Times have changed, but Sussex still remains close to Indian cricket

By Ashis Ray, IANS 

Hove : Times have changed. For six tours of England from 1932 to 1967, India's visits were flagged off in the first week of May with a mandatory first match at Worcester, with its impressive cathedral overlooking Worcestershire's county ground.

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Indeed, the whole of May used to be expended in acclimatisation to English conditions – those being the days of uncovered pitches – before the traditional first test in early June.

In 1971, the Test and County Cricket Board – as the England body was then known – decided to allot the second half of the summer to India. It resulted in India's first test and series victory in this country, with Bhagwat Chandrasekhar's six wickets in the second innings paving the way for a dramatic win at The Oval.

However, the 2-0 triumph in a three-Test series in the first half of the 1986 summer remains India's most glorious feat at the birthplace of cricket.

Sussex and their home venue at this seaside resort, now hosting India's tour opener, are synonymous with a trio of Indian cricketing legends. At the turn of the 20th century, Kumar Shri Ranjinsinhji added new dimensions to batsmanship, including innovating the "glance". His performances for this county won him an England cap, adorning which and in his princely silk shirts, he strode the stage like a colossus. His century at Old Trafford, Manchester on test debut – against Australia – was a thundering effort, including more than a hundred runs in a session.

After World War I, his nephew, Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji followed in Ranji's footsteps. He, too, rendered Hove awash with runs; and also recorded three figures in his first appearance against Australia. Sadly, Duleep was frail of health; and illness first interrupted and then cut short his blossoming career.

Then, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a talented Tiger Pataudi wore Sussex's colours, before he, too, was jolted by a car accident, which impaired the vision in his right eye. Despite this, he caught the attention of India's selectors and, in fact, proceeded to captain his country with distinction.

His ton in a losing cause at Headingley, Leeds in 1967 is still among the more brilliant innings carved out by an Indian batsman in a test match in England.

Sussex County Cricket Club's museum highlights the contributions of the three Indians. The squarish expanse of turf, which is the cricket field here, is reputedly not dissimilar to the setting in Ranji's period. But the architecture around it has altered significantly.

High-rise buildings, housing residential apartments, have mushroomed at both ends of the ground. But either interspersed between them or on the sides, distinguished old cottages have obviously been witness to more than a centenary of cricket at the historic patch of green.

On a bright day for a change, the Indian visitors, after a slow start, made hay while the sun shone against a Sussex attack lacking the services of Naved-ul-Hasan and Mustaq Ahmed, who were rested along with captain Chris Adams and former Zimbabwean batsman, Murray Goodwin. India, too, extended a break to the seasoned Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. But the sprinkling of Indian supporters among 1,000 odd spectators were happy just to catch a glimpse of their heroes.