Every year at this time I take a trip down memory lane to a Test match that was played in June 1967. "Some defeats are more glorious than victories" said an editorial in the Indian Express. Forty four years have passed but just mention Leeds 1967 to an old timer and his eyes will sparkle with delight. Everyone loves a winner goes the adage but in this case everyone loved the loser. "England wins match but India claims honours" went the headline in one of the newspapers summing up the events of five days in which Indian cricket earned a new respect even as the Test itself was lost by six wickets.
Glorious and defeat do not generally go hand in hand but in this case the description is apt. A young and inexperienced Indian team landed in England with the odds heavily against them. For starters India had played 16 Tests in England spread over five visits and the record read: lost 12, drawn 4. Secondly the month of May proved to be extremely wet. The tourists went through one frustrating day after another with rain washing out play on several days. Out of nine first class matches before the first Test two were lost and seven were drawn. The Indians were woefully short of practice thanks to the inclement weather and there were up against a confident English side led by Brian Close. The batting looked particularly formidable for besides Close the line-up started with Geoff Boycott and John Edrich and continued with Ken Barrington, Tom Graveney, Basil D'Oliveira, John Murray and Ray Illingworth. The bowling was almost as strong with John Snow and Ken Higgs opening the bowling with the off spin of Illingworth, the leg spinners of Robin Hobbs and the medium paced cutters of D'Oliveira in able support.
Under normal circumstances the Indians might have had the personnel to match the English line-up. But then as I said the tourists were largely inexperienced and the lack of match practice as a result of the weather was another discomforting factor. Still a batting line-up that started with Farokh Engineer and Rusi Surti and continued with Ajit Wadekar, Chandu Borde, Hanumant Singh, the Nawab of Pataudi and Ramesh Saxena did inspire some confidence. As far as the bowling was concerned much would hinge on the spin trio of Bishen Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna for the new ball attack of Surti and debutant Subroto Guha was not the kind to worry the strong England line-up.
Given fair weather Pataudi hoped that the Indians would be able to give a good account of themselves and during the first session on the opening day June 8 they did just that. England won the toss and batted but it was the Indians who applied the pressure with Surti dismissing Edrich early and then Boycott and Barrington surviving some anxious moments. At lunch England had struggled to reach a score of 73 for one and the morning's honours were with India.
Over the next hour however India suffered two serious setbacks thanks to injuries to Surti and Bedi. Surti was hit on the knee while intercepting a Barrington sweep and shortly afterwards Bedi pulled a thigh muscle. News filtered through that neither would bowl again in the match and they could bat only with the help of a runner.
So Pataudi was now left with a three man attack – a medium pacer making his debut, an off spinner playing his fourth Test and a leg spin googly bowler who was the spearhead of the spin attack. Against a formidable batting line-up on a perfect Headingley pitch this was like pop guns against a well fortified fort. England relentlessly piled on the runs. Boycott went on to get an unbeaten 246, Barrington scored 93, Graveney a half century and D'Oliveira a hundred. By the time Close declared around tea time on the second England had reached 550 for four.
With Surti nursing a swollen knee Saxena opened with Engineer but after the two had put on 39 runs wickets fell in a heap and by stumps India were 86 for six. The Daily Telegraph mockingly put out a headline "India 160 runs behind Boycott". Ian Woolridge wrote in the Daily Mail "If it were a heavyweight fight instead of a lightweight Test match the referee would have shown humanity and stopped the contest to spare the Indians full punishment." The next morning most of the spectators and the pressmen checked out of their rooms before coming to the ground certain that the match would be over on the third day.
Soon after play resumed the score read 92 for seven. Only Bedi and Chandra were left but to everyone's surprise out came Surti limping badly and having Wadekar as a runner. He summoned up the courage to get 22 adding 59 runs in 90 minutes with his captain. Pataudi went on to get 64 before the innings folded up shortly after lunch for 164.
With a lead of 386 runs Close predictably enforced the follow on and Surti encouraged by his first innings effort gamely came out to open in the second innings. This time however he was out for five but Pataudi's inspirational innings had now set the tone for the fightback and Engineer and Wadekar got the ball rolling with a second wicket partnership of 168 runs. Engineer was out for 87 but Wadekar and Borde were together at stumps with India 198 for two. On the fourth morning Wadekar (91) and Borde (33) fell in quick succession and India at 228 for four still faced an innings defeat with a day to spare. But Pataudi and Hanumant Singh (73) shared a fifth wicket stand of 134 runs. So well had Pataudi inspired his men that tailenders Prasanna (19) and Bedi (14) each stayed for about an hour helping the captain add valuable runs. The innings defeat was staved off and with a closing score of 475 for eight the Indians had seen to it that a match which seemed to be heading for a finish on June 10 was still being played on June 13.
Pataudi unbeaten on 129 on the fourth evening went on to get 148 and the innings finally terminated at 510. The hosts required only 125 runs for victory but Prasanna and Chandra did not make it easy for them. The spin duo got among the wickets but with no relief for them they were tired after bowling 36 straight overs between them and England finally got home by six wickets in mid-afternoon on the fifth day when they looked set to wrap up the match by an innings in three days.
The British press so scathing in their attack a couple of days earlier went overboard in heaping praise on the fighting qualities of the Indians and the Daily Mail went rapturous over Pataudi in particular. A brilliant banner headline carried the words 'HIS MAGNIFICENT HIGHNESS NAWAB OF HEADINGLEY AND OF PATAUDI'. Even though India has played hundreds of Test matches since then it remains the most glorious defeat.