After murders, chaos and a first Test slump, Gatting leads the fightback...
Richard Edwards talks to England all-rounder Richard Ellison about the 1984/5 tour to India when security was again a major issue
If some England players harboured reservations over a tour to Bangladesh this winter then spare a thought for the side who landed in Delhi in October 1984 and could only watch on as the country descended into chaos.
The assassination of the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, sparked weeks of recriminations and bloodshed. Then, just as it appeared things were returning to something like normality, the Deputy British High Commissioner, Percy Norris, was shot dead, just hours after hosting a drinks party for the side in the run-up to the first Test.
In between the chaos, England headed to Sri Lanka despite grave reservations from some over the continuation of a tour that looked set to be doomed from the outset.
One of the tourists was a 25-year-old Richard Ellison, who had made his England debut in the final Test of the famous ‘Blackwash’ series against the West Indies at the Oval.
After that humiliation, travelling to India and witnessing everything that happened during one of the turbulent periods in the country’s history very much represented a case of jumping out the frying pan and into the fire.
The man from Kent, though, was in his element.
“I couldn’t wait to get over there,” he says. “It was something new.We arrived in Delhi and I remember the first four or five days we were there practising and just seeing these fires and this smoke across the city. Riots were going on everywhere.
“We were advised by the British Embassy to hold tight for a while and then the decision was made for us to leave the country and head to Sri Lanka while the situation unravelled.We needed to keep the cricket going, we needed to do something.
“We arrived back in Bombay in time to play the first Test and Percy hosted a cocktail party at one of the hotels in the city for us. He was assassinated the following morning.”
Despite concerns over their safety from family back home – Ellison says he was in regular contact with his mother and stepfather who were following events on the BBC – the decision was made to carry on with the tour rather than take the easy option or hopping on the next plane back to Heathrow.
“There were some doubters, some who weren’t comfortable with what was going on,” says Ellison. “None of the threat was towards us, though.We had guards on every corridor in every hotel we stayed at.
“We had police escorts to and from the ground. The big turning point really was the fact that the Indian people loved any touring team.
“It was the first time I had experienced anything like it but the smiles they had on their faces and the love of people who played cricket and had come to their country to do it was such that it almost over-shadowed what was going on off the field with all the political unrest throughout India.”
Quite what current England security advisor, Reg Dickason, would have made of it all is anyone’s guess.Vic Marks recalled the story of photographer Graham Morris testing security on the morning of the Bombay Test in a column in the Observer back in November 2012.
“Wearing a jacket crammed with hardware he asked a gateman in his best Irish accent, ‘excuse me, I’m from the IRA could you direct me towards the England dressing room please?’ The official politely obliged,” he wrote.
Things didn’t improve on the pitch when the series finally got underway. Undone by the guile of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan – who took 12-181 in the opening Test – England succumbed to the home side by eight wickets.
Perhaps most significantly, though, Mike Gatting scored his first Test century in the second innings of England’s losing cause.
“He really came of age on that tour,” says Ellison. “I think it took him something like 54 innings to do it but that hundred was really a monkey off his back. He was the consummate team man on that tour, a great motivator for the younger guys, too.”
The match was also notable for the entry of Chris Cowdrey into Test cricket – and the reaction of his father, Colin, as he listened to Test Match Special on radio in his car back in London. “We hadn’t made
There was no Botham and no Gooch but everyone took responsibility. The atmosphere within the team was unbelievable
many runs, they were already level with us and Kapil Dev was smashing it all over the place,” said Cowdrey. “I had been fielding at short leg for a day and a half and I wasn’t feeling great because it was very, very hot and dusty and every shot they played was going through the leg side. I was being peppered.
“Typical Gower, he wandered over to me and said, ‘(the) moment’s come, you’re bowling’. I turned to him and said, ‘I had better take these shin pads off’ but he told me not to bother as I wouldn’t be on long enough. So I ended up bowling my first over for England with a huge pair of shin pads on and a box.”
With Kapil making hay, Cowdrey could at least bowl without any burden of expectation, imagine his surprise then when he took just four balls to do something his famous father had failed to do in 114 Tests when he bowled Kapil.
“My dad made a few runs for England but he never took a wicket so he was so excited as soon as he heard I was bowling,” says Cowdrey. “He was heading up to the City in blizzard conditions and ended up driving the wrong way up a one-way street. He was picked up (by the police) and everything. They ended up letting him off.”
Unlike the local constabulary, England had no intention of letting India off the hook after drawing level in the second Test in Delhi. A magnificent century from Tim Robinson set-up an eight-wicket win as England’s spin twins, Phil Edmonds – struggling with his run-up – and Pat Pocock, 38, took 13 wickets between them.
A bore draw in Calcutta followed, with India’s talisman Sunil Gavaskar again failing as he did all series, before Graeme Fowler and Gatting rewrote the record books in the fourth match in Madras.
“That’s the match that everyone remembers, I suppose,” says Ellison. “I think we were 400 odd for one at one stage. Graeme and Gatt were sensational but that match really typified everything England did throughout that series.
“There was no Botham and no Gooch but everyone took responsibility. The atmosphere within the team was unbelievable and the relationship with the Press was great, too. It was just a lot of fun, we were really enjoying ourselves, despite everything that had gone on when we arrived.”
Fowler and Gatting both scored double centuries in England’s mammoth first innings total of 652-7 declared. With Neil Foster picking up 11 wickets in the match, England romped to a nine-wicket win to put them 2-1 up with a final Test in Kanpur remaining.
“We were expecting a much livelier pitch in Kanpur with something in it for their spinners but it was dead,” says Ellison. “There was never going to be a result on that pitch, we couldn’t believe our luck.”
A tour which had begun in chaos had ended serenely. What England wouldn’t give for a repeat – on the pitch at least – in the coming months.
Prolific: Mike Gatting scored single and double tons to top the England averages
Haul: Laxman Sivaramakrishnan
Struggler: India’s leading batsman Sunil Gavaskar failed during series
High hopes: Indian fans were hoping to win all five Tests
Inspired: David Gower’s bowling change and Tim Robinson’s batting