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By John Harkness
It is often said that it is impossible to provide a fitting description of India. Its enormity, beauty, cultural richness and economic disparity make it unlike anywhere else in the world. The one ever-present, unifying entity is cricket. Cricket in India is a religion. There is simply no other way to describe it. To go there to play cricket is therefore an experience that no amount of advice or research can truly prepare you for.
The squad, led by Raj Sharma (OUCC Captain), was bolstered by 3 old Blues in the form of Jamie Dalrymple (former Blues Captain, Middlesex, Gloucestershire and England), Neil Kruger and Willem Klopper. Arriving in Mumbai, there followed 6 matches in 11 days, against some of the best club and professional sides in India. It was therefore by no means a disgrace to have only won two.
Playing in foreign surroundings is always challenging, but as numerous England international sides have shown, playing on the sub-continent is something else entirely. The fierce heat and the slow, turning wickets are certainly a long way away from the rain and indoor nets that we had been practicing in during the winter. The squad, to their credit, seemed to adapt very quickly.
The first match was a Twenty20 against a Global Cricket School XI. The match was played in an open park in the middle of Mumbai, right by the old colonial law courts. Very quickly there was a crowd of a couple of hundred gathered around the boundary, clearly expecting a show. And they weren’t disappointed, as skipper Sharma treated them to an aggressive 102, aided by 25 from Dalrymple and 31 from Olly Richards. Paul Higham then claimed three wickets, and Robin Thompson four, as Oxford registered a 50 run victory. The opposition were clearly quite shocked to have lost, and it was no surprise that the match manager promised a much stronger team for the return 50-over fixture a few days later.
There then followed two defeats, one to Bombay Gymkhana and another to the much strengthened Global Cricket School, who had brought in a couple of Mumbai State players. Against Bombay Gymkhana a 15 year old, touted as the “new Sachin Tendulkar” having just scored 400 runs in a school game, helped the hosts reach 225. Oxford finished 58 runs short, with Willem Klopper scoring 58. Against GCS, again at the Oval Meidan, with some very good opposition bowling, Oxford managed just 128. A spirited fielding performance, and tight bowling from Sam Agarwal, Alex Scott and Thompson meant the GCS only won by two wickets.
The following match was against the Cricket Club of India (the equivalent of the MCC) at the old Indian Test ground in Mumbai. Tight bowling from Jonathon Lodwick (4-43), Sharma, Don Gordon and Scott restricted the hosts to 239. In reply Oxford put on 90 for the first wicket, and were cruising before a flurry of wickets. But some late hitting from Klopper, 41, and Lodwick, 37*, set the stage for Gordon. The opposition captain, who had been keeping, came on to bowl the last over, with Oxford needing three to win, but with just one wicket in hand. Having tried to confuse the batsmen by bowling a mixture of legbreaks and offies in his warm-up he proceeded to bowl medium pace. Not to be perturbed though, Gordon late cut the skipper for 4, and Oxford won a famous victory by one wicket.
The next two games will probably be remembered more for the standard of the opposition rather than any individual performances by the squad. Against a notional Rajasthan XI, which was essentially the Rajasthan Royals minus their international players, and on a dead deck, Oxford were well and truly beaten. The highlight of the day perhaps being Shilpa Shetty’s comment about the nature of the last batsmen’s shot to get out. After a 4am wakeup to travel from Rajasthan to Delhi, the final game of the tour was against Delhi University. Needless to say a squad deprived of sleep was always going to struggle, but against a couple of India U19s playing on their home turf it was all over fairly quickly.
Aside from the cricket we were extremely fortunate to be hosted throughout by the Rajasthan Royals, attending a number of functions with them, as well as a dinner at the British High Commision with the Oxford and Cambridge Club in India, and a dinner reception at Mohit Burma’s. All-in-all it was an incredibly successful tour. The Tabs toured last year and failed to win a single game and so while only winning two out of six may not sound that impressive, it must be remembered that we were playing in alien conditions on a pre-season tour, against sides hailing from probably the strongest cricketing culture in the world. On behalf of the team, I’d once again like to thank Nomura, the Rajasthan Royals and William Frewen for their support in organising the tour, and for allowing us to embark on an experience that I’m sure none of us fortunate enough to have gone will ever forget.