29th June : The first time Team India took the halfway lead in a Test

After a gap of four years on 27th June 1936, Team India returned to the Mecca of cricket in what was their first full series away from home.

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The first innings lead is an important part in Test cricket as more often than not the teams that took the surplus at halfway mark would go on to win the match if a result indeed came out of the match. And for the very first time in the cricket history of India, it did occur for them on this day some 81 years back.

Five Tests and four years is all that Team India took to dominate a Test match at the end of first innings of both the sides and they did that in style on their second official tour to England in 1936. For a recapitulation, India made their Test debut in 1932 against their colonial masters at the Lord’s and the English side then in a return tour next winter played a series of three games – one match each in each of the Presidencies that they towered up in their almost two century rule. Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were the venues in that order.

India lost at the Lord’s as they did in Bombay and Madras. In Calcutta, they were in more distress after Douglas Jardine enforced the follow-on but managed to somehow deter the inventors of the game by a strong second innings. By the time, the visitors were set a target, the daylight has almost rescinded. However in any of these first four games neither did India gain a lead when they did follow their opponents nor could they restrict their rivals to a score lower than their preceding innings.

After a gap of four years on 27th June 1936, Team India returned to the Mecca of cricket in what was their first full series away from home and the fifth Test overall. Only four players retained their places in the playing squad – three of them being Indians. C.K. Nayudu lost to imperial politics as his captaincy was usurped by the infamous Maharajah of Vizianagram or simply “Vizzy” in popular circles – a benevolent sponsor of the game harbouring greater playing ambitions but with nondescript abilities resulting into a complete catastrophe.

Putting into bat, openers Vijay Merchant (35) and Dattaram Hindlekar (26) added 62 but the tourists lost their way from there to end up on 147. English skipper Sir Gubby Allen picked up 5 for 35 – four of them being top-order batters. Leg-spinner Walter Robins, the only Englishman from that 1932 Lord’s, picked up three – all coming at crucial juncture of the innings. In reply, England too looked patchy as they ended the day one on 132 for the loss of seven.

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Followed by a rest day, the match resumed on 29th June and it was when that historic moment was realized. Mohammad Nissar hit twice to remove George Duckworth and Walter Robins while Allen was finally dismissed by Amar Singh – the pacer accounting for the first five batsmen to finish with 6 for 35. The hosts could add just two to their overnight tally before their shutters were pulled down by the two experienced capped Indian pacers. India took a lead of 13 – a meager one categorically but something gigantic if considered historically.

Before this feat, at the halfway mark – Team India trailed by 70 at the Lord’s, conceded a lead of another 219 after scoring the same batting first at the Bombay Gymkhana, were in arrears of 153 at Eden Gardens that prompted England to enforce follow-on, and last but least, were lucky enough not be forced to bat again at Chepauk despite falling short by 190.

However, India’s hope was short-lived as once again Gubby Allen ran through the top-order – this time the left-arm spinner Hedley Verity too joining the party. Allen picked up 5 for 43 for his ten-fer in the match while Verity managed 4 in 16 overs conceding just 17. England were thus set a target of only 108 to be done in limited time after rain and poor light marred the better part of the final day. Opener Arthur Mitchell fell for a duck but that was it. The other opening batsman Harold Gimblett (67*) scored the second fifty of the game after Maurice Leyland (60) in the first innings. Maurice Turnball provided the support with an unbeaten 37 as England wrapped up the match inside 40 overs.

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