How to win in India - by the men who have done it

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Telegraph Columnists
·8 min read
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Ian Bell, Mike Gatting and Allan Donald.
Ian Bell, Mike Gatting and Allan Donald.

Winning a series in India is the most daunting assignment in Test cricket, with only four touring teams pulling off that feat in the last 36 years. Members of three of them share their blueprints as Joe Root's England prepare to launch their own challenge next week.

Mike Gatting

Scored 575 runs as England beat India 2-1 in 1984-85

India’s bowling attacks in the 1980s were nothing like they have now. They used to have Kapil Dev and one other seamer but it was mainly spin with men around the bat. The scenario has changed a bit because now they have a good pace attack as well.

I toured India in 1981-82 but batted at seven. We lost the first Test and then the pitches were like roads. We lost a six-Test series 1-0. In 1984-85 I was much more comfortable with my role. David Gower gave me a job to do. He wanted me to bat three and told me I would be there for the whole series. "If you don’t bat well at three, you will go to five," he said - so I had confidence in what I was doing.

We played some on some good pitches. They turned but were not huge raging 'bunsens'. Mumbai turned a bit, Delhi was reasonably flat, Calcutta was horrible with dank, dark days, Madras was a great wicket and the last one in Kanpur turned but if you applied yourself it was not a problem.

Mike Gatting batting for England during the 2nd Test match between India and England at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi, 13th December 1984.  - GETTY IMAGES
Mike Gatting batting for England during the 2nd Test match between India and England at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi, 13th December 1984. - GETTY IMAGES

It was an incredibly eventful tour. On the first day I came down to breakfast and we were told [Prime Minister] Indira Gandhi had been assassinated. They moved us to Sri Lanka for 13 days while the situation calmed down.

It rained most of the time in Colombo. Our hotel was half a mile from the naval yards. We were out on the lawn doing stretches one day and a bomb went off in the naval yard. Tamil Tigers had attacked it. We were ducking for cover.

We went back to Mumbai for the first Test and the deputy high commissioner, Percy Norris, entertained us and then he was assassinated on the way to work the next day. That all happened in the first two or three weeks.

Most people would have come home. There was a lot of heated discussion about whether we should be staying on. We were out in the open and if anyone wanted to make a statement then assassinating a cricketer would have been a pretty big one.

David handled it well, as did Tony Brown, the manager. I don't know what would happen now. I suspect people would be coming home. As it turned out it was a fascinating tour.

In Madras 'Foxy' (Graeme) Fowler and I became the first England players to score a double hundred in the same Test. Fowler and Gatting: not two of the biggest stars of the Test arena, but we carved a bit of history.

It was so hot. It was 90 degrees and 90 per cent humidity. We just broke it down to little bits; get to a drinks break or to tea. That kind of thing. In India it is about pacing yourself. There are times when you have to keep board ticking over, times to attack and times to hang around and allow your partner to get in. Playing with the spin is very important and rotating the strike.

I remember I went in just before tea. Poor old Foxy looked absolutely knackered. For the last over of the day, I was facing, I knocked one on the leg side and there was a long, easy single but I said, "No, Foxy, just take your gloves off. You stay at the other end." As we walked off he said, "Thanks very much. It was lovely to be able to stand at the other end."

He could rest and we carried on the following day. It was a fantastic tour. We learned a lot about ourselves.

Allan Donald

Averaged 19 with the ball in South Africa's 2-0 series win in 1999-2000

We wanted to become the first South African team to win in India. And that's why when people ask me, what are your favourite Test match memories, my answer is winning in India, winning in Sri Lanka and winning in Pakistan. They were bloody great victories.

We prepared and planned really well, studied the opposition really well and the grounds that we were supposed to play on - we had great information on those grounds. We'd never played there before. So we had top, top information and making sure that we've done our homework and studied the book for the exam. And we went there with a lot of experience and good leadership in all departments from a batting and bowling point of view.

Before we left for India we trained our socks off working with balls that were reversing and working out the angles, where did the seam need to start and where did it need to finish? What was [Sachin] Tendulkar more susceptible to? Was it the reverse swing, out swing or in swing? He was very strong on his pads and I think the outswinger was key.

I think that's where we had tremendous success in that Indian trip - when the ball did swing the other way, we attacked his stumps and he nicked it from there or he was actually bowled through the gate. So I think from that perspective, we'd done our homework on their key players.

Where Hansie [Cronje, South Africa’s captain] was fantastic was telling me that he wanted me to fly in every spell. He said: "You’re going to bowl three or four over spells and you need to mix it up."

It's hard to keep the ball dry because of the humidity and the sweat - you try and keep your hands off it, but with that new ball you are going to try and make guys drive. You have to be prepared for that to happen.

You’ve got to get everything right. You’ve got to suss out the pace of the pitch quickly, knowing where people should stand - how deep the slips should be. It’s just careful, careful planning - you’ve got to make sure that when that half a chance comes you do take it

And one thing you can’t be if you go to the subcontinent is unfit. It’s physically the most demanding place to bowl. You need to be gutsy and you need to go there with a hell of an attitude. If you go there with a bad attitude that will definitely open you up.

Ian Bell

Averaged 43 in England's 2-1 win in 2012, India's last defeat in a home Test series

In India you have to score 500 in your first innings - if not then you are going to lose the series.

Alastair Cook was a machine for us in that period. I remember we lost the first Test in Ahmedabad but Cooky scored a hundred in the second innings and it showed the rest of the batting group that you could bat long periods of time against their attack if you could just get past your first 20-30 balls, which in the middle order against spin in Asia is key.

Kevin Pietersen did what he did in Mumbai and took on India and then the confidence grew from then on. As the tour went on India prepared more and more turning pitches and picked the extra spinner to drag it back but that brought Monty and Swanny into it. In Test cricket the pressure can swing back on the home side quite quickly because you are expected to win in your own conditions so that is something to exploit in India and Australia.

Ian Bell, wearing helmet at center, hugs bowler Monty Panesar as they celebrate a wicket during a practice match against the Indian state of Haryana in Ahmadabad, India, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012. - AP
Ian Bell, wearing helmet at center, hugs bowler Monty Panesar as they celebrate a wicket during a practice match against the Indian state of Haryana in Ahmadabad, India, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012. - AP

I went home for the second Test in Mumbai for the birth of my son. When I came back the belief was there in the team. There was confidence we could score runs if you were prepared to work on your defence. We knew we had not played our best in the first Test but we started talking about our gameplans and you could sense something changing. It suddenly felt a pretty confident place to be.

You have to find your own way of playing in India. There is no right or wrong. A lot of players will come down the wicket and hit over the top but look at Joe Root, he is a much better sweeper. He is never stuck in middle ground.

He gave a masterclass in Sri Lanka. I tell young players you have to be confident in your defence. Rooty showed that even with four men around the bat he was confident in defence either going forward or back. He plays with such a straight bat and that was the difference between him and a few other players in that series.

To be confident that you can defend at the start of your innings with close fielders is so important. One shot I wish I had was the way he sweeps the left arm spinner square of the wicket. That was a shot I could not play. I had more options going down the ground or may be off the back foot but I found that shot very uncomfortable.

Joe had that boundary shot to put pressure back on the spinner. It was not just about surviving. He was comfortable defending, and anything slightly loose, he would sweep. That is his template.