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Down Memory Lane: Ayaz Memon Recalls India’s 1996 Tour to England – The Sidhu Explosion, Ganguly & Dravid Emerge

Going over results and stats to refresh my memory of India in England in 1996, the most astonishing aspect that came through was how the tour itinerary was structured: The run up to the first Test at Edgbaston, included six first class matches.

Ayaz Memon |Cricketnext |July 30, 2018, 9:36 AM IST
Down Memory Lane: Ayaz Memon Recalls India’s 1996 Tour to England – The Sidhu Explosion, Ganguly & Dravid Emerge

Going over results and stats to refresh my memory of India in England in 1996, the most astonishing aspect that came through was how the tour itinerary was structured: The run up to the first Test at Edgbaston, included six first class matches.

This apart, the team also played four one-day warm up games and three ODIs prior to the first Test. And in between the first and second and second and third Tests, there was a county game each. And remember, this was just a three-Test series.

Contrast this with the current tour, which includes five Tests. While India have been in England for almost a month and have played two international limited overs series, there has not been a single first-class match before the first Test starting Wednesday.

The only one scheduled, a four-day first-class contest against Essex, was reduced to a friendly after the Indians said they would play only three days because of an `unfriendly’ outfield and the unusually hot, energy-sapping weather.

India will now play five matches on the trot, without opportunity to assess form of players on the bench if needed, or for stellar players to find their groove if they are struggling.

One can’t be overly critical since the itineraries in most bilateral series (except the Ashes) have made first-class matches redundant, but I think this needs a serious rethink, for it restricts players from finding their métier and limits options for captains.

Going into the first Test on August 1, for instance, India have more questions than answers on what the playing XI should be. Had there been a couple of more first class matches, Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri would have been better placed in making the selection.

To get back to the 1996 tour, the Indians, I recall, was in turmoil when the set reached England. A couple of months earlier, the team - favoured to win the World Cup played in the sub-continent – had crashed out ignominiously in the semi-final, and this hung heavy on the minds of the players.

The ODI series was lost 0-2, with one match washed out, setting the tone for struggle and strife over the next six weeks. The tour was also scheduled for the first half of the summer which made it even more difficult for the Indians, especially the spinners.

There was some rain, and the weather was generally cold, which gave the home team a distinct advantage on pitches that had enough assistance for seam and swing bowlers. As the weather warmed up, India’s batsmen came into their own in the second and third Tests, but collectively, the team lacked the vigour to force a result.

England did not really boast of a formidable team, but in these conditions they proved a notch higher, especially in the bowling. Between them, Alan Mullaly, Chris Lewis, Dominic Cork and Mark Ealham claimed 43 wickets.

(AFP) (AFP)

India’s leading pace bowlers Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad picked up 26 wickets, but an effective back-up seamer’s absence was sorely felt. What perhaps hurt India most was Anil Kumble’s lack of success.

With conditions not favouring him a whit, Kumble got only 5 wickets in three Tests. Had the bowling support been stronger, India’s fortunes in the Test series could have been brighter, though in the first Test, it was the batsmen who led the team down. India never recovered from the defeat.

Sachin Tendulkar, by now the world’s premier batsman, was in superb form, scoring over 400 runs including two brilliant centuries. His 122 out of 219 at Edgbaston was breathaking, and the 177 at Nottingham imperious. The race between him and Brian Lara for who was the world’s best batsman had begun.

Yet, after the first Test, the spotlight turned to two other 23-year-olds who made their debut at Lords’ in the second Test: Sourav Ganguly, who made a century on debut, and Rahul Dravid, who narrowly missed his, dismissed tragically for 95.

(Getty Images) (Getty Images)

A few months older than Tendulkar, the three had played with and against each other at the junior level, before the latter broke free and made his entry into international cricket at just 16 with his precocious batting talent.

Ganguly and Dravid were left to play catch up for almost seven years. Both had a contrasting passage to Test cricket. Ganguly was on India’s tour of Australia in 1991-92, and not just didn’t get a match in the series, but also got adverse reports from the team management ostensibly for his aloof behavior.

Disappointed, Ganguly had almost given up on cricket. He somehow managed to hang in, had a wonderful domestic season, and when the opportunity arose, came good in great style. His flowing off-side drives earned him plaudits universally. And he showed a penchant for the big stage by notching a century in his second Test too.

Dravid, introverted, measured and circumspect – on and off the field - unlike the flamboyant Ganguly, had worked his way up resolutely through various age group tournaments. In his first two Tests he batted at no.7, but gave enough evidence of the resilience and ambition that was to make him one of the greatest no.3s in the history of the game subsequently.

For the rest, the Indian batting was indistinctive. Sanjay Manjrekar was surprisingly low on runs, and Azhar hit such a bad trot that he mustered only 43 in the three Tests. After the World Cup setback and this series defeat, he was to lose his captaincy for the next series.

My abiding memory of the tour, however, is not about the performances on the field, but opener Navjot Singh Sidhu storming back home after the first Test.

He wasn’t played at Edgbaston, which was a surprise, and the next thing one knew, Sidhu was gone. I chased him down to London before he flew back, but Sidhu wouldn’t say anything beyond, "Maamla pag tak aa gaya", implying that his intrinsic pride had been hurt.

Several stories and theories have been bandied about his sudden departure, but what really happened remains a mystery.

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2 New Zealand 2829 109
3 South Africa 2917 108
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2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
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2 England 4253 266
3 India 8411 263
4 Australia 5471 261
5 South Africa 4407 259
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