It has been half a century since India won a Test at The Oval. But the venue remains special to Indian fans. At this iconic ground, Ajit Wadekar’s men created history by scripting India’s maiden Test win on English soil, followed by Sunil Gavaskar's 221 in 1979.
It's not just Indian fans. Kennington Oval is a venue for cricketing memories. In 1880, the ground hosted the first-ever Test on English soil. It’s here where England plundered the famous 903 in the Ashes before World War II. More recently, Sir Alastair Cook walked away from international cricket by slamming a hundred at the venue.
The Oval is only the fourth cricket venue to host over 100 Tests.
The formula for India’s 1971 triumph was spin, and among all the English grounds, the assistance the tweakers receive at the Kennington Oval is legendary. Most recently, Ravichandran Ashwin and Jack Leach claimed five-fors in a county match here.
Will Ashwin play? Will Virat Kohli repeat 1971? While fans scratch their heads on these issues, let’s jog through the history lanes and remember the spectacular Indian performances at the Oval.
1936: Mohammad Nissar’s lone show in India’s defeat
At no point did India look to pose any threat to the hosts as England completed a nine-wicket win. Mohammad Nissar’s toil in the first innings paid off with a five-for. His wickets included double centurion Wally Hammond and centurion Stan Worthington. This was the third five-wicket haul for Nissar, who didn’t play a Test after this. England won the series 2-0.
England 471 for 8 dec (Charlie Barnett 43, Wally Hammond 217, Stan Worthington128; Mohammad Nissar 5/120) & 64 for 1 beat India 222 (Vijay Merchant 52, Mushtaq Ali 52; Hedley Verity 3/30, Jim Sims 5/73) & 312 (Vijay Merchant 48, Dilwar Hussain 54, Amar Singh 44, CK Nayudu 81, Cotar Ramaswami 41; Gubby Allen 7/80) by nine wickets
1946: Vijay Merchant enthrals The Oval in a weather-marred Test
India elected to bat, and there was little play on the first day. Vijay Merchant, who was robbed of his best years due to World War II, slammed his first Test hundred in 10 years. Mainly playing square of the wicket through deft late cuts and skilled pulls, Merchant entertained the crowd through his mastery as the weather marred the Test. England pocketed the series 1-0.
India 331 (Vijay Merchant 128, Mushtaq Ali 59, Vinoo Mankad 42; Bill Edrich 4/68) drew with England 95 for 3
1959: Surendra Nath’s all-round show in India’s innings defeat
Winning the toss, India were 74 for seven when Surendra Nath (27) and Naren Tamhane (32) added a 58-run stand to help India reach 140. Surendra Nath arrested England’s lead to 221 with his five-for. He was batting on 17 in the second innings before running out of partners as India succumbed to an innings defeat, which meant the series was lost 0-5.
India 140 (Fred Trueman 4/24) & 194 (Bapu Nadkarni 76; Fred Trueman 3/30, Brian Statham 3/50) lost to England 361 (Raman Subba Row 94, Mike Smith 98, Ray Illingworth 50, Roy Swetman 65; Surendra Nath 5/75) by an innings and 27 runs
1971: Bhagwath Chandrasekhar helps India script history in England
It was a perfect end to the summer for India with their maiden series wins in the West Indies and England.
India would have loved to bat first here, but Ajit Wadekar lost the toss. Electing to bat, England managed a 71-run first-innings lead.
On a wicket that was deteriorating, the media wrote off India, who were to bat last.
On a surface that was kind to the spinners, the magic of Bhagwath Chandrasekhar triggered an English collapse as they were bundled out for 101.
Expected to be dropped for the Test, the leg-spinner just about made it to the XI. He would later recall:
“I was in a daze. England all out 101 and I had figures of 6 for 38.”
The chase of 173 was tricky and tense. They took their time with Ajit Wadekar (45), Dilip Sardesai (40), Gundappa Viswanath (33) and Farokh Engineer (28*) playing key roles. A cut from Abid Ali brought India its moment of glory.
Trivia: The final day was the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi in India. The Indian fans had borrowed an elephant named from the nearby Chessington Zoo. The team’s manager Hemu Adhikari saw the appearance of an elephant as a good omen on this auspicious day.
It was celebration time in India. People were in the streets. Ajit Wadekar’s men returned to Mumbai amidst the grandest of welcomes. Cricket was no longer just a sport in India.
England 355 (John Jameson 82, John Edrich 41, Alan Knott 90, Richard Hutton 81; Eknath Solkar 3/28) & 101 (Bhagwath Chandrasekhar 6/38) lost to India 284 (Ajit Wadekar 48, Dilip Sardesai 54, Eknath Solkar 44, Farokh Engineer 59; Ray Illingworth 5/70) & 174 for 6 (Ajit Wadekar 45, Dilip Sardesai 40; Derek Underwood 3/72) by four wickets
1979: Sunil Gavaskar makes 438 look gettable for India
There were valid reasons for Sunil Gavaskar to recently get miffed with Nasser Hussain over the 'bullied' remark in his column while referring to the Indian teams touring England in the past. Though the viewing wasn't pleasant, Gavaskar was upfront in expressing his displeasure at the former England captain.
Gavaskar was part of the 1971 win in England. And here, in 1979, he had almost helped India level it. Three years back, India had already set a record by chasing over 400 in the West Indies.
On a sunny final day at The Oval, India reached 304 for one. The Indian dressing room was talking about the looming victory. Gavaskar's innings made it possible. A knock defined as the perfect innings saw the Little Master mostly play in the V, driving and flicking at will. Reportedly, he wasn't beaten once during the course of his 221-run knock.
With wickets tumbling in quest for quick runs and questionable umpiring, India dropped shutters and the match was called a 'draw' with one ball remaining and nine runs to get.
Yajurvindra Singh would later recall:
"The umpiring was the main cause of us not making those runs. It was horrifying. It looked like we were never going to get it because the umpires weren't going to allow you to."
Gavaskar's 221 remains the highest score by an Indian on English soil.
England 305 (Graham Gooch 79, Peter Willey 52; Kapil Dev 3/83, Srinivas Venkataraghavan 3/59) & 334 for 8 dec (Geoffrey Boycott 125, David Bairstow 59; Karsan Ghavri 3/76) drew with India 202 (Gundappa Viswanath 62, Yajurvindra Singh 43; Bob Willis 3/43, Ian Botham 4/65, Mike Hendrick 3/38) & 429 for 8 (Sunil Gavaskar 221, Chetan Chauhan 80, Dilip Vengsarkar 52; Ian Botham 3/87)
1982: Kapil Dev saves it for India
India were pushed on the backfoot on Day One after Gavaskar got injured and played no further part in the match. Winning the toss, England made merry on the track, piling up 594, courtesy of Ian Botham's double hundred.
A follow-on was on the cards for the Indians, but Kapil Dev's 93-ball 97 denied that. He later had enough energy to bowl a probing spell in the second innings. England didn't have enough time to bowl out India as the Test ended in a draw, which meant the hosts had claimed the series 1-0.
England 594 (Geoff Cook 50, Allan Lamb 107, David Gower 47, Ian Botham 208, Derek Randall 95; Dilip Doshi 4/175, Ravi Shastri 3/109) & 191 for 3 dec (Chris Tavare 75, Allan Lamb 45, David Gower 45) drew with India 410 (Ravi Shastri 66, Gundappa Visawanth 56, Sandeep Patil 62, Syed Kirmani 43, Kapil Dev 97; Bob Willis 3/78, Phil Edmonds 3/89) & 111 for 3 (Gundappa Viswanath 75*)
1990: Ravi Shastri's marathon
In an exhibition of immense concentration and grit, Ravi Shastri batted for almost nine-and-a-half hours to score 187. Later, Kapil would bat just over three hours to slam his century. The duo put India in a commanding position as they enforced a follow-on as well. However, England's batting clicked in the second innings, and the hosts pulled off a draw, winning the series 1-0.
India 606 for 9 dec (Ravi Shastri 187, Mohammad Azharuddin 78, Kapil Dev 110, Kiran More 61*) drew with England 340 (Graham Gooch 85, Robin Smith 57, Eddie Hemmings 51; Manoj Prabhakar 4/74) & 477 for 4 dec (Graham Gooch 88, Mike Atherton 86, David Gower 157*, Allan Lamb 52)
2002: Rahul Dravid's 217 ensures a drawn series
With the series on the line, both teams had good outings with the bat on a flat surface. Michael Vaughan continued his rich form and batted for over six hours for his 195. Rahul Dravid outdid the English opener by batting ten-and-a-half hours for his 217. Weather marred what could have been an exciting final day.
England 515 (Marcus Trescothick 57, Michael Vaughan 195, Mark Butcher 54, Dominic Cork 52; Harbhajan Singh 5/115) & 114 for 0 (Marcus Trescothick 58*, Michael Vaughan 47*) drew with India 508 (Rahul Dravid 217, Sachin Tendulkar 54, Sourav Ganguly 51, VVS Laxman 40; Andy Caddick 4/114)
2007: Anil Kumble's ton secures India's series win
After a drawn Test at the Oval, Dravid became the third Indian captain to win a series in England. The final Test of the series was an interesting affair.
Electing to bat, India piled up 664. In one of the most cherished moments in Indian cricket, leg-spinner Anil Kumble, then at the twilight of his 17-year-long career, slammed his maiden century. He still had enough steam to pick up three wickets too.
Dravid exhibited defensive tactics thereon to ensure the series win. He didn't enforce a follow-on to avoid batting last. Later, much to the dismay of Indian fans, he played an innings of 96-ball 12.
England were set a target of 500 in the final session of the fourth day. Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell kept them in the hunt as the Test ended in a draw, giving India the series.
India 664 (Dinesh Karthik 91, Rahul Dravid 55, Sachin Tendulkar 82, VVS Laxman 51, MS Dhoni 92, Anil Kumble 110*; James Anderson 4/182) & 180 for 6 dec (Sourav Ganguly 57, VVS Laxman 46) drew with England 345 (Alastair Cook 61, Kevin Pietersen 41, Paul Collingwood 62, Ian Bell 63; Zaheer Khan 3/32, Anil Kumble 3/94) & 369 for 6 (Alastair Cook 43, Michael Vaughan 42, Kevin Pietersen 101, Paul Collingwood 40, Ian Bell 67; Sreesanth 3/53)
2011: Rahul Dravid carries bat in a forgettable outing for India
A banner in the crowd said: "Dravid vs England". It couldn't have been defined better. Dravid, then 38, slammed three tons in the tour as the rest of the line-up struggled. India lost the series 4-0 and also lost their no.1 Test ranking to England.
Day Two of the Test saw Pietersen and Bell stitch a 350-run stand. The demoralized Indians were then shot out for 300, with Dravid having batted beautifully, running out of his partners and carrying his bat. In the absence of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, Dravid was forced to open the batting.
Forced to follow on, the second innings witnessed an unusual 144-run stand for the fourth wicket between Sachin Tendulkar and nightwatchman Amit Mishra. The effort wasn't good enough to avert an innings defeat.
England 591 for 6 dec (Andrew Strauss 40, Ian Bell 235, Kevin Pietersen 175, Ravi Bopara 44*; Sreesanth 3/123) beat India 300 (Rahul Dravid 146*; Tim Bresnan 3/54, Graeme Swann 3/102) & 283 (Sachin Tendulkar 91, Amit Mishra 84; Graeme Swann 6/106) by an innings and eight runs
2018: KL Rahul-Rishabh Pant attempt the impossible
The final Test of the India-England 2018 series is best remembered for being Sir Alastair Cook's last Test. The match also marked the international debut of Hanuma Vihari.
The match hung in the balance after the first innings, with England managing a 40-run lead. Ravindra Jadeja's all-round show had kept India in the Test before Cook and Joe Root batted India out of the contest with a 259-run stand for the third wicket.
India's attacking batting had put the pressure back on the hosts. Adil Rashid dismissed both batters as India lost their next five wickets for just 20 runs, giving England a 4-1 series win.
England 332 (Alastair Cook 71, Moeen Ali 50, Jos Buttler 89; Jasprit Bumrah 3/84, Ishant Sharma 3/62, Ravindra Jadeja 4/79) & 423 for 8 dec (Alastair Cook 147, Joe Root 125; Ravindra Jadeja 3/179, Hanuma Vihari 3/37) beat India 292 (Virat Kohli 49, Hanuma Vihari 56, Ravindra Jadeja 86*) & 345 (KL Rahul 149, Rishabh Pant 114; James Anderson 3/45) by 118 runs