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India completes 75 years of Tests

Cricket-crazy India completes 75 years of playing international Test cricket, a game that is almost a religion in the country of one billion.

india Updated: Jun 25, 2007 16:46 IST
Abhishek Roy and Ravi Kant Singh
Abhishek Roy and Ravi Kant Singh

On Monday India completed 75 years of playing international Test cricket, a game that is almost a religion in this country of one billion and has simply overshadowed every other sport in passion and popularity.

Led by the redoubtable Col CK Nayudu, an Indian team stepped on to the hallowed turf of Lord's June 25, 1932 to face the then mighty England and was soundly beaten in the three-day Test series despite the heroics of pacemen Mohammad Nissar, Amar Singh and Jahangir Khan.

From humble beginnings when cricket was still considered a game of the elite, cricket is today perhaps the only sport that can nearly bring the country to a halt more so if India is winning!

"It is quite a big moment for Indian cricket," says former Indian skipper Bishen Singh Bedi of the anniversary. "I wish I could be on the field even this time."

Today, Indian cricketers also jostle for advertising and TV space with iconic film stars and on their shoulders ride millions of rupees in marketing spending across a slew of products ranging from motor vehicles to hair care formulas.

It's also a game that has seen the coffers of cricket boards of the other nine Test playing nations swell although the Indian board is the richest of them all.

"I hope the boys are aware of the anniversary and make the England tour a memorable one. But I doubt if many players in the team are even aware of this," Bedi told.

His concern is not misplaced. Even as Team India embarks on yet another England tour this weekend, not much has changed in terms of the country's win-loss record since that historic day in 1932.

India has thus far played 405 Tests but the country's dismal record away from home remains a cause for worry. Of the 198 Tests India have played abroad, it has won only 28, lost 84 and drawn 86. Overall it's been a paltry 90 wins and 131 losses.

It was not until February 1968 that India won its first Test match and series away from home shores.

Young captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi marshalled his resources well on the tour of New Zealand, also heralding the arrival of India's spin wizards EAS Prasanna and Bedi. India went to beat New Zealand 3-1 in the four Test series.

"In all these 75 years, there have been two outstanding players, Col CK Nayudu and Tiger Pataudi. I never saw Nayudu play but heard a lot about him as he is a legend in Indian cricket," Bedi recalled with a touch of nostalgia.

"Tiger's contribution to Indian cricket can never be forgotten. He never made us feel that we were from Punjab, Bengal or Maharashtra. For him it was always India.

"Indian cricket has come of age. Now there is loads of money. But money can't replace the talent," Bedi said. "Having completed 75 years, the infrastructure needs more attention. The level of domestic cricket has also gone down."

After admission into Test cricket, India had to wait until February 1952 for their first win, a victory by an innings and eight runs against England in Chennai, then Madras.

Over the years, the game has become a huge commercial success as marketing experts latched on to the tremendous recall value of the players to push their products.

"It is a great achievement on part of the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) that once didn't have any money at all and now is the richest cricket board in the world," former India opener Chetan Chauhan said.

"Cricket has been streamlined and it has been commercialized, which has also led to the spread of the game," he added.

However, there has been a flip side to commercialisation. Test cricket, though it still retains its charm for purists, has been relegated to a secondary status behind the limited overs version of the game.

Now, the introduction of Twenty-20 format at the international level could further erode the popularity of Test matches.

"One-dayers may bring in the moolah but its Test cricket that remains the real thing," opined the legendary Sunil Gavaskar, who scored only one ODI hundred compared to 34 Test centuries, apart from becoming the world's first batsman to score more than 10,000 Test runs. "It's time to reflect on the past and learn the lessons.

"Young players should strive to perform at the Test level before looking for success in the shorter version of the game. Its not a good thing that the reality is the opposite," Gavaskar, a member of the 1983 World Cup winning squad.

First Published: Jun 23, 2007 11:37 IST