In June 1932, two Yorkshiremen batted through a day and a half at Leyton, the home ground of the Essex county, to put on 555 runs for the opening wicket. Just over a week later, these two, Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe, walked out again, this time at Lord’s and against India playing their inaugural Test. In his second over, fast bowler Mohammed Nissar clean-bowled both batsmen, and in 20 minutes, England were reduced to 19 for three, setting Neville Cardus off on that much-quoted flight of fancy: “In my mind’s eye, I saw the news flashing over the air to far-flung places in India, Punjab and Karachi.... to dusky men in the hills, to the bazaars of the East, to Gandhi himself and to Gunga Din.”
India lost the Test by 158 runs, but it was the most dramatic start to a nation’s Test career. It would be two decades and 24 Tests before they recorded their first win and another two decades before they finally beat England in England. Now, 80 years and 462 Tests later, India have won Tests in every cricket-playing country, claimed the number one ranking both psychologically (in the ’70s) and mathematically (in this decade), played out only the second-ever tied match, been seen variously as the saviour of Test cricket and its most likely destroyer, entered their players’ names in the slots reserved for achievers of individual landmarks in batting, bowling and fielding, driven their fans to distraction by their inconsistency just when everything seemed to be in their favour or been cheered for their predictability and following the straight and narrow. They have plumbed the depths of match-fixing, played out variations of the infighting theme and emerged as both the team most likely to collapse without explanation or, equally, to command the unexpected victory.