England in India flashback: 1984-85

'We shocked India by being resilient'

When England arrived in India for their 1984-85 tour, things got unpleasant on and off the field. But they stuck it out and turned their fortunes around, thanks in large part to Tim Robinson

Nagraj Gollapudi |
Tim Robinson: used the thought of Boycott to keep himself focused

Tim Robinson: used the thought of Boycott to keep himself focused © Getty Images

October 31, 1984. Delhi was burning. Indira Gandhi, India's prime minister, had been assassinated by two of her bodyguards.

Five hours earlier, David Gower and his England squad had checked into a hotel in the capital. Friends, family and others had told them to be wary of travelling in India, but they were not prepared for chaos of this order on the first day of the tour.

"It was a massive shock," said Tim Robinson, the former England opener who made his debut in the series. "For most of us it was our first visit to India and within hours of landing, there was chaos. We could see from our rooms fires burning and dense black smoke all around and sirens going. We were obviously quite perturbed about what was happening and what we had got ourselves into."

The England squad was whisked away to Sri Lanka, where they played a couple of warm-up matches before returning to India to play a few more practice games ahead of the first Test, in Mumbai.

England were overwhelmed by the wizardry of L Sivaramakrishnan, the 18-year-old Indian legspinner in the match, and Robinson's Test career started ignominiously. In the first innings he tried to sweep Sivaramakrishnan and was given out caught down the leg side when his bat was nowhere near the ball. In the second innings he seemed to have hit the ball but was given lbw. "It was pretty hard to stomach when you know you haven't hit, and it left a bit of a sour taste, especially as we felt there were decisions that went against us," Robinson, now an ICC-appointed umpire, said.

Robinson had shown a lot of character while scoring his first century of the tour, against West Zone in Rajkot. Later in that match, he watched Dilip Vengsarkar make a splendid double-century. "It was a rough place for a tourist, but I remember Vengsarkar got a hundred. I enjoyed watching how he set about building his innings, his concentration and the way he went about playing our spinners. That made a big impression on me. He certainly set an example," Robinson said.

As he fought the warm conditions, the slow bowlers and the pitch, Robinson muttered to himself. "Whenever I would play a loose shot I would rebuke myself and tell myself, 'Geoff Boycott wouldn't get out to such balls. He would bat on'." Robinson channelled his batting idol to focus on the ball.

By the time England returned to Delhi for the second Test, Robinson and the rest of the team were in a better frame of mind, despite being 1-0 down.

After nine unsuccessful attempts, Sunil Gavaskar finally won a toss against England . But in the first two sessions, spinners Pat Pocock and Phil Edmonds got crucial breakthroughs.

"It was the first inkling we felt the Indian camp was unhappy, with rumblings between Gavaskar and Kapil Dev," Robinson said. But Kapil managed to pull India to a respectable 307, so when England lost Graeme Fowler for 5, the pressure was on Robinson.

"After the early wicket we had to consolidate. But we also had to bear in mind that this was going to be our best chance to get a big score in the match. We had to just keep going and occupy the crease." That Thursday, the second day of the Test, Robinson remained unbeaten on 53. The next day was a rest day but he made sure he remained focused. "I had a few runs now under my belt and I had to make it count."

Robinson applied the Boycott method once again and even started to pick the ball from Sivaramakrishnan's hand. "To this day I really can't explain, but I started to read him with time. That was a big difference from the first Test, where all of us could not do that. I started to pick his googly, his legbreaks and the change of pace. He tried everything but I could just play him."

Disciplined and methodical by nature, Robinson played with a straight bat throughout. "The sweep was a good shot to keep the score ticking over. I had put in a lot of work in the warm-up games, playing that shot."

"A lot of people had written us off straightaway after the loss in the first Test. So for us to bounce back immediately like we did was a great effort. We were helped by the performance of the India team"

In a Cricketer magazine piece on Robinson, titled the "Nottingham Rock", Chris Cowdrey, who too made his debut in the Bombay Test, recollected his team-mate's powers of concentration. After Robinson got to his maiden Test hundred in Delhi, Cowdrey asked him whether he remembered who was at the non-striker's end when he got to the milestone. Robinson said he didn't care; he had a century and it was great to know he would return to bat on Sunday morning.

A seaming delivery from Kapil caught the edge of his bat and went to Gavaskar at slip early on the fourth morning, but Robinson's eight-and-a-half hour-vigil, spread over three days, had allowed England to post a vital 111-run lead.

"It was a good score because the wicket had started to deteriorate a lot. So we had a good chance to bowl them out cheaply and have a chance to square the series," Robinson said.

India had to promote Manoj Prabhakar to the top of the order to replace Anshuman Gaekwad, who was unwell. However, Gavaskar batted solidly, and at lunch England thought the match would end in a draw.

Things changed when Gavaskar played a suicidal cut shot off a delivery Robinson reckoned was too close and too full to play. "Gavaskar's wicket gave us hope. The problems in the Indian camp came out in the open when one or two of their batsmen played poor shots," Robinson said. Kapil hit a six and then holed out in the deep. Pocock and Edmonds took the last six wickets for 28.

With 125 to chase in the final two hours, England were anxious. The Delhi mist was closing in. Robinson remembers how Kapil marked a specific spot with his bowling studs. "The wicket was crumbling fast and there were holes. He marked this patch where the holes were. I told the umpires, but they were not prepared to step in, so I went in and put in half a dozen marks so Kapil couldn't figure out which mark to pitch on."

Robinson was run out for 18 this time but Mike Gatting, who had got a century in the first ODI, which was played between the Tests, and Allan Lamb made sure England did not lose heart.

It was Gower's first victory, in his 11th match as captain. It had been a bad year for England: eight losses and five draws. The victory couldn't have come at a better time.

"A lot of people had written us off straightaway after the loss in the first Test. So for us to bounce back immediately like we did was a great effort. We were helped by the performance of the Indian team," Robinson said. "A lot of things were against us: the build-up to the Test series, what had gone on in the first Test, and all that had happened to us when we first arrived. But it only gave us more strength, and the team work was enforced and became stronger as the series went along."

England travelled to Kolkata to celebrate Christmas and a series-winning victory at Chennai. "What probably shocked India was the fact that having been so average in the first Test, they thought we would roll over and be easy game. We shocked them by being resilient and we bounced and we meant business. We were a good team."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo



  • POSTED BY Sunil on | November 3, 2012, 10:45 GMT

    Sir Sachin Tendulkar is still a force and a great role model across the cricket world; which was proved in the 2012 World Cup and brought glory to Indian Cricket world over, backed by Gambhir, Kohli and Captain Dhoni. So England can expect a real fight this time as Indian team is playing in their own back yard. Indian fans should pray for the unity of the team behind Dhoni a able captain and let Sir Sachin Tendulkar contribute as he usually does wholeheartedly as ever.

  • POSTED BY Shruti on | November 3, 2012, 1:16 GMT

    Azharuddin 's exploits with the bat couldnt hide the fact that acrimony was prevailing between Kapil and Gavaskar .In fact it all started with the end of 1982 debacle in Pakistan where Imran ran amok against hapless Indians under Gavaskar.Kapil was made captain for the following WI tour and Prudential Cup.Musical chair of captaincy was played between Kapil and Gavaskar till 1985 Benson and Hedges where Gavaskar publicly declared enough was enough with captaincy.Those were the days when Bombay read Gavaskar used to call the shots in Indian cricket and Shastri's role under him was akin to what Raina is doing these days under Dhoni.Slight difference being Shastri was a notch better in Tests than Raina.

  • POSTED BY V.L on | November 2, 2012, 20:50 GMT

    NO one deserves more credit for this defeat than SUnil Gavaskar. Dropping three catches of Kapil's bowling, to allow just because he does not like him is unacceptable. Mumbaikars have always had this nasty habit of putting their personal agendas ahead of the best interests of the team. Vengsarkar did it after he stepped down as captain, Gavaskar did it, Sachin did it to Ganguly etc., Refusing to stepdown, even though they have lost their edge is another admirable quality!

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | November 2, 2012, 18:22 GMT

    this series looks similar to 2001 series vs aus. just that the result was overturned in this 85 series! interesting to know that england did support the cause of cricket and ties with india when even after a political problem, they did not leave! Also in 2007, they did not leave when the blasts took place. Usually western teams take the next flight home, that includes england too! but its heartening to know england took a bold stand to support india's image :).Just like india has done while supporting some other countries like pak(b4 2007) and sl too.Nice :)

  • POSTED BY Sanjay on | November 2, 2012, 13:41 GMT

    Surorisingly, no-one to date has spoken up on behalf of that 1984 Indian team, so I will! If Tim Robinson and England think the off-fields events affected them, how do you think the Indians felt? They were on tour in Pakistan when Indira's assassination took place, I believe they were in the middle of a ODI which was then abruptly abandoned along with the rest of the tour. Barely a few days later, they had to get ready for a Test series against England.

  • POSTED BY Bill on | November 2, 2012, 3:21 GMT

    Quite a memorable series..

    15 over one day match Cuttack ODI played in darkness Jon Agnew saving a life in Madras (Chennai) Rise and fall of Siva Kapil Vs Gavaskar Kapil being dropped (Only time in his career) Shastri batting on 5 days of a match

    One can't help but get a sense of Deja vu as the India camp seems divided again. Hope the results are not repeated.

    But thanks for the memories.

  • POSTED BY Venkat on | November 2, 2012, 0:42 GMT

    That was a bad period in Indian cricket, very unprofessional and shocking. BCCI should treat any such behavior almost as seriously as match fixing. This is probably the second worst moment in Indian cricket history (the first being the match fixing scandal along with the bans that followed, haven't the heart to mention the names of the players involved).

  • POSTED BY R on | November 1, 2012, 20:49 GMT

    The enduring image about this series for a 14 year old is Tim Robinson, 90 not out, out of a total of 190 for 1, on the first day of a test match. Both Robinson & Fowler proved difficult to dislodge & Mike Gatting made merry. The high point from the Indian perspective was the 3 consecutive centuries Azhar got in his debut series. The Gavaskar-Kapil row is already well documented.

  • POSTED BY Jo on | November 1, 2012, 15:58 GMT

    Azhar was the best batsman at wrist works. Nobody matches his caliber till now. Personal egos costed the matches during that time than the actual capabilities. It was when Kapil took the lead role, things started getting towards team spirit and slowly that became major agenda for a team than personal egos. But still those bad eggs stick around using media to influence their presence.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | November 1, 2012, 15:39 GMT

    I remember this series vividly even though its now more than a quarter century old. I went to see a match in Kolkata for the first time and never missed one till 1997. Also this was the test match famous for - "No Kapil no Test" - when the captain, one Mr Gavaskar , unceremoniously dropped him for throwing his wicket at the Kotla test match. In maidan cricketing circle those days Mumbai cricketers were universally hated - the apparent cold shoulder to Gopal Bose , Dilip Doshi among many others at the behest of the powerful Bombay lobby stoked the fire. And then Kapil's drop made Mr Gavaskar the public enemy number one in Kolkata. He was pelted with fruits on the fourth day - soon after Phil Edmonds started reading a newspaper inside the ground - showing his displeasure at India batting crawling to take the first innings into the fourth day. Gavaskar vowed to never play at Kolkata again - which he kept by missing out the Pakistan test in 1986/87. Those were the days :)

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | November 1, 2012, 14:58 GMT

    I am a strong Indian fan, normally unhappy when India lose a cricket match, leave alone an entire series. Under home conditions, it becomes worse. However - we all have seen one non-productive Sachin Tendulkar shamelessly refusing to retire, only to keep the Toshiba TV money flowing into his pockets....it looks like unless England sweep India out of the series with Sachin losing his stumps to mediocre, over-pitched balls a-la-Chandrashekhar / Courtney Walsh, BCCI & MS will neither drop Sachin, nor even threaten him saying perform or perish. I just hope England sweep India off this series - Patil, Srinivasan & Dhoni - it is only because you guys refuse to demand performance from Sachin, we Indian fans are reduced to praying that INDIA LOSES BADLY, so you have to give the good-for-nothing oldie a kick on his back. SRT has proved that he is selfish & shameless - he talks about cricket in him that nobody can see & the media believes him, even though nobody can see it on the field !

  • POSTED BY R on | November 1, 2012, 13:27 GMT

    I remember watching the Delhi where Vengsarkar spilled two easy chances in the second innings. The second of the dropped catches was actually on a signal from Gavaskar. It was really one of the lowest points in Indian cricket. Kapil's half century in the first innings was the reson why India did not suffer an innings defeat but the powerfule Mumbai lobby did its best to kill Indian cricket.

  • POSTED BY Prasun on | November 1, 2012, 13:22 GMT

    my first crcketing memory was gatting and fowler scoring double hundreds at chennai. what a series that was for the poms.

  • POSTED BY Mark on | November 1, 2012, 12:17 GMT

    That Eden Gardens match was one of the worst Tests in modern history. India, who were in trouble at 35-2, managed 437-7d in 200 (!!!) overs, finally declaring on the fourth afternoon after David Gower brought himself on to bowl. Not a game to remember.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | November 1, 2012, 11:36 GMT

    My enduring image as a 11-year old was to watch a certain Richard Ellison on TV seaming the ball both ways like a spinner. To this date I wonder how was that possible on placid Indian pitches! Or were the pitches in those days much different from what we see now?

  • POSTED BY John on | November 1, 2012, 10:57 GMT

    One point is Robinson's long vigil at the crease. Some fans berated Cook/England for their RR in this warm up match but realistically neither team was likely to win a 3 day game and Eng stood even less chance after India made 369. Obviously it's great if you have the flair players to score at a rate and push the game forward but it's not the be all and end all. Eng still are big underdogs after this game but it's not a bad start

  • POSTED BY Cricinfo on | November 1, 2012, 10:44 GMT

    Thanks for pointing out the error regarding the series-winning Test being played in Chennai and not Eden Gardens, sankydagr8. This has been corrected

  • POSTED BY Mark on | November 1, 2012, 10:37 GMT

    Vic Marks wrote what to me is the best tour book that I have ever read on this series "Marks Out of XI". It is a mixture of match reports, travel guide and history lesson. Fantastic read.

  • POSTED BY Alex on | November 1, 2012, 8:58 GMT

    England have Trott , he can do mike gatting to india again.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | November 1, 2012, 8:31 GMT

    Wish England wins and hastens Sachin's exit from the game! This series was one I watched very avidly on TV and England were indeed very resilient in 1984-85. Cricketers like Ian Botham, David Gower, Allan Lamb were idols for us then.

  • POSTED BY Prasanna on | November 1, 2012, 7:58 GMT

    Wish Eng repeats its glorious feat in 2012 !! This '85 series also saw the emergence of a certain Azharuddin - 3 centuries on a trot on debut !!!

  • POSTED BY Rizwan on | November 1, 2012, 7:47 GMT

    It is a good read, to learn those details about a series that I've seen only in highlights.

  • POSTED BY Sanket on | November 1, 2012, 4:51 GMT

    Nice article but series winnng victory was not at Eden Gardens but @ chepauk

  • POSTED BY Andrew on | November 1, 2012, 4:27 GMT

    Lessons for 2012 anyone???