs, no one expected much from the Indian side. Things however, turned around dramatically in the second Test, where spurred by a superb century from Sunil Gavaskar and some wonderful bowling by their captain Bishen Singh Bedi, India pushed West Indies all the way to a tense draw. Normal service however seemed to have been restored in the third Test when the West Indies scored 359, skittled out India for 228 (Michael Holding taking 6-65, with Madan Lal top scoring with 42 revealing the state of the Indian top order), and then declaring at 271-6, leaving India a massive 403 to win. What followed stunned the cricketing world. Anshuman Gaekwad and Sunil Gavaskar got the Indians off to a steady start, adding 69. Gavaskar then added 108 with Amarnath, completing his second hundred of the series before falling for 102 with the score at 177. But by this time the edge had been worn off the West Indies pace bowlers (Julien and Holding). The spin trio of Jumadeen, Padmore and Imtiaz Ali were unable to capitalise on a final day’s track as Gundappa Vishwanath proceeded to hand out a masterclass in batting, racing to a century and scoring 112 out of a stand of 159 with the indefatigable Amarnath. And as the locals watched in shock, India reached the target, losing just four wickets (Amarnath fell for 85, an innings that spanned more than seven hours of sheer grit). It remains one of the most amazing run chases in history. And ironically, many believe that it laid the foundation of West Indies domination of Test cricket from then onwards. Clive Lloyd would not trust spin again! The era of pace would arrive in all its fury in the next Test at Kingston, where many Indian batsmen would get injured in a controversial Test.
India vs Pakistan 1980
On the surface, this might seem like a strange choice – it was a comprehensive ten wicket win for India. But the undercurrents were significant. The win sealed India’s first Test series win against full strength opposition for a long time (perhaps since England in 1973) and provided revenge for a 2-0 drubbing in Pakistan a year ago. And remarkably, it was achieved by a team that on paper was given no chance whatsoever – as per most pundits, India had only two world class players, Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Vishwanath (Kapil Dev was still a youngster), while Pakistan had a bevy of stars (Asif Iqbal, Majid Khan, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Sadiq Mohammad, and a few others). In the event, India played perhaps its most efficient Test Match ever, dismantling the Pakistan team bit by bit, thanks to an 11 wicket haul from Kapil Dev (which he supplemented with a sparkling 84 including a hooked six off Imran Khan that is part of Chennai folklore) and an attritional 166 from Gavaskar. Never has the word ‘team effort’ been better used to describe an Indian team victory – the bowling and fielding were consistent and the batting grindingly efficient. This was Gavaskar’s India in Excelsis – a well-organised and tactically adept side that was built on solid rather than spectacular lines.
India vs Australia, Melbourne, 1981
Miracle at Melbourne
There are those who think that the 2001 Test against Australia at Kolkota was the greatest comeback by an Indian team. And there are those who remember the miracle at Melbourne in 1981. Unlike their counterparts in 2001, the Indian team of 1981 were supposed to be mere dust for Aussie chariot wheels. The difference between the teams on paper was staggering to say the least with Australia having Greg Chappell, Kim Hughes, Doug Walters, Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee in their pomp, and a very exciting youngster in Allan Border, while India basically had Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath and Kapil Dev. The Indian team certainly seemed to be living up to expectations with an embarrassing defeat in the first Test and a narrow escape in the second. When they conceded a massive first innings leads to Australia in the final Test (their 237 being easily overhauled by Australia who scored 419 for a first innings lead of 182), and following a fracas in the pitch during which Gavaskar threatened to walk off and forfeit the match, set the hosts a mere 143 to win the match, the task seemed a doddle for the Aussies, who had never been dismissed for less than 400 even once in the series. Kapil Dev, Dilip Doshi and Karsan Ghavri had other ideas, and in one of the biggest shocks of Test history, India bowled out Australia for 83 for a 59 run victory, drawing the series 1-1, the first time they had not lost a series in Australia.
India vs Australia, Chennai 1986
This was not supposed to be an exciting match and for four days it was basically about good batting on a wicket that had just a little in it for the bowlers. And then on the fifth day it attained immortality. Australia amassed 574-7 in the first innings, courtesy of a double century from Dean Jones, and for a while seemed set to make India follow on before Kapil Dev scored a brilliant hundred to help the hosts reach 397. Australia tried for quick runs against a very disciplined Indian attack but were unable to step up the scoring rate dramatically. The match seemed to be heading for a draw when Allan Border surprised everyone by declaring on the final day, leaving India to get 348 in a possible 87 overs. It was a very unlikely target but a typically aggressive start by Krishnamachari Srikkanth set the stage for a dramatic run chase. Sunil Gavaskar scored a sparkling 90 and Mohinder Amarnath chipped in with a solid 51 and when Mohammad Azharuddin and Chandrakant Pandit took the score to 251-3, India seemed set for a famous victory, with overs to spare. Australia’s rather unheralded spin duo of Ray Bright and Greg Matthews however had other ideas and a few quick wickets got Australia back into reckoning. Still at 331-6 with less four runs needed an over and Ravi Shastri in prime form, India still seemed firm favourites. Two wickets fell for three runs and the pendulum swung right back. A big six by Shivlal Yadav took India to within a boundary of victory but he was bowled shortly afterwards. Three more runs later, it was all over as Greg Matthews trapped Maninder Singh leg before (the Indian spinner maintains to this day that he got an inside edge) to seal Test cricket’s only second tie with one ball to go!
India vs Australia, Kolkata, 2001
The Mother of All Comebacks
The match that most modern Indian cricket fans swear as being the greatest Test of all time featured a staggering batting performance from Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Hot on the heels of a ten wicket drubbing in the first Test, India seemed set for another hiding as Australia made them follow on at Eden Gardens. When they lost their first four batsmen and were still 42 in arrears on the evening of the third day’s play, it seemed that Steve Waugh’s ambition of defeating India in a Test series on Indian soil would be realised. It was not to be. For Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman then perhaps put on one of the greatest batting performances in Indian Test history, adding 376 runs for the fifth wicket. Laxman became the first Indian to go past 250 runs in a Test innings and ended up with 281 while Dravid scored 180. A stunning spell of spin bowling from Harbhajan Singh, which included the first Test hat-trick to be taken by an Indian bowler, then applied the coup de grace on the final day. The win would spur a dramatic turnaround, leading to India winning the final Test and taking the series 2-1, the first time an Indian team had come back to win a Test series after going behind.
India vs Pakistan, Multan 2004
The Sultan of Multan Checks In!
If the win against Pakistan in 1980 represented Sunil Gavaskar’s India at its best, then another win against the same opposition, this time at Multan, showed the modern face of Indian cricket at its best. In the first Test series between the two countries in Pakistan since 1989, Virender Sehwag confirmed his status as the most devastating batsman in Test cricket, something he had given ample hint of in the series against Australia earlier in the season. Against a Pakistani team that considered bowling its forte, Sehwag smashed the first Test triple hundred by an Indian at a rate that left people flabbergasted – his 309 came off a mere 375 deliveries – and India raced to 675-5 at over four an ever, the highlight being a stand of 336 between Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, before Rahul Dravid controversially declared the innings with Tendulkar six short of a Test hundred. Irfan Pathan and Anil Kumble cleaned up the Pakistani batting to give India an innings victory, and establish a new template for Indian cricket – one that revolved around devastatingly aggressive batting. The era of Sehwag-Sachin- Rahul-Laxman had well and truly arrived. And Virender Sehwag would always be henceforth known as the Sultan of Multan!