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A first win in England: India and the elephant will never forget | Simon Burnton


The 1971 Oval Test was a historic one and memorable because of a sleepy captain and a pachyderm named Bella

There used to be two shops in Birmingham called Tyseley Pet Stores. While in one advert they boasted of their stocks of “puppies, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and mice” these were not your average pet shops – by the end of the paragraph they had moved on to “our large selection of monkeys, tame chimps and latest arrival, the baby gorilla”. They imported around 2,000 marmosets a year and shipped tortoises from Morocco at the rate of 6,000 a time. As might be expected, not all of these creatures were particularly keen on life in a Birmingham pet shop: in 1961 a giant anteater caused chaos when it escaped and was pursued through town by RSPCA officers; three years later Annie, a giant armadillo, crashed through the shop window and went missing for two days; in 1967 three dingos broke loose and had killed five sheep by the time they were found.

All of these creatures and many more were available to the general public; at one stage in the 1960s Angela McWilliams, a part-time secretary from Kensington, earned a measure of fame for her habit of taking her leopard cub, Michael, for walks around London (she decided to give it back after a year). “She always struck me as being well-to-do,” Brian Williams, the shop’s owner, said of his client. “After all, not everyone can afford £200 for a leopard.” But it wasn’t just ordinary members of the public who shopped in Tyseley’s and in May 1970 Chessington Zoo bought a young elephant called Bella, a creature that was to go on to play a small but memorable role in the history of Test cricket.

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