The internet was flooded with pictures of a Virat Kohli-led Team India reaching Southampton, England over the weekend, to participate in the maiden World Test Championship final against New Zealand. The team is then set to play five more Test matches against the home country, albeit after a 42-day gap.

 

The WTC final in Southampton will be contested from June 18 to 22, with June 23 as a reserve day. The first Test against England then commences in Nottingham on August 4, following a few tour games. The fifth and final Test will be played in Manchester up till September 14.

Historic relevance

Totalling up for an eventual 104 days, this makes it one of Team India’s longest tours to Britain since 1959. A Dattajirao Gaekwad-led team had spent 136 days in the country, playing 28 tour games and five Tests in the process.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Rohit Sharma (@rohitsharma45)

Even the historic 1971 tour, in which Ajit Wadekar’s team won India’s first-ever Test series in England, had lasted 77 days. India’s busy 2018 visit, which even included games against Ireland, also spanned an equal period of 77 days.

Unusual conditions

The length of the latest tour though is a factor of the extraordinary pandemic-inflicted conditions around the globe. The United Kingdom is one of the most vaccinated regions in the world, and has thus put in place strict restrictions on travellers from ‘red listed’ countries like India.

 

The Indian team was granted special permissions to travel for the WTC final, and returning home upon its conclusion would complicate their travels for the five Test matches against England. The team will thus stay back in England during the 42-day break and will live in a bio-bubble environment with their families. A decision on their movement during the break is yet to be made.

“The decision, taken by the ICC Board, follows discussions with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) where a range of options were considered to ensure the inaugural final could be staged safely with the potential impact of COVID-19 minimised for all involved,” the ICC had said in a statement.

Pre World War Era

One of India’s first official tours to England, in 1936, had spanned four months and 17 days between April 29 and September 15. The touring party included the celebrated likes of Syed Mushtaq Ali, CK Nayudu and Vijay Merchant, but the visitors eventually succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in the three-Test series.

The previous visit to England, in 1932, also had a similar schedule, containing a total of 37 tour fixtures. The squad travelled by sea as was the norm in that age. A few key names like Merchant though decided to skip the tour as a form of protest to Mahatma Gandhi’s arrest back home.

India had visited England only once before the first World War, on their maiden 1911 trip to the European island. It had taken 12 years and three aborted attempts before the first composite Indian team took to the cricket field, inspired by the talents of Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, the namesake of the present-day Ranji Trophy.

It had contained a mixture of lower-caste Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and Sikhs along with aristocrats and civil servants.

The diversity in the current team has often been highlighted by the success of young players fostered by India’s strong domestic cricket structure. And their success is a definitive statement of accomplishment in a game that once belonged to the elite of their ‘colonial masters’

Image credits: BBC, Instagram/Rohit Sharma