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We won in India without a coach: Graeme Fowler

Sunday, 28 October 2012 - 3:36pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Former opener Graeme Fowler recalls England's last successful tour of India for Scyld Berry.

It was a tightly knit England team that last won a Test series in India.

They had no stars, in the absence of Ian Botham and Graham Gooch, and relied on their own resources.

David Gower's England team of 1984-85 had no coach, no analyst, no doctor, no security officer, no masseur. There was a physiotherapist, but he refused to massage anybody, even the fast bowlers after a long day.

So they had to work things out for themselves, and did, winning the Test series 2-1 after everything had seemed stacked against them, from the pitches to politics to the all-day journeys by train, plane and bus that used to constitute a tour of India.

What were the preparations? "Absolutely nothing," according to Graeme Fowler, England's opening batsman and now the coach at Durham University, where Andrew Strauss among others have passed under his wing. "The day before the tour we went to Lord's and you were given a blazer, and either it fitted or it didn't."

The fitness training for Fowler's first tour in 1982-83 to Australia had consisted of running a mile in less than six or seven minutes soon after arrival. For the 1984-85 tour of India, the training was less intensive: zero.

What about the coaching and technical preparations? "Norman Gifford, our assistant coach, was a lovely man and he would throw a few balls at you in the nets. But be was never proactive or intrusive, saying do this or that. If you had some trouble with your technique, he'd just come up and say: 'It'll come good in the end.' A large part of his responsibility was to organise the luggage."

Any long days in Loughborough during which the players pooled their ideas? "I asked Lamby [Allan Lamb] about how he set himself up to bat against West Indies, and he just looked at me and said: 'I rely on instinct.'?"

The India tour comprised five Tests, two assassinations, and a one-day international series which England won as well, 4-1. Distant days indeed.

The first assassination, of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, happened a few hours after England had landed in Delhi. "We played cards in the galley of the plane on the way over, and some of us went into the cockpit for the landing, and we got to our hotel about 3am. When we woke up we found Indira Gandhi had been shot four miles down the road by her Sikh bodyguard."

Sectarian riots ensued. England could not play cricket, so they waited in their Delhi hotel until after the funeral, then flew in the private plane of the Sri Lankan president to Colombo, where they stayed for more than a week. "They welcomed us with open arms and were very hospitable, and we did some fielding practice in the High Commission compound."

The second assassination occurred the day before the first Test in Mumbai. The England party had attended a reception given the previous evening by the British Deputy High Commissioner Percy Norris. Less than a mile from their Mumbai hotel next morning he was shot.

Now there is always a senior ECB official on tour to deal with emergencies. In 1984 Tony Brown, on his first tour as manager, had to decide whether to abort it. "He decided we should go to practice on the same day - 'What, target practice?' I said," Fowler recalled.

The first Test went ahead, but England were not mentally prepared, and lost on a Mumbai turner. What England did have, in addition to their unity, was a fine pair of spinners. In the second Test at Delhi, Phil Edmonds bowled 88.2 overs and took six wickets for only 143 runs; Pat Pocock, more inventive but less economical, took seven, leaving England 125 to chase on the last afternoon.

Fowler was sick in bed in the team hotel that afternoon - until the phone rang with the message: "They are eight down, you'd better get down here." Nowadays one of England's security officers would have escorted him by car; Fowler jumped in a tuk-tuk, scored 29 as England won by eight wickets, then went back to bed for three days.

A bit more time and freedom could also be turned to advantage by the England tourists of a generation ago. England went for a mid-series practice game in Gauhati in the north-east, and stayed in a hilltop guesthouse overlooking the mighty sweep of the Brahmaputra river.

"I fell in love with the place," Fowler said. "It was not only beautiful scenically but the people were so relaxed and friendly. I spent a lot of time walking with my camera on the riverbank in the evenings while kids played with hoops, like I did when I was a kid." Starting in Guwahati, his first-class scores were 114, 49, 201, two and 69. And while England became harmonious, India became acrimonious.

The home captain Sunil Gavaskar continued India's first innings into the fourth day at Calcutta, but was booed and jeered for the go-slow bore-draw as India scored 437 from 200 overs. "I can remember Edmonds reading a newspaper in the gully while Gower was waiting to bowl."

Fowler's double-hundred came in the same first innings of the Madras Test that Mike Gatting, the vice-captain, scored 207: the only time two England batsmen have scored double-centuries in the same innings. "The ball turned and really bounced so we decided to score mainly off the back foot and drive only when the ball was full. I never swept and I didn't use my feet but eventually I decided their off-spinner had to go and I hit a couple over long-on."

Essex's Neil Foster then bowled superbly to take 11 wickets and put England 2-1 up. The manager of the team hotel sent a bottle of champagne and an enormous cake to Gatting and Fowler each, but not to Foster, who went searching in everyone else's room for his rightful gifts - having forgotten that bowlers are always underrated. "Fancy a piece of cake, Fossie?" he was asked for the rest of the tour.

England players had to share rooms, except for the captain and vice-captain ('volunteers to room with Kevin Pietersen please step forward!'). Fowler found rooming with Edmonds a particular challenge: "He wanted to read with the lights and the radio on and the curtains open, while I wanted to sleep."

Of all the differences between then and now, perhaps the greatest are consistent selection and medical back-up. In 1983 Fowler had scored a century in the first Test against New Zealand, nine and 19 in the second, and been dropped for the third. "It was only on tour that you felt part of an England team. At home the fear of being dropped made you play for your place."

Medically, Fowler had made an unpleasant discovery by the end of the 1984-85 tour: "I couldn't turn my neck because of two crushed vertebrae as the result of a car accident and I had constant pins and needles. It was a routine op but I didn't have it till the following winter and by then it was too late." After scoring 201 in his penultimate Test, and 69 in his last, he had already been dropped by England forever.

 


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