Away wins, especially outside the subcontinent have not come easy for Indian sides. From battling for pride a few decades ago, the current Indian sides travel with their eyes set only a win. But teams don’t become great travelling sides overnight. There are a number of factors that determine this.
Using one’s strengths well, for example. How many teams have banked on their spinners to win a series in England. Ajit Wadekar’s side did just that in 1971. Chasing down a 400+ target in West Indies required immense amount of patience, guts and knowing when to go after the bowling.
Recently, Virat Kohli’s sides have banked heavily on their pacers to set up wins. In early 2019, he became the first Indian captain to win a series in Australia but neither of the two wins his team registered make it to this list. There were creditable victories elsewhere too. After being thumped by a big margin in the first Test, MS Dhoni’s side got the better of a mighty South African side in 2010. There was Erapalli Prasanna outwitting the Kiwis in 1967/68 while Sourav Ganguly’s side’s achievements away from home between 2002-’04 will always remain an important chapter in how India’s approach changed when it came to overseas tours.
Here’s is a look at five such important away wins in Indian cricket.
The Oval 1971: Chandra’s magic
Where would 1971 rank among the great years in Indian cricket? India had already pulled off a series win in West Indies but this was a much harder assignment. Visiting spinners only enjoyed the rare triumph in England and mind you, India had lost 15 and drawn six of the 21 matches they played in the country. That is what makes this victory a milestone in Indian cricket. That too, a dozen years before India would go on to win a World Cup.
Having drawn the first two Tests, India were fighting for survival after conceding a first-innings lead of 71. The English newspapers had written off Ajit Wadekar’s men even before commencing their first innings, something that the Indians sought inspiration from, as Gavaskar would reveal years later.
Everything seemed to fall in place in England’s second innings with wily leg-spinner BS Chandrasekar proving to be nearly-unplayable for a strong batting order. John Edrich was left bamboozled and so was Keith Fletcher; both batsmen were out for ducks. At the other end, S Venkataraghavan was weaving his own magic, accounting for the crucial wicket of Basil D’Oliveria. But the Tamil Nadu tweaker’s most important contribution was perhaps his stunning one-handed catch off opener Brian Luckhurst, who was batting steadily.
Chandrasekhar got the ball to hiss and turn and it didn’t take long before he mopped up the English tail. India were chasing 173 for a famous win. India, though, were on the backfoot early with Gavaskar falling for nought and fellow opener Ashok Mankad walking back to the pavilion soon after. India’s senior batsmen countered pressure with aplomb as skipper Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai and Gundappa Viswanath making crucial contributions. With enough time on their hands, India crafted their runs with patience and grit, ensuring that spinner Derek Underwood had a quiet outing. Farokh Engineer and Abid Ali took their team home to kick off the first of many famous away wins for India. A hard-earned win masterminded by Chandra and his magic wrists.
India 284 (Farokh Engineer 59, Dilip Sardesai 54; Ray Illingworth 5/70) and 174/6 (Ajit Wadekar 45, Dilip Sardesai 40; John Snow 1/14) beat England 355 (Alan Knott 90; Eknath Solkar 3/28) & 101 (Brian Luckhurst 33; BS Chandrasekhar 6/38).
Port of Spain 1976: The Sunny-Vishy show
At the time, only Sir Don Bradman’s Australia had ever chased down a score in excess of 400 in the second innings. India had West Indies on the ropes in the previous Test, which was also held at the Queeen’s Park Oval in Trinidad. This West Indian team was a much better version of what Ajit Wadekar’s side had faced five years earlier. Clive Lloyd was now a World Cup-winning captain but his team were still licking the wounds of the resounding thrashing they received in Australia.
In-form Vivian Richards had his first big test against the formidable Indian spinners, which he passed with flying colours. Skipper Bishen Singh Bedi, BS Chandrasekhar and S Venkataraghavan had memorable games of their own but Alvin Kallicharan’s second innings century had put the game seemingly beyond India. West Indies were banking on their own spinners to bowl them to victory.
The tourists got off to a good start with the openers getting 69 runs on the board. Gavaskar then combined with Mohinder Amarnath, who always performed well against the Windies. India finished at 134/1 on day four with the focus still on earning a draw. Gavaskar departed after making a sturdy 102 but Amarnath and the brilliant Gundappa Viswanath toyed with the bowling attack from there. Lloyd was left frustrated with his spinners.
By the time Viswanath was run out for 112, the match was India’s to lose. At the other end, Amarnath was wearing the bowlers down while Brijesh Patel confidently played his shots in what was a crucial cameo to take his side over the finish line. Amarnath was run out after spending a whopping 440 minutes at the crease. With the light fading on the final day, India had pulled off something remarkable. But West Indies would have better days in the office after this game as Lloyd opted for an all-out pace attack. The rest is history.
India 228 (Madan Lal 42, Gundappa Viswanath 41; Michael Holding 6/65) & 406/4 (Gundappa Viswanath 112, Sunil Gavaskar 102) beat West Indies 359 (Viv Richards 177; BS Chandrasekhar 6/120) & 271/6 decl. (Alvin Kalicharran 103*; S Venkataraghavan 3/65)
Lord’s 1986: Kapil’s devils at it again
India had firmly established their One-day International credentials in the years leading up to their historic series win in 1986 with World Cup and World Series wins. However, their Test form had taken a bit of a beating. Kapil Dev, before this match, had not tasted a win in 20 Tests as captain. Pacer Chetan Sharma is better known for being being belted out of the park in the last ball of the match by Javed Miandad in a thrilling Sharjah final – also in the same year – but here, the 20-year bagged a five-for.
Sharma’s efforts were backed up by Dilip Vengsarkar’s unbeaten 126. Many would argue that this series firmly placed the Mumbai batsman as among the best in the business. In the second innings, Dev was majestic and skittled through the England top-three in no time. The hosts never recovered from there as spinners Ravi Shastri and Maninder Singh did the rest. India needed just 134 to seal the win.
India huffed and puffed to the finish line with Vengsarkar once again playing a short but important hand. Dev had seen enough of his side make heavy weather of a modest target and got the job done with a whirlwind unbeaten 23 from just 10 balls. The Indian captain was also awarded the Player of the Match. A shell-shocked England never recovered as India went from strength to strength.
India 341 (Dilip Vengsarkar 126*, Mohinder Amarnath 69; Graham Dilley 4/146) & 136/5 (Dilip Vengsarkar 33, Kapil Dev 23*) beat England 294 (Graham Gooch 114; Chetan Sharma 5/64) & 180 (Mike Gatting 40; Kapil Dev 4/52) by 5 wickets.
Perth 2008: Just desserts
Given the amicable relationship (for the most part) players from across the world share with each other thanks to franchise leagues, it almost seems preposterous to think that an incensed Indian side nearly aborted this tour Down Under.
The Sydney Test that preceded this Test was a stain on the game. Words were exchanged. Some, allegedly racist. Umpires Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson made a series of incorrect calls that went against India, and Australia were roundly criticised in the media for their conduct on the field. The fact that Ricky Ponting equalled predecessor Steve Waugh’s record of 16 straight Test wins was tucked away in the back corner.
Australia couldn’t lose the series from there but India had a fight worth fighting. Harbhajan Singh was slapped with a one-match ban in the aftermath of his exchange with all-rounder Andrew Symonds.
But the task was anything but easy. Perth has, too often in the past, been a cauldron where opponents usually wilt in the matter of a few sessions. The Aussies had momentum too. But this was a cause that united the Indian side with the young and old joining hands. With the bat, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar led the way with battling knocks in the first innings. Young left-armer RP Singh and rookie Ishant Sharma were irresistible. In the second essay, VVS Laxman thwarted the Australian pace battery. India firmly had the upper hand after setting a target of 413. Ishant’s bewitching spell to Ponting has gone on to become vintage gold with the teenager repeatedly teasing the Australian captain around fourth-fifth stump line.
The Aussies, true to their ethos, made India work hard for their win with the tailenders showing plenty of resistance on day four. But this was a victory well deserved for a wounded bunch of players. Harbhajan wore the biggest smile having run onto the pitch with an Indian flag to celebrate with his mates.
India 330 (Rahul Dravid 93; Mitchell Johnson 4/86) & 294 (VVS Laxman 79; Stuart Clark 4/61) beat Australia 212 (Andrew Symonds 66; RP Singh 4/68) & 340 (Michael Clarke 81; Irfan Pathan 3/54) by 72 runs.
Johannesburg 2018: Great win on a poor wicket
“I’d give this wicket a rating of two. And that is out of 100,” said Michael Holding in the commentary box on day one of the dead rubber in Johannesburg. South Africa were far too clinical for Virat Kohli’s side, who, barring the skipper were left exposed by top quality pace bowling.
A facet about Kohli that separates him from other Indian captains is going for a win from the onset. Visiting teams in the past have often come out happy after a drawn match or series.
Whether Kohli’s gung-ho “intent” – a favourite buzzword of his during press conferences – is the right way to go...depends on how results pan out. When that intent backfires, it can leave onlookers puzzled a la the Adelaide Test of 2014-’15. When plans fall in place, it sure can be a delightful time for an Indian cricket fan.
Batsmen from both sides were lucky not to have had any long-term injuries at the end of the game. Throughout the four days, there was talk of the match being called off because of how dangerous the wicket was playing.
Briefly, play was called off with the match referee having a word with the respective captains and the coaches. India refused to budge and chose to get on with the job. Perhaps they drew strength every time the ball thudded onto their bodies. One could almost hear Kohli think after feeling a nasty delivery on his rib cage: “Ah, that was a tough one to face but we have the pace bowling arsenal to do similar damage too.”
And there was damage aplenty. In what was an inspired move by Kohli, he had a short mid-wicket in place to counter Hashim Amla’s silky wrists, which were causing India problems having set a 241-run target. There was still a lot of time in the Test and the Proteas were cruising at 124/1. Amla flicked into the waiting hands of Hardik Pandya with Ishant Sharma getting just about enough bounce to generate a hint of awkwardness for Amla. The hosts lost six wickets in the space of 13 overs and India got a fine win.
For the first time in India’s history, there were three pacers in tandem having a go at the batsmen at a frightening pace. Player of the Match Bhuvneshwar Kumar impressed with his guile, and grit with the bat in both innings. Given the way the capricious wicket was behaving, most teams around the world would have folded up in no time. Jasprit Bumrah’s memorable start to red-ball cricket continued and accounted for the prized dismissals of AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock.
The conductor of this pace menace was Mohammed Shami, who was far too lethal to handle for the South African middle-order and tailenders. India emerged victors by 63 runs. Kohli’s now-trademark fist pump while letting out a huge roar were at the epicentre of the team celebrations after Shami completed his five-for.
India 187 (Virat Kohli 54, Cheteshwar Pujara 50; Kagiso Rabada 3/39) & 247 (Ajinkya Rahane 48; Morne Morkel 3/47) beat South Africa 194 (Hashim Amla 61; Jasprit Bumrah 5/54) & 177 (Dean Elgar 86*; Mohammad Shami 5/28) by 63 runs.
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