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When India cleared the Titmus test

April 12, 2008 12:31 IST

Mention Fred Titmus and Indian cricket aficionados will instantly remember the Harbhajan Singh episode.

The English off-spinner, long after his international career ended, became the world's leading expert on bowling action and cleared a young Harbhajan of allegations of chucking. But there was more to him, especially with regard to his bowling exploits.

Few people might be aware that he played only one series against India, in 1963-64. The series ended in a draw, with all five Tests being stalemates, but Titmus shone with the ball, grabbing a whopping 27 wickets.

He was particularly devastating in the fifth and final Test at Kanpur. Having already picked 20 wickets coming into the match, Titmus had mastered the Indian conditions perfectly. And MAK Pataudi's team was in for a shock.

After the visitors piled a whopping 559 for eight (declared) in their first essay, India were exposed to the Titmus test. (pun intended).

Pataudi's team failed the test in their first attempt, being forced to follow-on after managing just 266 in the first innings. And Titmus was the wrecker-in-chief, grabbing 6 for 73, the Indian batsmen getting completely foxed by his guile and deception.

"He had a lovely flight, and had a good floater (which is similar to what is called the doosra now)," explains Bapu Nadkarni, who scored 52 not out in the first innings coming in at number nine -- the second highest score after Dilip Sardesai's 79.

"We made a basic mistake of putting them in to bat first on a deceptive wicket and nearly got paid for it. We batted badly but he bowled extremely well," he admits. "He was a slow turner and our batsmen just couldn't adjust to his bowling."

So what was the reason behind him getting runs while the regular batsmen fell in a heap.

"For me, fortunately, it was easy score of his ball as it was coming into bat. I had a certain confidence to face him because of this," explains Nadkarni.

The spinner, known more for his ability to dry up runs -- in the opening Test of the same series in Chennai, he had figures of 32-27-5-0 and bowled a record 21 maiden overs in a row -- had suddenly become a batting hero. His defiant knock got him a pat from the captain and an opportunity to bat more.

"After seeing my knock in the first innings Pataudi told me not to take my pads off," reveals Nadkarni with pride. And history has it that he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

If it was half-a-ton first up, Nadkarni went the full distance in the second, after coming in at number three -- Titmus had snared opener ML Jaisimha cheaply yet again. He combined first with 'keeper Budhi Kunderan (55) to put on 109 runs for the second wicket and then teamed up with Sardesai (87) for a third-wicket partnership of 144 runs, in what was eventually a match-saving effort.

More importantly, Titmus was nullified.

"I have always been a man of patience, either while bowling or batting. There was 10 hours to go and we were absolutely in a soup," he explains. His defiance enabled India make 347 for three in the second innings, pass the Titmus test this time and eventually save the match.

In the process, Nadkarni also reached a personal milestone -- scoring an unbeaten 122, which remained his lone Test ton.

"This kind of incidents happened very less in my career. It was a satisfaction that cannot be bought," he says, with pride.

Bikash Mohapatra in Kanpur