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Travel broadening Indian cricket minds

Since the turn of the century, India have won more Tests away from home (16) than anyone bar Australia (26).

india Updated: Aug 07, 2007 17:40 IST

Rahul Dravid didn't take long to ponder the question when asked about India's unfortunate habit of squandering away leads.

"Thank you for reminding me," said the polite India captain in deadpan fashion, with just the merest hint of a smile crossing his face following a second Test win at Trent Bridge that put India win one-up against England in a three-match series with just The Oval finale, starting on Thursday, to come.

There was a time when Indian away wins in Test matches were almost as rare as jellybeans on a pitch, a sight which so enraged India's Zaheer Khan in Nottingham the left-arm quick went on to complete his best Test figures as India won by seven wickets.

For example, England great Fred Trueman used to recall how, when taking three wickets in 14 balls on his Test debut at his Headingley home ground in 1952, certain India batsmen could be seen backing away towards square leg.

The stereotype of the Indian cricketer who could be intimidated by rougher, more aggressive foreign types ought to have been banished long ago.

The likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Kris Srikkanth and later Sachin Tendulkar didn't just get into line they hit back too while few who ever saw Kapil Dev in action, as a fast bowler or dynamic batsman, would label him a meek cricketer.

And who was it who managed to get under the skin of former Australia captain Stephen Waugh, who tried to take sledging up-market by calling it "mental disintegration"? Why, none other than India's Sourav Ganguly.

Yet India's win at Trent Bridge was only their 20th victory in 200 overseas Tests in 75 years.

But since the turn of the century they have won more Tests away from home (16) than anyone bar Australia (26).

However, they have struggled to string away wins together. For example, an impressive victory against Australia at Adelaide in 2003 was followed by defeat in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne.

And earlier this year in South Africa, India blew another 1-0 lead with a win at the Wanderers the prelude to defeats in both Durban and Cape Town.

"We have played a little better over the last four or five years abroad," said Dravid. "There has been an improvement but not as quickly as we would all like."

If the current squad find the weight of sporting history oppressive they could talk to Farokh Engineer.

The former wicket-keeper, who lives in Cheshire, north-west England, was a member of the side that won at The Oval in 1971 - India's first Test victory on English soil which also gave them the series 1-0.

Then, as now with Anil Kumble, India had a world-class leg-spinner in the extraordinary Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. There were other similarities too.

In 1971, even more than 2007, the sight of a fast bowler barging into a batsman provoked anguish commentary about cricket's declining sportsmanship.

That was certainly the case when England fast bowler John Snow barged into Gavaskar in the first Test at Lord's 36 years ago.

India pace bowler's Shanthakuraman Sreesanth's brush into England captain Michael Vaughan at Trent Bridge seems mild by comparison. Snow was dropped following his misdemeanour; Sreesanth's fate remains uncertain.

Snow returned at The Oval where Chandrasekhar, whose bowling arm had been withered by childhood polio, took six for 38 in England's second innings to leave India with a victory target of 173.

It took them 101 overs but they got there in the end. Engineer, who finished on 28 not out, recalled: "Those 28 I scored were like 108."

He also told Britain's Sunday Times: "Any victory in a Test series was joyous but to beat England in England was a phenomenal feat at the time for us Indians." Indeed, it's only happened since once, in 1986.

India, currently touring without an overall team coach, are at less risk than most sides of being burdened with an excessive amount of theory and thus may be well placed to follow Chandrasekhar's example.

"I have never been a bowler who planned things. Most of the time I bowled whatever I felt like."

What price history repeating itself later this week?

First Published: Aug 07, 2007 14:11 IST