As our ‘View from the Stands’ series, which looks to give England supporters a voice, continues, Tim Ferrone muses on the India Test series and just how lucky his son has been to grow up with the current side…
It was not until my cricket-obsessed nine-year-old sat dejectedly in front of the television, bemoaning that comparatively rare thing, an English cricket loss, that the full extent of his previously charmed cricketing apprenticeship fully dawned on me.
Sure, we’d been up since 4 am again, so our collective energies had plummeted. Even three breakfasts couldn’t counteract the downward mood swing as the final English wicket fell. But a 3-1 Test series loss, and one broadcast on terrestrial television no less, was a new experience for him. Even allowing for the admittedly excellent Indian team spinning a devilishly tricky web on home turf, this was not part of said son’s script.
You see to him, England don’t lose. Sure, they had been on the wrong end of that Test series against New Zealand a while back, but that was out of our broadcast reach and happened mostly in the middle of the night. Plus it was New Zealand. Lovely blokes. A win for them is a win for cricket, right?
The Ashes was drawn but Headingley brought us to tears of joy, and I don’t need to mention THAT World Cup final. Since then, it is written into the laws of the game that England must beat New Zealand in super overs, plus us fans have waltzed a merry cross-format dance through South Africa away, West Indies and Pakistan at home, and South Africa away again.
It was only right to let the Aussies pinch the odd limited-overs game by way of saying thanks for making the effort. Plus Jofra had Warner on toast, which can’t be overlooked. As a rule of thumb, England teams male and female, just win, don’t they?
Yet as CLR James didn’t quite say ‘what do they know of cricket, that only know of a decent England team?’ So it is that I feel compelled to relay to my son just what the true experience of being a follower of England actually entails.
It was 1991 when cricket landed into my consciousness. Richard Illingworth just had to turn his arm over to knock over that Richards fellow (turns out that wasn’t quite the norm) but the obvious skills of the likes of Gooch and Smith, and a slightly mulleted Ramprakash plucking catches out of mid-air in the covers, was enough to encourage me that this was a national team worth following.
Then there was that World Cup final place the following year (I still recall someone sneaking a radio into the chemistry lesson, and the entire class erupting in delight at the news that the aforementioned Illingworth – funny how he keeps popping up even now – had scythed a four and then benefitted from a no-ball as England scrambled forlornly to get over the line. Thinking about it, what on earth were they doing playing a world final on a Wednesday..!?). How little I knew then dear reader, as the rollercoaster of 1990s England cricket was to unfold in front of my increasingly wary eyes.
It seems fitting then to compare England’s 1992/93 tour of India (as rare an occurrence then as it is now) with that just recently completed by their Test contemporaries, in order to truly understand what it is to take a proper hammering. Whatever you (current England) can do son, I (90s England) can do worse. Much worse.
For starters, ‘90s England certainly never came close to winning a Test on the tour and managed to contrive for themselves an early opportunity to follow-on in the first match in Kolkata, in reply to captain Azharuddin’s near run-a-ball 182, aided and abetted by a fellow named Tendulkar. A first innings top score of 33 meant England warranted an instantaneous chance to make amends, eventually setting a target of just 82 that was easily overhauled. At least England’s demon spinner returned match figures of 5 for 28. The problem was the owner of such figures was not specialist leggie Ian Salisbury, but batsman Graeme Hick; echoes perhaps of Mr Root. Meanwhile Mr Broad can rightfully point to a Test career of sustained excellence that comfortably outguns the likes of the seam bowling Pauls Taylor and Jarvis – who were to start the ‘92 series but were dropped before the end of it.
Still, the second Test presented an opportunity to atone for such errant ways, not least in the return to action of spin demon Phil Tufnell. I think we can all agree that, comical though he may have been with bat and in the field, here was an England spinner of genuine international calibre.
Alas, an eye-wateringly wicketless 41 first innings overs suggested otherwise, and an economy rate of 3.22 implies that even a bowler of much superior experience to that of Dom Bess can be milked effortlessly by those familiar with the conditions. A specialist keeper batted as high as number six in the form of Richard Blakey, taking the gloves from the higher calibre of batsman that was Alec Stewart, though there were no bubbles to escape from at that point in time, just some dodgy prawns afflicting the outgoing captain Gooch. Chris Lewis’ career highlight second innings century was not sufficient to combat the three-figure efforts of Sidhu and Tendulkar, as England followed on once more, succumbing by an innings.
A third Test consolation seemed a distinct possibility, as Gooch and Atherton returned to England’s ailing batting line-up, and Hick, at last, displayed the kind of batting eminence for which he had been touted two years previously, with a majestic 178 in Mumbai. Somewhat belatedly, England had picked up upon the need to field a suitable bowling attack for the conditions (sounding familiar?) recalling the ageing John Emburey, and set about dismissing those increasingly pesky Indian batsmen, a feat which they duly managed.
Sadly, they did so only after leaking 591 runs in the process, much of which came from youthful prodigy Kambli (224) and that Sachin chap once again. The hugely experienced Emburey can still be heard cursing even now at the thought of his two wickets for 144 runs, from just one shy of sixty overs of toil. England’s response capitulated again in the face of the relentless spin assault, Anil Kumble and Venkatapathy Raju taking a combined 37 wickets at less than 24 across the series, to secure yet another innings win and a series whitewash.
You see there were no double centuries for English captains on that tour, not to mention the prevalent matter of two Indian batsmen delivering in excess of fifty at each stay at the crease, whilst two more managed to push their own series average beyond that of 100. No English bowler took a number of wickets that amounted to double figures across the series either, which somewhat showcases Jack Leach in an even more favourable light.
So young son, do not overlook the achievement of having restricted the likes of Kohli, Gill, Rahane, and Pujara to each average less than 30. Yes, the contemporary scorecard reads three losses to one win, but there are still small delights to be found in the details of 2021. Back in 1993, England returned home to take on Australia, and some new blonde bombshell leg spinner they’d just pulled off of the beach. I mean come on, how badly could that go..?