White relives the dream
Craig White’s century at Ahmedabad in December 2001 fulfilled his three-fold ambition in Test cricket and aided a creditable draw the last time England played an international at the venue of Thursday's first Test with India.
White’s stubborn 121, his sole England hundred, helped the tourists respond impressively at the Sardar Patel Stadium to a 10-wicket loss in the opener at Mohali. They were denied the chance to square the series as persistent rain ruined the third and final Test in Bangalore.
When the Yorkshire all-rounder began his Test career seven and a half years earlier, aged 24, he targeted a ton, a five-wicket haul and match-winning innings.
In and out of the team in the 1990s, White had to wait six years and 11 Tests to achieve the first part by taking 5-57 in victory over West Indies at his home ground of Headingley.
Early the next year his patient 21 not out earned a famous three-wicket win over Sri Lanka at Kandy, which England bettered in Colombo to prevail 2-1.
Given he had hit only two Tests fifties and therefore relied on the potency of his seam bowling for selection, reaching three figures in sapping heat at Ahmedabad was a proud achievement for man-of-the-match White.
Speaking exclusively to ecb.co.uk, he reflected: “It’s really one of the highlights of my cricketing career.
“All I wanted to do when I started playing Test cricket was get a five-for, get a Test hundred and hit the winning runs or see the team home to victory.
“So that was a major step for me getting a Test hundred, giving myself a bit of belief that I could do it and perform at that level.”
Following Marcus Trescothick’s departure for 99, White came to the crease with England - missing Graham Thorpe who had flown home for family reasons on the eve of the Test - 180 for five after Nasser Hussain had ended a run of losing 14 straight international tosses.
During a 105-run seventh-wicket stand with James Foster, the right-handed White survived a missed stumping off Harbhajan Singh on 44 and was twice dropped in a Javagal Srinath over that he began on 63.
Having struck a six and 10 fours to reach 81, White’s next 19 runs came without a boundary in more than 23 overs.
He reached the milestone with a single off Anil Kumble, who went on to claim seven innings wickets, and added two more fours and a six before being last out, bowled by Harbhajan, in a total of 407.
White, who had been dismissed by spinners Kumble and Harbhajan at Mohali where he contributed 27 runs, recalled the tourists’ preparation for the second Test.
“We had to really work hard to combat the spinners. We knew that they were going to come hard at us,” he said.
“When we had a net we would really scrub up an end so it did turn really viciously and we took ourselves out of our comfort zone. My plan was just to be quite positive against the spin, ‘don’t let them bowl to you’.”
White was spurred on by narrowly missing out on a Test century just over a year earlier against Pakistan at Lahore.
“I think it was the season before in Pakistan I got caught defending on 93 and I said ‘that’s the last time I get out defending’,” he continued.
“I would rather be playing a shot and get out. That was my philosophy. I had a good, solid defence but ‘try and put a bit of pressure on the bowler, don’t let him bowl to you’, that’s how I went about it.”
A then Test-best 5-67 from the recalled Ashley Giles, who had bowled only 17 overs since July due to Achilles problems, trumped Sachin Tendulkar’s 27th Test hundred to give England a first-innings lead of 116 shortly before stumps on day three.
White, who returned 1-33 from 12 overs having had Virender Sehwag lbw, said: “It’s obviously hard work and there’s not much in the pitches for seamers. Reverse-swing comes into it.
“We just had a very basic game plan: stay in the game, keep it tight, just chip away and don’t get let them get away from us.
“That was our philosophy for that Test match, for the whole series really, just to stay in the game, just try and pressure them as much as possible. We stuck to the game plan quite well.”
Captain Nasser Hussain declined to set India a target by declaring England’s second innings.
Bravely opening the batting despite a stomach bug, Mark Butcher registered 92 and Michael Vaughan also defied illness in the tourists’ 257 all out which set their opponents a notional 374 to win in little over a day.
Explaining Hussain’s decision not to declare, White said: “That would have been in the back of his mind - a lot of people were ill - maybe look to try and get a draw out of that game.
“We thought if we could get away with a draw in Ahmedabad and go to Bangalore on a more seamer-friendly pitch we could have caught them on the hop and maybe drawn the series.”
As it was, India negotiated 97 overs to close on 198 for three at the Sardar Patel Stadium. White’s figures of 9-5-7-0 typified a tame end to the game.
Eleven years on, he expects a similar playing surface for the first Test of four.
“With England’s bowling attack, I doubt there’ll be much pace and bounce in the pitch. I think they will produce a turning pitch,” said White, who played the last of his 30 Tests in December 2002.
“They (England) will have been working on their spin, playing the spinners. I think that will be a huge part of the first Test match, how they play the spinners.
“I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t turn. I think they know what they’re up against. I’m sure they are prepared for it.”