India is a place where the impossible becomes improbable and the improbable honestly just may well actually happen. As Tom Hartley showed in Hyderabad, even England cricketers aren’t immune. Below we’ve picked out a few other improbable feats delivered by England cricketers while touring India. You can pick your own favourite. We’ll get to ours at the end.
It is surely impossible to whittle a temple complex out of a mountain, including life-size sculptures of elephants.
The Kailasa Temple at the Ellora Cave site is still, to this day, probably the most insanely jaw-dropping construction we have ever seen – in large part because ‘construction’ isn’t really the right word, what with the edifice in fact borne from protracted, highly-targeted destruction.
India is a big place, but at times it feels awash with this sort of stuff: creations that should have been faced down by logic at an early stage, only for someone to say, “Oh, let’s just do it anyway.”
There’s something really refreshing about that mentality. We live in a world of information, where everybody increasingly plays the percentages. This is a great way of avoiding false steps and ‘achieving’, but it also means steering clear of those unfathomable, magical moments that can only happen when you’re prepared to risk looking like a tit by falling flat on your arse.
At the same time, intent alone isn’t really enough. While sometimes the most awe-inspiring aspect of an improbable feat is simply dreaming it up, at other times its unlikeliness stems from the level of skill and expertise required to make it happen. Commitment matters too. In the case of a 30-metre-high rock-cut temple, you need bucketloads of all of these things (plus a few half-decent tools).
Finally, there are those improbable events that are really no more than freak occurrences. With enough people and a long enough history, inexplicable oddities will naturally crop up now and again. But is the numbers game nature of these events’ creation any less reason to celebrate them?
The eight feats below all fall into one or more of these categories of improbability. Have we presented them in escalating order of unlikeliness? Possibly, although it doesn’t really matter. While we’d say the last one’s our favourite, the mere existence of all of them is enough to bring us joy.
Brian Bolus, Ken Barrington or someone scoring a run off Bapu Nadkarni
In the first Test of England’s 1963-64 tour, at Madras, Bapu Nadkarni bowled 21 successive maidens. Off the sixth ball of the next over, someone misfielded and the batters nicked a run. We cannot find out who scored it. No-one cares.
Nadkarni – who said his basic principle was “to be accurate to the point of perfection” – finished with figures of 0-5 off 32 overs with 27 maidens. In the next Test, he took 0-3 off 14.
Bonus fact: In later years, Nadkarni played for Ramsbottom in the Lancashire League.
Joe Root taking 5-8
There is no-one in the world who thinks Joe Root deserves to have Test bowling figures of 5-8 to his name, least of all Root himself. But he does and in no way being deserving of such a return arguably enhances its magnificence.
It happened in Ahmedabad in 2021. As a measure of the pitch, India were shot out for 145 and still won the match by 10 wickets.
At one point, early on, Root had three wickets to his name and hadn’t conceded a run. The best part, however, was when he took the next wicket and Dom Sibley was carried away by a veritable TSUNAMI OF EMOTION.
Matthew Hoggard top-scoring for England, batting at three
At the time, this feat was rather overshadowed by the news that then stand-in captain Marcus Trescothick was to fly home for personal reasons, but yes, Matthew Hoggard did once top-score for England.
Okay, it was a warm-up match against an Indian Board President’s XI, but does that actually make the feat any less likely? It’s not like Hoggard couldn’t bat for shit in Test cricket but had a reputation for really turning it on and making big runs in meaningless warm-up matches.
The Yorkshireman entered the game with a first-class batting average of 9.09. After going in at three as a nightwatchman in the second innings, he bumbled on for a while the next day and made 42.
Trescothick was the only other batter to pass 30. Obviously England lost.
Monty Panesar taking a skyer two balls after dropping a skyer
Michael Vaughan also left that 2006 Tour, which meant Andrew Flintoff was unexpectedly promoted to the captaincy. The fact he managed to draw the series was pretty improbable in itself, but the way he went about securing that draw was more improbable still.
It was lunch on the final day of the final Test and England needed seven wickets for the win. When it comes to calls-to-arms, most captains go with a speech. Flintoff went for dancing naked to Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, swinging a towel around.
When the two teams returned to the field, England took those seven wickets in 15 overs. Flintoff took 3-14 and Shaun Udal of all people took 4-14.
But that wasn’t the most improbable part. The most improbable part was Monty Panesar catching an MS Dhoni skyer.
If you ever saw Panesar’s wholehearted but utterly hopeless fielding, you’ll know this was an incredibly unlikely thing to happen, but what really elevates the moment is that two balls earlier, he had dropped an MS Dhoni skyer.
It is hard to emphasise just how bad a miss that was.
The ball went way up, Panesar got himself in position, set himself, and…
… the ball landed three yards away.
And then a few moments later, the ball went up again, in a big, high parabola towards the same player.
Just ponder that.
Imagine watching Monty Panesar waiting for a ball to come down from the stratosphere on a normal day. What are the odds of him taking the catch? Maybe 10 per cent, something like that?
Now imagine he was in exactly this situation two minutes ago and missed the chance. The shame of that is fresh in his mind; he’s still thinking about it; and now he’s also thinking about how incredibly, impossibly awful it would be to let his country down twice in exactly the same way in the space of a few balls.
What are the odds of him catching that one? Those thoughts, combined with Panesar’s fielding ability, surely make dropping that chance near enough a dead certainty.
The whole world is watching. It’s MS Dhoni. The ball takes an eternity to come down… and Panesar catches it.
James Anderson improving on a seemingly unimprovable delivery
When England toured in 2021, James Anderson bowled Shubman Gill for 50 with a reverse-swinging delivery that was, honestly, pretty much perfect.
Later that over, he somehow bowled Ajinkya Rahane for 0 with an even better one.
Outspinning India despite a batting line-up that couldn’t really play spin
One of the big challenges of touring India is that your spin bowlers almost certainly have to outperform theirs. This is incredibly unlikely for two reasons:
- India’s spinners are pretty much always incredible
- India’s batters are pretty much always incredible facing spin
This means that you need either better spinners than India or better players of spin than India, but most likely both.
England went into the 2012 tour without ever once having been ahead with the first part of that equation and very much struggling with the second part for good measure.
Earlier in the year, they’d played Pakistan in the UAE where Saeed Ajmal had taken 24 wickets at 14.70 and Abdur Rehman had taken 19 at 16.73. After that, they went to Sri Lanka, where Rangana Herath took 19 wickets at 17.94.
This form largely continued in the first Test against India, where Alastair Cook and Matt Prior were the only England batters to pass 40 in either innings and Nick Compton was the only other man to pass 25. The pitch was not a minefield. Cheteshwar Pujara made 206 not out in the first innings and Cook made 176 in England’s second innings.
In the second Test, India made 327 and then opened the bowling with two spinners. This did not bode well and indeed the majority of the batting line-up failed again. The two (rather big) exceptions were Cook and Kevin Pietersen, who made 122 and 186 respectively. Nick Compton’s 29 was the next best score.
However, the resultant 413 turned out to be more than enough as Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar then divided all 10 second innings wickets between them having already taken nine in the first innings. Cook and Compton then sashayed to 58-0 to secure what still feels one of the more bizarre away wins.
India then lost the third Test pretty much purely through confusion at what had just happened.
John Emburey inhaling a crème caramel
Say what you like about the mechanics of this, but can we please emphasise that before John Emburey inhaled an entire crème caramel in one go like some kind of pudding hoover, he first had to decide to try and inhale a crème caramel.
That in itself is a really very improbable thing indeed.
Quite simply one of the greatest moments in the history of English cricket.
What Ian Botham did at the Wankhede
Another jarring reminder that Ian Botham was just an absolutely ludicrous cricketer.
Opening the bowling in the first innings of the one-off Test in Mumbai in 1980, Botham snaffled 6-58 in 22.5 overs as India made 242.
For most players, that would be a full and impressive contribution to a Test match, but after a rest day for a total eclipse (yes, seriously) England then fell to 58-5, at which point Beefy made 114 off 144 balls to get his team to 296.
Job done? Not a bit of it. He then opened the bowling again and took – get this – 7-48.
England won by 10 wickets.
Just think about the sheer breadth and dominance of this performance. Out of 30 wickets to fall in the match, Botham took 13 of them (43%), and out of the 785 runs scored, he made 114 (15%), despite only batting once. That is an insane monopolisation of the meaningful feats that occurred.
Just look at those numbers again and remember that 21 other players were also taking part. It’s not like he was playing for both teams either. He only batted in one of the four innings and could only bowl in two (and even then, only from one end).
To buff up the nonsense to an even greater sheen, Botham said that after a long, hard tour of Australia, it had been, “like a big party, the whole game,” and that he hadn’t at any point gone to bed before 4am. His roommate Derek Underwood apparently went and hid in someone else’s room one night so that he could get three or four hours sleep.
We repeat again: what an absolutely ludicrous cricketer.