On the Front Foot: Contractor and Dexter are reunited after 50 years

 

A little more than half a century ago, Nari Contractor led India to their historic first Test series victory over England. He was at the peak of his career and in the prime of his life.

Two months later he was hit a fearful blow on the side of the head by the Barbados fast bowler, Charlie Griffith, in a tour match on his team's visit to the Caribbean. The ball fractured his skull and he needed two emergency operations to save him from death. Contractor never played another Test but he courageously came back with a metal plate in his skull to appear in first-class cricket until 1971.

If ever there was a case for batting helmets, Contractor provided it. The wonder was that it took another 20 years before they became an integral part of the cricketer's kit. He will be a guest on the first day of the Third Test at Eden Gardens this week together with Ted Dexter, his opposing captain in that series in 1961-62. They are now the oldest surviving former captains of India and England at 78 and 77 respectively.

The duo are also being felicitated the day before the Test by the Cricket Association of Bengal. It is inevitable that Contractor is remembered more for the ball that ended his international career than his finest achievement in it. The first three matches of the 1961-62 series were draws, two of which never went beyond the third innings. But India won the last two matches, with the Afghanistan-born Salim Durani taking 18 wickets. Contractor was a hero.

India found the pace of West Indies in the Caribbean a different proposition, however. The tourists were already 2-0 down when they came to play Barbados at Kensington Oval. Contractor was dropped at short leg the ball before he was hit and spent a week on the critical list.

It is typical of the game that the scorecard merely says: "NJ Contractor retired hurt in India's first innings having scored two (team score 2-0)."

Spin twins are still winning

Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, England heroes of the moment, took 19 wickets between them in the Second Test. It was slightly reminiscent of their first first-class match together.

Swann was 22 and Panesar only 19 when they bowled in harness for Northamptonshire at Wantage Road. Both of them took eight wickets in the game and the county won by 202 runs as Leicestershire were bowled out for 85 in their second innings. The spin twins played together only eight times for Northants in the Championship, as many times as they have now featured in partnership in Tests.

Mutiny on the county

By and large the England and Wales Cricket Board are sticklers for detail. That was why they have lightened Andy Flower's workload by making Ashley Giles coach of the England one-day and Twenty20 teams. But it was poor timing to release the 2013 county fixtures on the day, indeed in the very hour, that England won one of their most famous Test victories last Wednesday. They must have been aware that the fixtures would get almost no publicity, which is what happened. Maybe they wanted to bury bad news.

morris in flower's boat Rumours swept the usual places when Andy Flower's reduced role was announced. There were dark suggestions it was the first step on the way to getting rid of him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket, was at pains to stress that it was about protecting Flower and that the move would have been announced whether or not England had won the Test in Mumbai. Presumably, if things ever got that bad, Morris's position would be as precarious as Flower's.

s.brenkley@independent.co.uk

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