Known as the originators of cricket, England have a common relation with all cricketing nations. In India’s case, the connection stretched beyond the conventional in 1896 when Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji became the first Indian to play Test cricket, albeit for England. He made his debut under controversial circumstances where some became admirers of his fresh strokeplay while others could not digest the thought of an Indian, a country they were ruling at that point, represent them on the cricket field. Ultimately, it was the former who prevailed.
Ranji became the first link in the Indian cricket history. The premier first-class competition in India - The Ranji Trophy - was named after him before its maiden season in 1934-35. Ranji himself was not alive by then but India had made their Test debut, at the home of cricket, Lord’s, in 1932.
India spent nearly five months in England playing 25 first-class games and the only Test that put India in the cricketing record books. They suffered a 158-run defeat but showcased their mettle on the first morning itself when the paceman, Mohammad Nissar’s first spell reduced them to 19 for three.
In 1952, India won their first Test. A long-lasting win that came against England, on home soil in Madras. Merely four months later, they were touring England and were reduced to 0/4 by the 21-year old debutant, Fred Trueman in their second innings of the first Test in Leeds. Trueman picked three of these wickets and was the first bowler with 300 Test victims to his name - 307 overall.
In 1971, however, India stunned England with their first series win on their soil. They won 1-0 with a four-wicket win at the Oval. This time, it was Bhagwath Chandrasekhar with a spell from hell. He spun the web of his leg break, picking 6/38 on Day 4. England collapsed to 101. Eknath Solkar’s diving catch of Allan Knott at short-leg is probably the first fielding effort to be included in the Indian cricket folklore. The anticipation on everyone else's face adds to the charm of the picture.
India razed down the target of 173 the next day. That day, the Oval felt like an Indian maidan on a festive day. Coincidentally, it was the day of Ganesh Chaturthi.
In 1979, India came agonizingly close to pulling off the unthinkable, again, at the Oval. Chasing 438, Sunil Gavaskar scored a masterful 221 and India came within nine runs off establishing what would still be the highest run chase in Test history. The match ended in an exciting draw but India lost the series. They later won 2-0 in England in 1986.
From an unfulfilled record to one that expanded the horizon of what is achievable, Graham Gooch notched up 456 runs in the first Test against India in 1990, at Lord’s. The platform for Gooch’s tireless effort was set when Kiran More, the glovesman, dropped a sitter. Gooch was batting on 36 then but played a chanceless knock from there to amass 333. He came back to pile on India’s misery to add another 123 in the second innings. India lost by 247 runs. It is a record you can put your money on to stand the test of time.
The next Test match saw Sachin Tendulkar justifying the hype around him in every sense of the word. At 109/4 at Tendulkar’s arrival, India had no hopes of chasing down 408. But the 17-year old ensured they were not beaten at least. He batted for nearly four hours, scoring an unbeaten 119, his first of 100 international hundreds.
Quite similarly, two more stars were born for India on their next tour of England. Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid made their Test debut at Lord’s in 1996 and grabbed the limelight straightaway. Ganguly (131) batted at three and Dravid was slotted at seven. The two combined to forge a 94-run stand at a crucial moment in the game. It could have been the first occasion of two debutants scoring a hundred but Dravid edged one to the wicketkeeper at 95.
The significance of the day can be underlined by the fact that the two scored over 42,000 international runs between them. Also, it was the last Test of Dickie Bird’s long career of 23 years as an umpire. One of the most passionate umpires you will ever see, Bird shed a tear on the ground.
In 2007, Pataudi Trophy was introduced to commemorate the 75 years of Test history between India and England. Awarded to the winners of the India-England Tests in England, India were the first recipient of it, under the leadership of Rahul Dravid.
Saved by rain at Lord’s, they won at Trent Bridge before drawing at the Oval. In a historic series, no Indian batsman scored a hundred, except Anil Kumble.
That remains to be the third and the last time India won a Test series in England. They were whitewashed 0-4 in 2011 as the hosts clinched the number 1 ranking, dethroning India.
India gained a 1-0 lead in 2014 with an inspiring win at Lord’s where Ishant Sharma took a seven-wicket haul, channeling out his inner Mitchell Johnson. But the visitors crashed to lose the series 1-3.
The story was not much different in 2018 when India went down 1-4. The records continued to tumble. In one such moment, James Anderson went past Glenn Mcgrath’s tally of most wickets by a pacer in Test cricket. Mohammad Shami was his 565th Test victim.
We are all set for the 19th series in England between the two countries with a lot of exciting possibilities ahead. The defining aspect of the series remains that it is extremely tough to pick a winner.