Indian skipper MAK Pataudi raises his bat to acknowledge the crowd after reaching his 100 against England in the Headingley, Leeds Test in June 1967. Pic/Getty Images
Of India's 17 Test tours to England, only three sides have returned victorious. One from the 14 unsuccessful units was Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi's team of 1967 when they lost 0-3 to Brian Close's Englishmen. They were even defeated by county sides like Kent, Surrey, Yorkshire and Leicester. It was a catastrophe.
The first Test of that series at Headingley, Leeds, the most well-fought of the three, was completed this week 50 years ago when Pataudi's second innings 148 lit up the Yorkshire ground. This, the last of his six Test hundreds, also proved to be his finest century.
The lead up to the Test was wet and depressing. The Headingley ground was covered in rain water a week before the Test, but it was dry and sunny on match eve. That was before another shower just as the groundsman George Cawthray took the covers off. Close won the toss and reluctantly decided to bat. Opener John Edrich fell to a brilliant low catch by Farokh Engineer off Rusi Surti for one, but Geoff Boycott and Ken Barrington put on 139 for the second wicket, as the Indian attack turned toothless through injuries to Surti (left knee) and Bishan Singh Bedi (thigh strain).
Boycott, who worked his way into form with a laborious 106 not out on Day One, stayed unbeaten with 246 the following day, as England plundered 550 before India were reduced to 86 for six at stumps with Pataudi on 14 not out.
It was yet another poor batting display at Leeds and Pataudi couldn't help thinking of 1952 when India lost four wickets without a run on the board.
In Tiger's Tale, Pataudi quoted a part of celebrated writer Ian Wooldridge's report in the Daily Mail which read: "If it were a heavyweight fight instead of a featherweight Test match, the referee would have shown humanity last evening and stopped the contest to spare the Indians full punishment."
Wooldridge was not the only pundit who got ahead of himself. In The Cricketer magazine, John Woodcock, the finest and most experienced cricket writer living, admitted to being wrong when he wrote in a newspaper that the match was as good as over after India's Day Two woes. Pataudi was convinced that India were still in the game and went out and proved it. His overnight partner Subrata Guha fell early, but the injured Surti (with Ajit Wadekar as his runner) added 59 with his captain as India were bowled out for 164; Pataudi the last man dismissed for 64.
The previous night, Pataudi stressed to his batsmen that the wicket was turning out to be a good batting track and if they didn't get runs on this strip, they wouldn't get runs anywhere in England.
Following on, India fared much better. Surti, who had scored 22 earlier in the day, walked out to open India's batting with Engineer. After facing 15 balls for his five, he edged one to John Murray behind the stumps off John Snow. In came Wadekar, keen to put his first innings duck behind him. With the flamboyant Engineer at the other end, Wadekar collared the English bowling. "I was determined to get some runs under my belt and was happy to give Rookie (Engineer's nickname) more of the strike. Yes, I fell short by nine runs for a hundred, but that was not the only 90-plus score in my career," Wadekar said with a chuckle yesterday.
Engineer and Wadekar put on 168, a then record second wicket stand against England. Later in the innings, Pataudi teamed up with Hanumant Singh for a 134-run stand for the fifth wicket as England were convinced that victory won't come on a platter, as it appeared on Friday evening.
Pataudi pierced the field with the precision of a surgeon and spent nearly six hours at the crease for his 148. His three-hour vigil in the first innings shouldn't be forgotten either.
India ended up scoring 510 after conceding a massive 386-run lead. England were set 125 to win. They succeeded, but after losing four wickets.
For Pataudi, this defeat was no doom. It provided hope for Indian cricket on the tour; it provided proof that his troops can pick themselves up and stand up to quality opposition. Unfortunately, that was not to be, as the defeats at Lord's and Birmingham showed. But Pataudi proclaimed that India would be better on their next trip in 1971. Wadekar & Co proved him right. There were no centuries like Pataudi's in that series, but there was a series win.
No story on Headingley 1967 can be complete without a mention of Geoff Boycott. He didn't impress the England selectors with his selfish, unbeaten innings of 246. Not only was Boycott dropped, but he also missed out on the 100 pounds given to the best batsman of the Test. For sheer quality, that award should have gone to Pataudi alone, but it was shared with Ken Barrington and Basil D'Oliveira.
Pataudi was not known to preserve press clippings, but in Tiger's Tale he revealed that he kept a few from this Test. And that says a great deal about Leeds 1967.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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