Their gingerly gait and quivering voice fail to suppress their enthusiasm to talk of the times when they walked athletically to the middle of the Eden Gardens for the toss. That was 51 years ago when Ted Dexter brought the English team on a “long tour” and Nari Contractor led India to a 2-0 win in a five-Test series.
The evening was chilly as Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) president Jagmohan Dalmiya “welcomed” the august guests to mark the 80th year of Test cricket between India and England. The occasion was lit up by the warmth the two veterans generated as they took a trip into the past and re-lived some of the moments with an amazingly sharp memory.
Dexter, 77, had thoughtfully brought a “gift” for his 78-year-old “dear friend.” The former England captain carried the scoresheets of the five Tests at Bombay, Kanpur, Delhi, Calcutta and Madras. After three draws, India won at Calcutta and Madras. Dexter termed Contractor a “wonderful captain and a great friend.” The two were meeting after 50 years, as Contractor reminded Dexter. They took immense pride in the fact that they “survived” the blows of time and come to one of the most beautiful cricket venues in the world.
Contractor recalled Dexter’s “brilliant” century at Kanpur when he and Ken Barrington batted England out of trouble. The Indian veteran also revealed how his insistence on continuing with the spinners helped India turn the tide at Calcutta.
“When most wanted me to claim the new ball after lunch on the third day, I stuck with the spinners. Soon, Salim (Durani) got Barrington and Chandu (Borde) removed Dexter.
“That decision (to stay with the spinners) decided the series in our favour,” said Contractor, remembering minute details so vividly. Dexter was all praise for that Indian team. “We were a very young side and they had bowlers who were best suited to exploit the conditions. It was my longest tour ever and I remember playing in front of full crowds at all venues. Eden was a smaller ground then. We were told when you came to India you played against the whole of India. Such was the passion for the game.”
Dexter and Contractor also spoke of their experience against West Indies fast bowler Charlie Griffith, who ended the Indian’s carer in Barbados by hitting him on the head with a vicious ball. Dexter remembered flicking Griffith for a six the first ball he faced from the West Indian.
“I later made peace with him,” said Dexter, while Contractor mentioned his meeting with Griffith in Barbados a few years ago.
Feted by Dalmiya and England Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke, Contractor and Dexter expected India and England to produce “good cricket” when they meet in the Test starting here on Wednesday. Both agreed the toss would play a very important role.