When the Indian team took the field for the first Test against England at Headingley, Leeds in June 1967 they could not have been a very confident lot. They had played ten first class games without registering a victory. More to the point rain had played havoc during the month of May and had interfered badly with the team’s preparation for the three-Test series. It was basically a young and inexperienced team that had come over and given India’s past dismal record over five tours of England – Tests played 16, lost 12, drawn 4 – the odds were very much against the visitors.

However the sun shone brightly on the opening day of the first Test and the Indians started well by quickly dismissing John Edrich with the total on 7. Left arm medium pacer Rusi Surti who took that wicket was bowling particularly well and when the spin trio of BS Chandrasekhar, EAS Prasanna and BS Bedi came along they were so accurate that Geoff Boycott and Ken Barrington could not take any liberties.

England were struggling for runs even if they lost only wicket at lunch but after the interval India were dealt a severe double blow with injuries to key bowlers Surti and Bedi. The injuries were so bad that they would not bowl again in the game. The Nawab of Pataudi who had led in exemplary fashion now had only three bowlers – Subroto Guha a medium pacer playing his first Test, Prasanna playing in his fourth Test and Chandra who was at the time the spearhead of the Indian spin attack. It would be a herculean task with this emaciated bowling attack to keep in check a mighty England batting line-up that had besides Boycott and Barrington, Tom Graveney, Basil D’Oliveria, Brian Close and Ray Illingworth.

Pataudi’s worst fears were confirmed as England made merry amassing 550 for four declared midway through the second day. There were century partnerships for the second and third wickets and a double century stand for the fourth wicket. Barrington scored 93, Graveney got 59, D’Oliveria hit 109 while Boycott remained unbeaten with 246. Guha and Prasanna finished wicketless conceding 105 and 187 runs respectively while Chandra took two for 121. To give his tired bowlers some respite Pataudi tried nine bowlers in all with specialist batsmen like Ajit Wadekar, Ramesh Saxena, Hanumant Singh and himself having a bowl.

The sorry tale of the Indian bowling was repeated by their batsmen and at stumps on the second day the tourists were 86 for six. There was severe criticism in the British press about the lack of fight and the lop sided manner the Test had progressed and the Daily Telegraph in a headline mocking the Indians said ''INDIA 160 RUNS BEHIND BOYCOTT’’.

Early on the third day India were 92 for seven. Pataudi lifted the spirits with a courageous 64 but India were all out for 164. India were forced to follow on 386 runs behind and a three-day finish and an innings defeat loomed large.

However Pataudi’s knock had inspired the Indians and now commenced a gallant fightback. First Farokh Engineer (87) and Ait Wadekar (91) added 168 runs for the second wicket. The match was extended to the fourth day and now it was the turn of Pataudi and Hanumant to figure in a 134-run stand for the fifth wicket. Hanumant was out for 73 but the partnership had virtually made sure that the innings defeat would be averted. And then Pataudi with the help of the tail saw to it that the Test against all expectations went to the fifth day. The skipper followed his inspiring 64 with an even better innings. He got his sixth Test hundred and batted on till he was ninth out at 506 for a superb 148. India were all out for 510 their highest total against England leaving the hosts to get 125 runs for victory.

The Indian bowlers made them fight for runs but again Pataudi was handicapped by having only three fit bowlers. England finally did win by six wickets but the honours belonged to India principally because of one man. For his double of 64 and 148 under intense pressure, for the manner in which he encouraged an emaciated Indian team to stage one of the greatest fightbacks in Test cricket history he received plaudits aplenty for his heroics. The Daily Mail in particular went rapturous in its headline which said it all: 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’’ and that this was one such. Given the circumstances it remains India’s most heroic fightback in a losing cause.