Just mention Leeds 1967 to an elderly cricket fan and his eyes will sparkle with excitement. No, it was not about a historic triumph or a record breaking feat by an Indian player. Those were the days when a draw was considered a moral victory and defeats and debacles were the order of the day.

Indeed the Test match at Leeds ended in a six-wicket loss for the visitors. But the result camouflages the heroism displayed in adversity which is why it has come to be accepted as the most glorious defeat in Indian cricket history.

A young and inexperienced team under the captaincy of the Nawab of Pataudi went to England during the first half of the twin series summer and was terribly unlucky with the weather. It rained almost every day severely handicapping the touring side’s preparation for the three-Test series. When Pataudi and his men landed in Leeds they were without a victory in 12 first class matches having lost two and drawn ten – largely because of interference from the weather.

When the tour selectors sat down to decide on the playing eleven they ended up picking the cricketers who had played the most. There was no question of choosing players in form for no one had been long enough on the field to have displayed that! After deciding on the eleven Pataudi walked up to the pressmen and after giving the names of the players quipped: “Gentlemen, you have the first-ever Test team to be picked entirely by guesswork.’’

Mercifully for the Indians the sun shone in all its glory at Headingley and after England captain Brian Close elected to bat on winning the toss the Indians dominated the morning session. Not only did they dismiss John Edrich cheaply but the bowlers kept the batsmen on a leash and Geoff Boycott and Ken Barrington made little headway till lunch.

Luck however had not been with the Indians on the tour and now a massive double whammy was to strike the tourists. First Rusi Surti who had been bowling tidily was badly injured on his left knee when he was hit by a hefty blow from Barrington. His face a mask of pain Surti was carried off the field by his teammates. Shortly afterwards Bishen Bedi who had brought back memories of Vinoo Mankad with his flight, turn and deceptiveness suddenly doubled up in pain just after finishing an over. He had pulled a thigh muscle and now he was carried off the field.

Their injuries were severe enough for them not to take the field anymore in the match and they could only bat with the aid of a runner. Pataudi now quickly sized up the situation. He had a three man bowling attack in a medium pacer playing his first Test (Subroto Guha), an off spinner playing his fourth Test in Erapalli Prasanna and the spin spearhead in BS Chandrasekhar. Against this emaciated bowling line-up on a true batting surface England made hay while the sun shone. Boycott went on to get an unbeaten 246, Barrington 93, Tom Graveney 59 and Basil D’Oliveria 109 before Close declared at 550 for four shortly before tea on the second day.

As if this was not discouraging enough India suffered a batting collapse and at stumps on the second day were 86 for six. This was clearly proving to be a no-contest and the British newspapers were indignant at the lack of fight shown by the Indians. One newspaper summed up India’s pathetic plight with the headline ''INDIA 160 RUNS BEHIND BOYCOTT’’.

Pataudi unbeaten at stumps gave his men a pep talk in a bid to lift their morale but he knew he had to lead from the front to renew their sagging spirits. On the third morning with a fighting 64 he prolonged the innings till after lunch before the Indians were all out for 164. Even Surti was inspired as he hobbled to the crease and stayed 90 minutes to score 22 and help his captain add 59 runs for the eighth wicket.

The Indians followed on 386 runs behind and the general opinion was that the match would virtually be over by close the same day with perhaps some mopping up operations to be completed on the fourth day. What in fact occurred was a fightback of epic proportions. Ajit Wadekar (91) and Farokh Engineer (87) sparkled while adding 168 runs for the second wicket in a thrilling counter attack and by stumps India were 198 for two. Now they had a realistic chance of averting an innings defeat but still there was little chance of the match going to the fifth day.

On the fourth day the resistance continued as Pataudi and Hanumant Singh (73) added 134 runs for the fifth wicket. After Hanumant’s dismissal Pataudi with the tail for company kept the innings going and at close he was unbeaten on 129 as the Indians were still occupying the crease having made 475 for eight. Not only had the innings defeat been avoided but they had taken the Test – which seemed likely to get over in three days – to a fifth day.

There was no way the Indians could avoid defeat but they had won the hearts of even the most acerbic of English scribes by their courage in adversity. Pataudi was ultimately out for 148 and India were all out for 510 their highest total against England. England required only 125 for victory but the Indians now a transformed lot made them struggle for victory before the winning hit was made midway through the afternoon session.

The same English press who were so savage in their criticism against the Indians now were wholesome in their praise. ''England wins match but India claims honours’’ was a headline that summed it all up. Another newspaper went rapturous over Pataudi with a brilliant banner headline “HIS MAGNIFICENT HIGHNESS NAWAB OF HEADINGLEY AND OF PATAUDI.’’

Back home the Indian Express carried an editorial saying that ''some defeats are more glorious than victories’’ aptly summing up the general opinion.

Half a century later Leeds 1967 has lost none of that aura.