The 1990 First Test between England and India at Lord’s is a match that has lived long in my memory. 21 years on, I can still recall its many moments of drama; Captain Gooch’s triple ton (after losing the toss and being inserted); Captain Azharuddin then trumping him – not by weight of runs, but by batting with the panache of an aristocrat – deft strokes and wristy flicks to leg; India still 24 runs short of facing the follow on and 9 wickets down – Kapil Dev (one of the true greats) stoically blocks the first two balls of Eddie Hemmings’ over then lifts the next four balls into the Nursery End building site; Gus Fraser then despatches Hirwani with the next ball; Gooch’s other ton (and thus the highest ever aggregate in a single Test match); a double-century opening stand taking England’s lead beyond 400; and some 17 year-old-kid called Tendulkar’s astonishing one handed catch knee-high catch on the run, having covered 30 yards of the outfield.
As if I needed another little nugget to lodge in the memory bank from this extraordinary, though predominantly one-sided, match, I found myself on day five, with India two down and miles behind overnight, wandering the streets of the quaint Cinque port of Hythe. Naturally, my thoughts were pondering events 70 miles away. Will Gus and Devon blow them away?
Oh, what’s this I see, a model shop, splendid! I stepped into the Aladin’s cave with shelves brimful of Airfix and Hornby. Better still, the old chap behind the counter (it was always an old chap – a be-cardiganed citizen moulded from the gene pool of Percy Thrower, Magnus Pyke, Raymond Baxter and Jack Hargreaves) was listening to TMS.
Though it appeared to the untrained eye that I was scanning the display of WWII fighters and bombers, I was in fact craning an ear towards the transistor. Whether Johnners, The Alderman, The Boil, Blowers or Fred was on air I can’t recall, however, just as I was thinking isn’t life great – here I am standing in a model shop in the beautiful Kent seaside village of Hythe, sharing a moment with a kindred spirit – the shopkeeper promptly turned the radio off.
I looked round a look of astonishment on my fizzog, his face like thunder.
“I am trying to run a busineess here. This is a shop. Not a broadcasting house.”
I have always felt that to be a cricket fan is to be part of a brotherhood, a leather and willow freemasonry, a cable knit sweatered cabal, with test and county scores to be shared by the enlightened to the unenlightened. A favour to be happily returned in reverse circumstances.
I am still bemused to this day. Particularly as I was too, at the time, a fellow shopkeeper, who would have chatted all day long to anyone within earshot about any aspect of the game regardless of whether they had any intention of making a purchase. In fact, I would have encouraged them to stay, made them a cup of tea. I just can’t fathom his behaviour. Some folk are born miserable bastards, I suppose.
Lacking a dramatic finish to be classed as one of the greatest of tests, it still rates as a memorable classic, and is thus the first item I look for upon opening this handsome book. (There is something about a book in a yellow wrapper emblazoned with the letters W-I-S-D-E-N that just does it for me.)
Here it is, page 211. Two paragraphs and four lines of bare stats. Half of page 211. I cast around for more info. Where is the rest of the match report? The scorecards? What about the remainder of the series?
And so it dawned on me, that this is an anthology. Not, as I first thought, a match-by match resume along the lines of the excellent Wisden on the Ashes (which I reviewed
here on 26 May), but, to borrow from Spike Milligan, a book of bits. It is exactly what it says on the tin, but I was just anticipating something a little more… substantial.
And that is my only criticism of the book. No argument at all with the bits that Jonathan Rice has kept in, it’s the bits that have been left out…
The pieces are presented in chronological order and is obviously timed to coincide with this summer’s tour, but I can’t help but think it would have been more tidy to hang on for the completion of the world cup before going to press. They were favourites, after all, on home soil. The reproduction of Prashant Kidambi’s excellent essay on the 1911 Tour from this year’s Almanack would not have gone amiss either as I am sure the appeal of this book would stretch beyond those who buy the Almanack.
The earliest of years, however, are well-covered and fascinating, particularly as the Indian game was not well reported until more recent times. It brings to life names any cricket lover will have heard of, without quite knowing why - Ranjitsinhji, The Nawab of Pataudi and Duleepsinhji.
The book predominantly covers Test cricket, although obituaries of key personnel and essays on all Indian Cricketers of the Year appear throughout the book. Domestic cricket is hardly mentioned and thus nothing of Hanif Mohammed’s knock of 499 in 1959 (a world record for 35 years). I would have loved to read an eye-witness account, particularly as his innings ended by being run out.
My criticisms may be that of a churl, for this is still a mighty fine book, that will make good bedside reading for any cricket lover, particularly if they be an Indian cricket fan.
Wisden on India – An Anthology compiled by Jonathan Rice is published by John Wisden, price £30.