Spinwash ’93: Michael Atherton previews his documentary on England’s madcap tour of India

With the help of behind-the-scenes footage captured by Dermot Reeve, Michael Atherton looks at England’s highly eventful tour of India in 1993 in our summer documentary Spinwash…

The game has changed a lot since our trip in 1993. India too. We wanted to make a show to reflect that.

Dermot, who was one of the players on the tour, had taken a camcorder around with him for the whole three months and, for a long time, I’d wanted to do something with the footage. We came to an agreement and I spent the winter making this programme.

What you’re getting is players completely unguarded. Modern documentaries may be far higher spec than this one-hour show, but there’s no acting or playing up to the camera here. It’s all very natural – the guys weren’t expecting it to ever be shown. Its behind-the-scenes footage of the camp, completely as it was.

There’s a lovely moment, for example, where Chris Lewis comes in and says a prayer in the corner of the dressing room after scoring his maiden Test hundred in Chennai, with everybody there congratulating him.

Largely, though, it was a memorable tour for unmemorable reasons. England were ‘spinwashed’, or whitewashed, whatever you want to call it, losing 3-0 in the Test series.

It was the kind of tour where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. There was a pilot strike the first month, we had to travel everywhere by train; the first ODI was abandoned in Ahmedabad because of violence; lots of people got ill – we had a virus doing the rounds – which meant we had to change the team every game, and we got walloped on the field.

And yet, despite all that, it’s a tour that everybody who was on it looks back on with some fondness. It was just such an amazing experience. Any tour of India is, but given the exceptional circumstances, this one even more so.

When you’re criss-crossing around the country on these trains – 18 hours some of them, sleeping overnight – you’re almost forced to come together as a team.

The kind of entertainment we had on offer will be very different to now, where you’ve got mobile phones and connections that allow you to speak to home, play whatever games. Back then, it was reading books, playing cards, playing charades.

I remember those journeys so vividly. Bob Bennett [then England tour manager] having to make up hundreds of corned beef naans to feed us on the way.

Once the pilot strike ended, we also had one or two hair-raising flights. One where we flew into a flock of birds, and another where we had hydraulic failure.

Phil Tufnell, in many ways, the star of our show, is and always has been a truly shocking flier. We’ve got a bit of footage from one of those flights where Tuffers is looking particularly ashen-faced.

In the show, Tuffers chats so brilliantly about his troubles and travails on the field, as well as how he got into one or two scrapes off it. We’ve got some cracking film of him, in places where you wouldn’t exactly expect to see him, like the gym in a hotel in Rajasthan – with a cigarette on.

As for the action on the field, the outcome wasn’t all too dissimilar to England’s tour of India from this past winter. In the first Test, we got our selection wrong, picking four seamers and one spinner, while India picked three. And those three spinners – Anil Kumble, Rajesh Chauhan and Venkatapathy Raju – accounted for 46 wickets between them.

One that didn’t fall to spin was a run out of Alec Stewart in Mumbai. I was ill for the first two Tests, but got a go in the third and had this disastrous run out with Stewie.

An utterly comical run out – the keeper actually dropped it when the throw came in but we were both at the same end. He maintains it was my fault and I’ve let him have the last word on the documentary but, privately, I’m not sure there was a run there.

That’s what adds to the show. Combined with this behind-the-scenes content, we’ve got the archive footage of the tour. It was the first one that Sky covered in the sub-continent and, in fact, the first game of that tour, in Jaipur, was the first ever game shown on satellite television in India.

That was the start of a dramatic change to cricket in the sub-continent, with more money coming into the game. It was the start of what you see now, the end game of the IPL and players earning millions of pounds.

And coming to the fore just at the perfect time in that transition was one Sachin Tendulkar. He’s another star of the show as we get to see him score his first Test hundred in India, in Chennai. He looks so young! As indeed we all did.

There’s a lovely moment where we’ve got young Sachin talking about his great, record partnership with Vinod Kambli – who sores a double-hundred in the third Test – at a school game, where they put on over 600 together.

There’s lots of key moments in Indian cricket. There’s obviously their 1983 World Cup win; the 2007 T20 World Cup which paved the way for the IPL. This tour was significant in a minor, but major way.

It’s not one that people will necessarily reflect on as ground-breaking, but it was the start of a journey. It was the first tour in which, Doordarshan, the state broadcaster, didn’t have a monopoly on the television rights.

I think that tour was sold to the BCCI for £600,000. Within three years, the World Cup was there, going for £10 million, and now you look at television rights that are sold for billions.

It was also the only Test tour of India I went on as a player. Nowadays, England go to India every two minutes these days, whether it be for the IPL, Test or one-day tours.

The documentary helps show just how life and cricket has changed. And a fairly rapid change at that.

Watch Spinwash ’93 on Sky Sports Cricket at 7pm on Wednesday. The show will then be available to watch On Demand from 9pm the same day.

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