Classic Rewind: India's Tour of England 2002
India travelled to England in 2002 with a terrible overseas record. The tour to England provided them with an opportunity to shake off the unwanted weakness and revitalize India’s glorious 1971 triumph. India had defeated Australia the previous series in a keenly contested series at home. They were lions in their own backyard and made full use of home conditions. The duo of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble exploited home conditions with great effect but it was not the same away from home. Sourav Ganguly had made his Test debut on the tour of England ’96 and a comeback to that very venue as the leader of this side must have been emotionally charging for him. He was determined to make a historic turnaround for this Indian team. He wanted India to contest for the series in such alien surroundings.
Ganguly was leading a side that was young but supremely talented. The batting line-up had some experience and proven campaigners in Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar. There was also a lot of new exciting talent. The outstanding discovery of the tour was Virender Sehwag. The middle order batsman was backed by John Wright and Ganguly to open the innings in demanding conditions and he proved his capability with key contributions. Parthiv Patel made his Test debut on 8th August 2002 as a 16 year old.
History is evidence of the fact that India have stumbled on the first hurdle when playing overseas. Inspite of playing some practice games, the team was unable to adapt to unfamiliar conditions at the required rate. The pitches outside the subcontinent tend to have a greater proportion of grass providing for initial swing and bounce. Indian batsman were used to playing on dusty, rough and moisture-less tracks where only spin or reverse swing could be practiced. England’s pace battery was constituted by Simon Jones, Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard. They had Ashley Giles to do the business from one end with his left arm spin.
The bowling attack was visibly versatile offering a range of options. Simon Jones was especially good with out-swing bowling and Hoggard complemented him by his late in-swingers. Andrew Flintoff had the height and requisite action to extract the maximum bounce of the wicket. On the other hand India’s pace attack was rather one-dimensional. Ajit Agarkar was a good practitioner of swing bowling but lacked control. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra were both injury prone and similar bowlers. They relied on the angle created by their action and seam movement of the wicket. Ashish Nehra could swing the ball both ways but never prodigiously. India posed a mild threat if any.
Any Indian team travelling abroad faced this dilemma. The wickets never offered much for the spinners except for the last two days of a Test match and so the Indian sides that travelled with 3-4 spinners in the past had returned bare. There was an exception in 1971 when Bhagwath Chandrasekhar foxed English batsman in the last Test match to get splendid figures of 6/38. India eventually won that Test match and with that the series. As it panned out India’s traditional strength was going to turn the tables on England once again.
In the first Test, India played with only one spinner but three fast bowlers. Virender Sehwag’s aggressive stroke-filled 84 runs were not enough to overhaul England’s massive first innings total of 487 runs. England piled on the misery on the Indian bowlers by not imposing the follow on. India were set a virtually unachievable target of 567 runs. After struggling for nearly 110 overs and inspite of a valiant maiden century from Ajit Agarkar India lost the test by 170 runs.
The disappointment of a massive loss in the first Test could have been enough to make a spineless team surrender. However, this Indian team showed strength of character and pulled back things slowly and steadily. Michael Vaughan was in the form of his life as he continued to make century after century in this series. He scored a classy 197 as part of England’s reply to India’s first inning total of 357. Virender Sehwag exhibited raw talent in his second Test century and affirmed the faith that had been invested in him by the team management. India’s second innings was going to be vital for the result in this Test match. They could have crumbled under immense pressure and given away another victory to England but for Rahul Dravid.
“The Wall” as he is called, justified the epithet with a gritty hundred. He was supported by Sachin Tendulkar and captain Sourav Ganguly in a microscopic effort of what was to be reflected in the third Test once again. The 2nd Test ended in a draw.
India went to the third Test at Headingly with the sole motive of improving upon the performance of the 2nd Test. They found that extra bit of luck on their side and managed to weather the tough conditions of Day 1 inspite of some early penetration. Rahul Dravid continued from where he left of at Nottingham and slammed a consequential ton. Dravid proved to be the architect of yet another triumphant display away from home. He was followed by Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly who mounted the pressure on England with centuries. The Indian middle order gave the 4 man pace attack some pounding. Sachin Tendulkar was unlucky to miss out on a double hundred as he was dismissed on 193. India scored 628 runs in the first innings which was enough to bowl out England twice.
Anil Kumble was disappointed at being left out of the first Test match and he made a point to prove his critics wrong. Kumble’s passionate behavior on the field was well contrasted by a peaceful character off it. He exulted thoroughly for every wicket and he was truly a spinner with the heart and mind of a fast bowler. He picked up 7 wickets in the Test match breaking the spine of English batsman with his consistency and aggravated bounce. Inspite of the extra work load due to the follow-on being imposed, the Indian quick bowlers managed to stay fully fit and carried out the execution of a historic win.
With a double century in the last Test match Dravid eclipsed Michael Vaughan’s greatest achievement in world cricket in terms of batting performance. The 4th Test ended in a draw and the series concluded 1-1. India emerged as equals out of the excruciating Test Series. It was a psychological victory for Indian cricket that propelled and fueled further success.