Recently a photo appeared on one of the national newspapers was widely circulated in WhatsApp.
This picture showed a set of Indian cricketers dressed in formal wear.
A small trip down the memory lane revealed that this picture was taken when the Indian team under Ajit Wadekar arrived in England for the 1974 tour.
Wadekar, seen wearing a ash colour suit and smiling broadly, was then at the height of his popularity having won three back to back to series against West Indies and England during 1971-73.
However, this series turned out to be one of the most disastrous ones in the history of Indian cricket, as in addition to being thrashed 3-0 by the hosts, the side also had to face the ignominy of being dismissed for their lowest ever score of 42 runs in an innings, besides facing many difficulties and problems off the field.
The picture shows from left to right established players like Gundappa Viswanath, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Sunil Gavaskar and Venkataraghavan.
Also seen in the photo are newcomers to the side Madan Lal and Brijesh Patel.
The snap shows part of the profile of Gopal Bose, the bespectacled opening batsman from Bengal, who was a member of the squad.
Besides, Madan Lal, Patel and Bose, the side had more player, Sudhir Naik, who had not played for India.
He had not been a member of the national squad before this tour.
The tour was an unmitigated disaster with the side losing all the three tests.
In the first test at Old Trafford, Manchester, India lost by 113 runs.
The second Test at Lords’, where the side was dismissed for 42 in the second innings, saw the margin of defeat increasing to an innings and 285 runs.
There was no fight left in the team after this and the players went through the motions during the third test where they were outplayed by an innings and 78 runs, with the host losing only two wickets in the only innings they batted.
The side faced problems off the field as well. One of the players was accused of shoplifting and forced to plead guilty, an incident which heaped ignominy on the entire country.
They were publicly ticked off by the Indian High Commissioner for arriving more than two hours late for a function that was held in their honour.
There were also reports of dissensions and infighting within the side, with the captain and some of the senior players being on different wavelengths.
The side faced the ire of the public in India and stones were pelted on Wadekar’s residence by fans who were disgusted with his team’s performance.
At hindsight, one can understand how difficult it would have been for the four newcomers to adjust to the trying conditions in England and make their entry into the difficult world of international cricket in these circumstances.
Incidentally, three out of the four cricketers who were on their first outing with the national side made their debut in test cricket, while Bose played one One Day International (ODI).
It would be interesting to see how the career of these four players, who were unfortunate to have been blooded into international cricket during this tour, progressed during the years after that.
Madan Lal made his debut in the first test at Old Trafford and played in the first two matches. He bowled within his limitations in conditions that suited his style of seam and swing bowling and equipped himself reasonably well with the ball.
Though dropped from the playing eleven after the second test, he made a comeback to side during the series against West Indies that followed and cemented his place with a series of good performances.
His career faced a blip when his weakness against the short pitched ball was exposed during the tour to Australia in 1977-78. But he made a comeback to the side in 1981, backed by a series of outstanding performances in domestic cricket.
He was a member of the team led by Kapil Dev that lifted the World Cup in 1983, where he played a big part in the finals by dismissing a marauding Viv Richards.
After his playing days were over, Madan Lal served the game as a coach and national selector also.
Brijesh Patel had made his mark as a hard hitting middle order batsman in domestic cricket and was one of the stars of Karnataka’s maiden Ranji Trophy triumph in 1974, when he made it to the squad.
He was a brilliant fielder as well and was expected to fill the void left on account of retirement of Dilip Sardesai and absence of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi in the middle order.
However, he failed miserably with the bat when confronted with the England pace attacked comprising Bob Willis, Geoff Arnold, Chris Old and Mike Hendrick.
A tally of 10 runs from four completed innings in the first two tests tell the story of his misery at the crease.
He was back in the side when West Indies toured India later in the year but was again dropped after the first two tests.
A half century in the last test helped to redeem himself and he retained his place in the side till an injury forced him to return during the 1977-78 Australia tour.
A weakness against the short, rising ball also worked against his efforts to regain his place in the national side.
In this aspect, Patel was doubly unfortunate as he belonged to the period when use of helmets was looked down upon as evidence of poor technique and even worse, physical fear.
Patel later served as Secretary of
Karnataka State Cricket Association and Chief Selector of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and is presently the Chairman of Indian Premier League (IPL).
Sudhir Naik was the last player to make it to the touring party and he did so on the strength of a string of tall scores in domestic first class cricket.
Hailing from Mumbai, he was primarily a middle order batsman who could also bat at the top of the order, if required.
He forced his way into the playing eleven for the third test by his consistent show with the bat in the first class games played by the side.
He also had to suffer the personal misfortune of being forced to plead guilty of shoplifting, an act that he denied committing.
There was a mix up at the point of payment for socks in the super market, which led to the accusation being raised but Hemu Adhikari, the manager of the team advised Naik to plead guilty so as to close the episode.
But unfortunately news about this incident was picked up by the media, which promptly published it.
Though devastated at this turn of events, Naik batted with purpose and determination to make the top score of 77 in the second innings of his debut test match.
He played two more tests against West Indies in 1974, before losing his place in the side and was not considered again.
Naik later turned to coaching and his National Cricket Club threw up many successful cricketers, including Zahir Khan and Wasim Jaffer. He is presently the chief curator at Wankhade stadium in Mumbai.
Gopal Bose was selected as the opening batsman, who could be the partner of Sunil Gavaskar.
He had topped a successful 1973-74 domestic season with an outing with the national side to Sri Lanka, where he scored a century in one of the two unofficial “tests”. Though he started the tour with a half century in the inaugural first class match, he soon lost form and was not considered for any of the three tests.
He played in the second One Day International where, despite being a part-time bowler, he had to bowl a full quota of 11 overs!
He was selected for the fourth test in the series against West Indies and was expected to play in that match as Gavaskar was indisposed.
However, in a move that surprised one and all, selectors decided to pack the middle order with an extra batsman and asked Eknath Solkar to open the innings.
Bose did not get another opportunity to make it to the national side after this test. Later he turned to coaching and trained the Bengal junior side, besides being the Manager of India Under 19 side that lifted the World Cup in 2008.
It can be seen that the four newcomers on that tour had a torrid time on the field and none of them are likely to carry any fond memories of that period.
Madan Lal and, to a lesser extent, Patel had moderately successful careers in international cricket while the other two could not survive the trauma brought on by the experiences of that tour.
Wadekar retired from the game soon after the series, when he was informed that he was dropped from the West Zone side.
However, he redeemed his name to some extent as the successful coach cum manager of the national side during the early 1990’s.
Thus, the team that landed in England full of smiles and confidence was reduced to a wreck by the time the tour concluded.
Members of the squad returned home in separate batches and team spirit had hit its nadir.
It was without doubt the worst tour undertaken by the national side and 1974 still remains the darkest year in the annals of Indian cricket.
The recently published picture portrays in ample measure the positive vibes that accompanied the side before the tsunami of complete failure on all fronts destroyed it.