Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid announced their arrival at the Test stage with a bang at Lord’s in 1996. Ganguly scored a 100 on debut.
Asked what made him choose the 1936 tour of England, where he did not get to play a Test, the genial MJ Gopalan smiled, displaying no regrets even in the evening of his life. A fast bowler and an international hockey centre-half, he could have finished as an Olympic gold medallist had he taken Dhyan Chand's advice and joined the squad in Berlin that season.
Gopalan, who warmed the bench in that mismanaged tour under the captaincy of Vizzy, said he took the advice of his British manager (in the oil company he worked in Madras), who advised him to pick England for the sheer exposure it would provide him, on and off the pitch.
This provides a glimpse of the allure England has had for India players, a country which was seen as a destination for taking the step up the social ladder; rated high in terms of its social and political significance.
Cut to the modern day hero Sachin Tendulkar. He skipped the low-profile West Indies tour but shifted home to London to prepare for the big occasion. He made headlines for his social activities, including the meeting with Roger Federer. He will make many more if he scores his 100th century in internationals at Lord's, and make India's 100th Test against England a memorable affair.
The Indian elite, including royalty, made a beeline to London during the summers before Independence. The charm of the trip has dimmed over the decades but the lustre has stayed even with the current economic growth sweeping through India.
In cricketing terms, it was only natural that India played their first Test against their colonial masters. England stayed the hub for the game till the 1980s, and India's shock one-day World Cup victory at the hallowed turf of Lord's only renewed a certain romance for that nation.
India's cricketing ties with England go back to the days of Ranjitsinhji, the ruler of Jamnagar, who vowed the genteel English fans with his attractive stroke-play and introduced leg glance to the game. The Nawab of Pataudi Sr played for England while his son led India.
For decades, India players considered playing county cricket as a feather in the cap, until the explosion of the international game and the riches offered in the franchise-based Indian Premier League (IPL), as well the individual commercial sponsorships that have come the way of the players.
The county game has always been respected for its ability to mould professionals, the discipline and work ethic the week-in, week-out schedule demands.
Until their decline in the late 1980s and India's shift of focus to champions Australia, matches against England, particularly in that country, were always seen as a highpoint of that summer. The tradition observed in England's cricket grounds helped maintain that image and was a contrast to the younger and boisterous fans who flocked to matches in India.
India against England | India’s first Test squad | Unforgettables | They came and changed the game