England and India are classic cricketing rivals, having held several thrilling battles throughout the history of Test cricket. In many ways, they are the antithesis of one another, with India long having mastered the discipline of spin bowling while the English are experts when it comes to making the ball swing. The contrasting styles at play when the two sides meet can make for high-quality drama, with many matches decided by the finest of margins. As England and India meet once again, we take a look at 5 of the finest Test matches they have ever contested.
The Oval, 19-24 August 1971
Ajit Wadekar’s India began their 3-Test tour of England in 1971 as what can only be described as heavy underdogs. In their 39-year Test history until then, they had won only three Test matches against their opponents, with not even one of them coming away from home. Moreover, they came up against a strong English side led by a more than capable captain in Ray Illingworth. Yet going into the final match of the series, India remained well and truly in the contest following draws in the previous two games.
England, batting first, were bolstered by a competent half-century at the top of the innings by John Jameson, who guided his side to a strong position early on. After he was run out, however, the English innings threatened to run out of steam as they lost several quick wickets. Yet Alan Knott and Richard Hutton’s fine rearguard action propelled England to 355 all out, as the two batsmen made 90 and 81 respectively. India had not bowled poorly, with wickets shared throughout the attack, but had let the game get away from them after some impressive early breakthroughs.
India’s first innings began with drama from the outset, as Sunil Gavaskar renewed his acquaintance with English fast bowler John Snow. The two had collided during the first Test when Gavaskar was attempting a run, leading many to talk of an on-field confrontation between them. Whether such talk was overstated, as Gavaskar later suggested, Snow seemed to have a point to prove as he bowled over Gavaskar for just 6. Other Indian batsmen contributed more, with fifties from Dilip Sardesai and Farokh Engineer along with starts from several others, but none made a score substantial enough to overtake England’s total as they were dismissed for 284. Among the English bowlers, Illingworth was the pick, leading from the front by taking five wickets.
England, resuming with a lead of 71, looked to set the Indians a formidable target to give themselves the upper hand. However, they had not accounted for the prodigiously talented leg-spinner BS Chandrasekhar. Coming on to bowl in the first ten overs, he turned the game by tearing through the English batting order, taking 6 wickets as well as effecting a run-out. England, dismissed for just 101, had to settle for defending 173 runs in the fourth innings.
India, though, were aware that they still had a mountain to climb before they could claim a famous series victory. This became even clearer when Gavaskar was out lbw for a duck, courtesy of Snow once again. Yet after this blow, India steadily rebuilt. Though there were no half-centuries, important contributions came from Wadekar, Sardesai, Engineer and GR Viswanath. Though they lost regular wickets, they allowed such losses to turn into a collapse, and eventually inched past their target with 4 wickets in hand. A first match and series victory in England ensured Wadekar’s team would go down in Indian cricketing history.
Eden Gardens, 30 December 1972 – 4 January 1973
When England travelled to India in the winter of 1972-73, it was perhaps the first time the tourists did not enter such a series as favourites. India had won two of the previous four series against the English, including the landmark away victory in 1971. Furthermore, they had a number of players of demonstrably world-class ability, with a young Gavaskar reaching his peak alongside the spin twins of Bishan Bedi and Chandrasekhar. England, however, had already demonstrated their ability by winning the first Test comfortably when the teams met in Kolkata, but it was here that the tables would turn.
India, winning the toss and opting to bat, struggled from the outset. They lost the talismanic Gavaskar for just 18, as England took regular wickets to leave India 100 for 5. After this, sole resistance came from wicketkeeper-batsman Farokh Engineer, who made a measured 75 to keep the English attack at bay, as his team-mates regularly departed around him. By the time he fell as the final wicket, bowled by Underwood, he had guided his team to the somewhat respectable score of 210 all out.
England’s response, however, was no better than India’s first-innings effort. They too struggled to put together any partnerships of note, as the ever-mercurial Chandrasekhar worked his magic as he took five English wickets. When England lost their final wicket, leaving them 174 all out, not a single batsman had made a half-century, with only Alan Knott and Chris Old making it beyond 30. By this point it had become clear that the match was likely to become a low-scoring affair.
India’s second innings started with more promise as they sought to put the game beyond England. After lowing two early wickets, they reached 104 for 2, guided by a vital half-century from Salim Durani. From here, though, useful English all-rounder Tony Greig took control, taking five wickets as India collapsed to 155 all out, as none of their final six batsmen even made it past single figures.
This set England the target of 192 to win. While this may have appeared manageable, England had to take into account the fact that the highest score in the match so far was a mere 210, and that they would be facing a devastatingly talented Indian spin attack. Indeed, the spinners got stuck in to the England batsmen straight away with the legendary Bedi taking three early wickets as England fell to 17 for 4. Yet as it seemed England’s chances had been blown away right from the outset, Tony Greig followed up on his impressive bowling performance by patiently rebuilding England’s run chase with a contribution of 67. Along with Mike Denness he took England to within 78 runs of their target without losing another wicket, before the Indian spinners struck back. Bedi and Chandrasekhar alone dismissed the rest of the England batting line-up, giving their side victory by a mere 28 runs in what had been a closely-fought and thrilling contest. The result allowed India to draw level in the series, giving them the impetus they required to go on to beat England in the following game and ultimately claim the series 2-1.
The Oval, 30 August – 4 September 1979
India’s tour of England in the summer of 1979 had not offered the most thrilling matches as the final game of the series neared. A comfortable innings victory for England in the first game had been followed by two rain-affected draws, meaning the teams met at the Oval with India seeking the victory that would ensure they would earn a creditable tie in the series against a talented England side including Graham Gooch, David Gower, Ian Botham and Bob Willis among others. The final Test would more than make up for the lack of drama in the previous three.
England, captained by Mike Brearley, won the toss and chose to bat, with the aim of putting the game beyond India right from the outset. An early wobble that saw the team fall to 51 for 3 was alleviated by Gooch and Peter Willey, who each made half-centuries to stabilise England’s innings. They failed to press home this advantage however, as Kapil Dev and Srinivas Venkataraghavan took three wickets each to limit England to 305 all out.
India’s first innings effort was somewhat disappointing considering their position in the series. With Botham and Willis in excellent form, claiming 4 and 3 wickets respectively, they constantly pegged back the Indian batting order, never allowing their batsmen to settle. Having been dismissed for 202, the Indians failed to register a single half-century partnership throughout their innings. The only saving grace came from an accomplished 62 from GR Viswanath. Yet overall India’s poor performance with the bat meant they conceded a first-innings deficit of over 100 runs.
England sought to hammer home their advantage when they came out to bat again. This time, it was Geoffrey Boycott who took the initiative, making a characteristically gritty century to blunt the Indian attack. He built partnerships with several English batsmen, most notably wicketkeeper David Bairstow, who made the only half-century of his Test career. After Boycott was dismissed, Bairstow and Phil Edmonds continued to pile in the runs until the former was dismissed, at which point England declared on 334 for 8.
This declaration left India with the formidable target of 438 to win, a total higher than any other team before (or since) had successfully chased on the fourth innings. Undaunted by such a situation, Sunil Gavaskar proved why he is in the pantheon of all-time great Indian cricketers, putting together a remarkable double-hundred that many believe to be one of the finest innings of all time. Ably supported by Chetan Chauhan and Dilip Vengsarkar, who each made half-centuries, he navigated India from near-certain defeat to a position where they could win the game. At tea, they required 110 runs to win with 20 overs remaining in the game. However, in attempting to accelerate to reach their target, India started losing quick wickets, while England’s bowlers sensed a route back into the match. Botham claimed 3 late wickets including the key scalp of Gavaskar as India limped towards the total that would level the series. By the time of the last over, they were eight wickets down with 15 runs still to score, with all four results still possible. However, India’s tail-enders could not quite see them to victory, falling nine runs short, concluding in a drawn match and a series victory for England. India’s outstanding final day effort, though, ensured the match would live long in the memory.
Chennai, 11-15 December 2008
After several decades of largely one-sided matches and series, the two sides renewed their acquaintance in 2008 with an iconic match in Chennai. This was an occasion where the meaning of the game went beyond mere sport; less than a month previously, a devastating terror attack in Mumbai had shocked India, and forced their series with England to be postponed. The contest was quickly reconvened in Chennai, with the whole country in need of something more positive to behold. India and England duly delivered.
England, winning the toss and batting first, got off to a flyer. They got past 100 without losing a wicket, as openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook each made half-centuries. While Cook was dismissed shortly afterwards, Strauss remained at the crease, eventually reaching an excellent century. Meanwhile India’s spin attack chipped away at the English batting order eventually dismissing Strauss himself, as Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra took 3 wickets each to ensure the match remained in the balance. Matt Prior’s unbeaten half-century gave his side some late-innings momentum to help England reach 318.
The Indians, coming in to bat midway through the second day, got off to a poor start. They fell to 37 for 3, thanks largely to a now legendary first over from debutant off-spinner Graeme Swann, in which he trapped Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid lbw. India continued to lose wickets regularly, falling to 137 for 6 before a useful partnership between MS Dhoni, who made a fifty, and Harbhajan salvaged them, with the hosts eventually dismissed for 241.
England, resuming with a lead for 75, lost early wickets as they tried to set India a fourth innings target, losing their third wicket with only 43 on the board. From here, though, they rallied as Strauss made his second century of the match, while Paul Collingwood also notched up a ton. At one point, England reached 257 for 3, and appeared to have put the game beyond India before the home side’s pace attack came roaring back. Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma took three wickets apiece as England were pegged back to 311 for 9, choosing to declare rather than subject last man Monty Panesar to the Indian attack.
This left India with the substantial target of 387 to chase. For all their bowlers’ improvements as the previous innings had progressed, they still found themselves considerable underdogs in the game going into the final innings. All that changed, however, when Virender Sehwag came to the crease to begin India’s chase. Right from the start of his innings, he smashed the England bowlers to all parts of the ground in a scintillating innings which came at a rate of comfortably over a run a ball. Suddenly, the England side that had been on top for almost the entire game found themselves on the defensive. When Sehwag was finally dismissed for a 68-ball 83, lbw to Swann, it came as more of a relief than a triumph for the English. The rest of the Indian batsmen built on Sehwag’s strong start, with Gambhir also making a half-century. By midway through the fifth day, the match was entirely in the balance with India on 224 for 4. At this point, though, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh took it upon themselves to singlehandedly see India home, with the former making a typically outstanding century and the latter an excellent 85. India, winning by six wickets, had made light work of what should have been a huge target, in a victory that remains the fourth-highest successful run chase in Test history.
Trent Bridge, 29 July – 2 August 2011
By the summer of 2011, the England Test team was at the peak of their powers. They had just triumphed over Australia away from home and had their eyes on securing the status of the world’s top-ranked Test team. Standing in their way was an Indian side whose top players were aging, but still capable of offering high-quality performances. After England registered a comfortable win in the first Test, the match that followed is memorable less for being a close contest than for the individual performances and moments that defined it.
India won the toss and elected to put England in to bat. This was a bold decision, but one which appeared to pay dividends almost straight away as Indian pace bowlers Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth got stuck into the England batsmen. So good was India’s start that England went in for tea at 124 for 8, with their hopes of remaining in the contest hanging by a thread. Only final-session fightback from Stuart Broad, who made a 66-ball 64, supported by the tail, helped England save face somewhat as they reached 221 all out.
India’s immediate response with the bat was a strong one, spearheaded by the in-form Rahul Dravid, who opened the innings by making his second century of the series. Supported by half-centuries from VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh, he saw India to the strong position of 267 for 4, already ahead of England’s first-innings total. It was here, though, that the match suddenly turned on its head. Stuart Broad proved to be England’s saviour with the ball as well as the bat, first dismissing Yuvraj to break his substantial partnership with Dravid, before going on to dismiss Dhoni, Harbhajan and Kumar to complete a hat-trick. Broad ended with figures of 6 for 46 as India were all out for 288; still a decent lead over England, but the Indians would have been disappointed not to have put the game beyond their opponents having been in such a commanding position.
Indeed, England made India regret not pressing home their advantage. Batting again, they proceeded to compile a huge score, as Ian Bell made 159 and Tim Bresnan 90, while Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan and Matt Prior also added half-centuries. There was some controversy involved with Bell’s innings, as, on the last ball before tea, Morgan stroked the ball to the edge of the boundary where Kumar, fielding it, appeared to make an error resulting in a boundary. However, even Kumar appeared unaware of the fact that he had actually managed to keep the ball in play, and as he casually returned it to the wicket, Dhoni removed the bails to run out Bell, who had assumed the tea interval had already begun. With the atmosphere turning sour, Dhoni agreed to revoke his appeal and allow Bell to continue batting after tea, following a hasty meeting with England captain Andrew Strauss. Broad again contributed late in the innings as well, with 44 runs coming off only 32 balls.
By the time England were finally all out for 544, they had set India the massive total of 478 to chase, with plenty of time remaining in the game. The Indians never got close to chasing the target, instead succumbing to the English bowling attack straight away. Tim Bresnan took five wickets to ensure India were bowled out for 158 on the fourth day. The tourists’ only sources of resistance came from Tendulkar, who scored a half-century, and a quickfire 46 from Harbhajan; they and Kumar, who made 25, were the only Indian batsmen to make double figures. England ended up winning the match by 319 runs, a remarkable margin of victory considering how much they had struggled for most of the first two innings. The victory spurred them on to a 4-0 whitewash during which they usurped India to top the ICC world rankings.
Image Credit: Nic Redhead