Lucknow’s trysts with Test cricket

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Believe it or not, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh has seen a paltry number of men’s Test matches. Both those it has witnessed have been tremendously one-sided. Which of Afghanistan and West Indies will take advantage of this slope when they clash at the Ekana Stadium?

The newly-built Ekana Stadium in Lucknow has already hosted a handful of domestic games through the last couple of seasons before getting the go-ahead for an international fixture. | The Hindu Archives

Come November 27, Test cricket will make a return to Lucknow after 26 years when Afghanistan clash with the West Indies in their one-off home Test at the Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium. The Ekana Stadium will become the third ground in the ‘City of Nawabs’ to witness a Test match, and interestingly, each of the first two grounds ended up hosting just the one Test. Here is a rewind to Lucknow’s brief trysts with men’s Test cricket.

University GroundIndia v Pakistan, Second Test, 1952-53

Situated on the banks of the Gomti, the Lucknow University Ground was the scene of a momentous occasion for Pakistani cricket. Playing their first ever Test series, Pakistan had endured an innings defeat in their inaugural match at Delhi, and needed something special at Lucknow to stay alive. Three key players from the home camp — Vinoo Mankad (who had taken 13/131 at Delhi, a new Indian record), Vijay Hazare and Hemu Adhikari — obliged by opting out.

A jute-matting pitch greeted Lala Amarnath and Abdul Hafeez Kardar at the toss, and the Indian captain duly decided to bat after calling correctly. Pakistan had within their ranks the 25-year-old Fazal Mahmood, who would go on to become the first great fast bowler from his country. Back home, Fazal had profoundly mastered the art of bowling on coir-matting pitches, but as the Indian batsmen were to discover, he proved to be a lethal customer on this alien surface as well.

It was the medium pace of Maqsood Ahmed that drew first blood, as it accounted for Datta Gaekwad and Gul Mohammad to leave India at 17/2. Fazal commenced his wicket-taking spree by castling Vijay Manjrekar, shortly after which he had Gogumal Kishenchand out leg-before to further sink India to 22/4. Opener Pankaj Roy and Polly Umrigar attempted a revival by putting on a partnership of 33 for the fifth wicket, before the latter was dismissed by Mahmood Hussain.

Soon after, Fazal removed Roy (who top-scored with 30), while Hussain (3/35) added the important scalp of Amarnath to his kitty. The score was now tottering at 68/7, but Fazal and his fellow pacers showed no signs of relenting. India were eventually shot out for a paltry 106, with Fazal (5/52) recording the first Test five-wicket haul by a Pakistani. Openers Nazar Mohammad and Hanif Mohammad steered Pakistan to 46/0 to cap a perfect day for Test cricket’s neophytes.

The second day revolved around Nazar, who held the fort even as wickets kept falling at the other end. He was unbeaten on 87 at stumps with Pakistan at 239/7, and went on to record his country’s first Test century early on the third day. His eighth-wicket stand of 63 with Zulfiqar Ahmed added to India’s exasperation, and when the Pakistani innings terminated at 331, he was still unbeaten, finishing with a sedulous 124* that consumed more than eight-and-a-half hours.

The fact that Pakistan batted for 194.3 overs highlighted Nazar’s resolve; he ended up being on the field for all four days of the match, thus becoming the first player to do so. With his team armed with a 225-run cushion, Fazal unleashed himself on the Indians for the second time.

Hussain got rid of Roy early, after which Fazal, by now accustomed to the pitch, took over, reducing the Indians to 77/5. His second fifer was completed when he had Umrigar out leg-before.

It was only due to an eighth-wicket alliance of 55 between Amarnath (61*) and wicketkeeper Nana Joshi that the match was dragged into the fourth day. Fittingly, it was Fazal who completed the last rites by dismissing Shah Nyalchand, thereby securing a historic Pakistani victory by an innings and 43 runs in only their second Test. By contrast, India and New Zealand, the two previous entrants into the Test fold, had taken 25 and 45 matches respectively for their first wins.

Fazal captured 7/42 in the second innings, giving himself match figures of 12/94. These remained the best Test figures by a bowler against India until 1979-80, when the talismanic Ian Botham bagged 13/106 at Mumbai. Kardar, one of the two men in the Pakistani eleven to have played Tests for India before partition (the other being leg-spinner Amir Elahi), later remarked, “Fazal bowled with demoniac grace. He was a man inspired to crush the Indian batsmen.”

Fazal claimed in his 1954 autobiography, written in Urdu, that he had responded to the spectators’ taunts at Delhi, which included references to Kashmir, by stating, “If I do not avenge my defeat at Lucknow, then my name is not Fazal Mahmood.” He added that the Lucknow crowd reacted by setting the Indian players’ camp on fire and breaking the windows of the bus taking them back to the hotel, and that the “players saved their lives by a hair’s breadth”.

This would also turn out to be the only first-class match to be played at the University Ground. Pakistan’s win was highly commendable for it came just three months after they were made a full member of the Imperial Cricket Conference (as the ICC was then known). Kardar’s following words reflect what it meant to Pakistani cricket, and to Pakistan as a whole:

“Before we left Lucknow I went out for a last look at the Monkey Bridge and the cricket ground lying beyond it, where Pakistan had gained her first Test victory. The empty stands which envelope the ground and the resting place of Sarojini Naidu, the great Indian social worker, could not hide the slow moving waters of the Goomti river, on whose banks Pakistan’s cricketers had managed to lower the Indian colours within six months of our Cricket Board’s recognition by the Imperial Cricket Conference. I can never forget Lucknow and the ground by the Goomti river.”

K.D. Singh Babu StadiumIndia v Sri Lanka, First Test, 1993-94

Lucknow seemed destined to descend into oblivion as a one-Test centre, but 41 years after Pakistan’s seminal triumph, Test cricket made a comeback to the city, this time at the multi-purpose K.D. Singh ‘Babu’ Stadium, named after the hockey legend who was part of India’s winning campaigns at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. The venue’s first international was in 1976-77, when it hosted the fifth match of India’s first women’s Test series, against the West Indies.

Under the captaincy of Mohammad Azharuddin, India had recently built an aura of invincibility at home, what with their 3-0 blanking of England a year earlier, and hence it was always going to be a tall ask for the Sri Lankans. The hosts blooded a new wicketkeeper in the form of Nayan Mongia, and unsurprisingly packed their side with spinners. Navjot Sidhu put the islanders’ bowling to the sword after the coin favoured Azharuddin, thus establishing the tone of the match.

The turbaned opener slashed eight sixes en route to a knock of 124, and his third-wicket stand of 121 with Sachin Tendulkar firmly put India in the ascendancy. These were then the second-most number of sixes by a batsman in a Test innings, behind only Walter Hammond’s ten for England against New Zealand at Auckland in 1932-33. It still stands as the joint Indian record — Mayank Agrawal also hit eight maximums during his 243 against Bangladesh at Indore earlier this month.

Sidhu was third out at 205, but Tendulkar, unbeaten on 88 out of a total of 269/3 at the end of the first day, proceeded to reach his seventh Test hundred in the course of adding 142 with Azharuddin for the fourth wicket. The prodigious 20-year-old fell for a stroke-filled 142, before Sanjay Manjrekar, Kapil Dev (playing what would be his last home Test series) and Mongia ballooned the total to 511. Muttiah Muralitharan (5/162) recorded his first away five-wicket haul.

The stage was now set for the spin troika of left-armer Venkatapathy Raju, leg-spinner Anil Kumble and off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan to subject the Sri Lankan batsmen to their wiles. They did not disappoint, collecting seven wickets between them, but not before openers Roshan Mahanama (73) and Dulip Samaraweera shared in a bright partnership of 120. However, the batsmen to follow failed to show resistance, and the visitors lost all ten wickets for just 98 runs.

Following on 293 in arrears, Sri Lanka again got off to a promising start, moving to 100/1. But Kumble, having taken 4/69 in the first innings, ran riot thereafter, snaring 7/59 to send the total crashing to 174. This was his first ten-wicket match haul in Tests, while India’s winning margin of an innings and 119 runs was then their biggest. That was that as far as men’s Test cricket at the venue was concerned, and it remains to be seen whether the Ekana Stadium gets a longer run.

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