It was easily the most forgettable cricket series I have been part of. However, it has been the most difficult to forget. The 1974 tour to England was a disaster, both on and off the field.
So while this new low of 36 all out at Adelaide might have replaced our 42 all out at Lord’s as India’s worst Test score ever, it does not change the fact that 1974 was a miserable tour. There was a shameful shop-lifting episode and the public snub to our team by the High Commission. The dressing room atmosphere was appalling plus we were ill-prepared, ill-managed and played plenty of poor cricket.
Complacency was also a reason. We had a great start to the ’70s, winning away series in West Indies and England. Forty-two all out in the second Test at Lord’s was actually a climax of all the miseries that had been piling up.
Even before the tour started, we were at a disadvantage. Unlike now, back in the day, it was the home team that decided the playing conditions. So England came up with a new rule that at no stage during a match, there could be more than five players on the leg-side. It was the era when England and Australia ruled world cricket, ICC stood for Imperial Cricket Council. Now, we had two off-spinners and a left-arm orthodox in me, five fielders on the leg-side was not to our liking. We were wasting a fielder on the off-side because of the line we bowled. Our Board officials who didn’t understand the finer points of the game agreed without consulting the players. I have put it on record that a few average English players got heaps of runs on that tour because of this ‘five-fielder’ rule.
In that infamous game at Lord’s, I bowled 64 overs, where at one stage I had figures of 1 for 220 odd. And I would finish with 6/226. Bowling from the pavilion end, with the Lord’s slope square on the leg-side, I would have liked one more fielder on bat-pad. Once the English had piled 600-plus runs, it was our turn to bat. It was a bright sunny day, the conditions were conducive to bat. But still we collapsed. I still can’t get my head around it, how we were all out for 42.
We didn’t even have the right clothing to bear the brutal English weather. During a tour game at Eastbourne, we had to brave extreme cold. The Indian Board had given us sweaters that weren’t warm enough. It was so cold that during the game, one of our fielders while bending down to stop the ball, took his freezing hands away at the last minute and conceded a four. There were ripples of laughter, followed by abuses, from the crowd. A sardar watching the game from the stands was moved by our plight. He was in the business of golf-wear. He offered us sweaters, some cash and even invited us home for dinner.
However, the most embarrassing episode on that tour unfolded one evening while we were playing a tour game. A close friend of mine, a true blue Punjabi, had a habit of pulling my leg. I got a call from him. He told me that an Indian cricketer had been caught shop-lifting. After a short burst of some endearing invectives, he said: “Run ho nahin rahe, juraabein chukni shuru kar din (you guys have been unable to score runs, now you have started stealing socks)”. He asked me to switch on the television. I came to know that there was a planned effort to brush the issue under the carpet. I was livid. An emergency meeting was called where I told the manager, Col Hemu Adhikari, that this had brought shame to everyone and the issue needs to be dealt with urgently. That incident impacted the entire team.
Most players were spooked. I recall accompanying Chandra (Bhagwath Chandrashekhar), the mildest man I have ever met, to a shop to return the trousers that he had brought the previous day but didn’t fit him. We walked to the sales lady who had attended Chandra the day before. She seemed busy, so she pressed a bell. Chandra panicked, he thought the lady had spotted something fishy and was calling for reinforcements. “Please listen, listen… I bought these trousers yesterday… yesterday, just yesterday” — Chandra kept repeating. The lady smiled and told Chandra, “Relax gentlemen, since I am busy, I am calling someone so that you would be served.” That was the kind of paranoia we had to suffer.
On that tour, the only time the entire team backed Ajit Wadekar was when he was reduced to tears after he was snubbed for turning up late at High Commissioner B K Nehru’s residence for a party. It wasn’t our fault as we had to attend three functions on that day. The story goes that Nehru told Wadekar that you people aren’t just poor cricketers but even poor guests. I was seething with anger when I heard this. I was very vocal in my demand to boycott the event. However, our manager Col Adhikari put pressure on Wadekar. He told him, ‘I am captain off the field and you the leader on it’. Wadekar sadly relented. But I told the boys not to socialise and refuse drinks. But soon enough, I heard a waiter asking Eknath Solkar if he wanted a drink. Solkar, not quite a cocktail connoisseur, said “Yes, I will have brandy with hot water and ice.” From Solkar’s drink to 42 all out, I am telling you there was nothing right about that tour.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 3, 2021 under the title ‘1974: Few clothes to no runs, it all went wrong’. The author, a former captain, was a senior member of the 1974 Test team that toured England