Thursday 10 April 2008

The Brown Park, Kanpur

Is the logical deduction, therefore, that English grounds men must prepare wickets which will suit the Australian hostility in attack and not expose the limitations of their batting? In this Welfare State age of all things on a platter and made easy, is a turning wicket a dishonour and no longer a challenge to personal skill?

So went the report in the ‘Manchester Guardian’ after the second day of the fourth test between England and Australia at Old Trafford, 1956. This was in the aftermath of Jim Laker taking 9 wickets, sending Aussies crashing from 62/2 at tea, to 84 all out, in their first innings. Laker went on to capture all 10 wickets in Australia’s second innings to win the match for England by an innings and 170 runs.

Close on the heels of this astonishing feat, two Indian bowlers, both spinners, had flirted with the ‘Perfect Ten’, Green Park stadium at Kanpur being witness to both these instances.

West Indies captain, Gerry Alexander had won the toss in the second test at Kanpur and elected to bat. Not surprising, for, that West Indian team of 1958 boasted of batsmen like Conrad Hunte, Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Collie Smith and the skipper himself. At 55/0, it looked like yet another leather hunt for the Indian fielders. Only Subhash Gupte, whom Gary Sobers later described as the best leg spinner of his time, had different ideas. He took the next seven WI wickets on trot and looked well set to emulate Jim Laker, only to be ‘thwarted’ by debutante Indian fast bowler Vasant Ranjane, who clean bowled Lance Gibbs, the eight wicket to fall. Subhash Gupte eventually finished the innings with 9/102.

If Ranjane denied Subhash Gupte a place in record books, it was Chandu Borde who ‘spoiled’ off spinner Jasu Patel’s figures at Kanpur, a year later. It was an identical Australian batting line up that faced Jim Laker in the 1956 test, O’Neill and Alan Davidson being the only two changes. Jasu Patel’s 9 wicket haul in the first innings (to go with another 5 in the second innings) not only gave India their first ever test victory against Australia, but also earned him a Padmashri (Indian Civilian award) the following year.

As the Indo-African caravan moves to Kanpur for the final test, the name ‘Green Park’ looks at best, a misnomer. Spinners have always ruled the roost here. The last time it smiled on fast bowlers was about 25 years ago, when a certain Malcolm Marshall, at his menacing best, knocked the bat out of Sunil Gavaskar’s hand and hurled India to a humiliating defeat.

In last fifty years, India has lost only twice at Kanpur, to West Indies on both occasions. When Subhash Gupte’s dream spell was overshadowed by Wes Hall’s 10 wicket haul in 1958 and later when India’s 1983 world cup euphoria was cut short by Marshall’s fearsome bowling.

Dale Steyn, Ntini and co could well find a place in the annals alongside Halls and Marshall, if they make the brown track at ‘Green Park’ redundant with their pace.

Otherwise, India could well be on her way to level the series, one all.


Straight Point said...

is a turning wicket a dishonour and no longer a challenge to personal skill?


thats what i have been saying for a while...thats there is allergic disconcern growing at the moment for anything that resembles SPIN...

i am still searching for answerers...

Naked Cricket said...

Brown man's bluff!
CG - enjoyed the headline and your piece.

Cricket Guru said...

Hi SP, Gaurav,

Thanks for the comments.


My idea of a sporting wicket is the Wankhede pitch of early 80s, which used to favour the seamers on day one, batsmen on day 2/3 and spinners towards the end.

The pitches in England generally favour swing bowling, early on, and those in Australia are (were) hard and true paced.

But a track that spins from day one invariably means it is under-watered (read under prepared). The chances of it getting worse over the next few days are much more, than say, the one at Headingley or Perth which will maintain its characteristic over the course of the match.

A doctored pitch like the one at Wankhede against Australia in 2004 or the kind of pitches that Indian team encountered in NZ in 2002/2003, are IMO, bad advertisement for test cricket.

Straight Point said...

you are so correct...politically i.e.

Cricket Guru said...

What is correct in first place always remains so, politically or otherwise...