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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Cricket Memories : 1971 - India in the West Indies

One of the very first series that I have any memories of at all is, coincidentally, one of India’s most memorable series. It had to be – after all, it was India’s first overseas series win. I must admit rightaway I have very faint memories of this series. I was a little over seven at that time and, much as I would like to pretend that I remember a lot of that series, the truth is, I do not. My clearest memory of that series is in fact my eldest sister throwing down the newspaper – the Statesman (we were in Eastern India) - muttering something like “this Gavaskar is just too much”. Only later I realized that by “much” she meant “good” and this was more an expression of approval from her than tiredness (an emotion that I more readily associated with her in those days as she desperately tried – often quite unsuccessfully - to keep her younger brother under control). Knowing her interests better as the years went by, I realized that cricket did not rank among them and it must definitely have been an achievement of considerable magnitude by Mr. Gavaskar to have evoked any sort of reaction from her.

And some achievement it was. This series that I am talking about was not only memorable for India’s first overseas series win – it will be remembered as the series when a young Gavaskar, making his debut, rocked the world with a performance so solid that even my sister just had to notice. In just four Tests (he did not play the first), he scored 774 runs at an average of 154 – with four hundreds and two fifties. One of these hundreds was a double hundred (and, for good measure, this was in the second innings of a Test in which he had already got a hundred in the first outing). Gavaskar had announced himself boldly to the world – and for the next 17 years, the world would see the broadest of bats in defence and the firmest of straight drives in attack from a man no taller than 5 ft 4 inches but with the determination and concentration that would be the despair of many a fast bowler.

But I am getting ahead of myself. In this series of blogs, as I discuss India’s fortunes through the 70s and 80s, there will be many occasions to discuss Gavaskar – in fact there will hardly be a series where he did not have an impact. So let me take it one series at a time.

The Indian side that went to the West Indies on this 1970-71 tour can be forgiven if, before the tour, they had dared to dream of winning a game or so. True, the last Indian side to the West Indies – in 1962 – had been so comprehensively beaten, losing all five Tests, that it was clear that history was against the Indians. But, in all fairness to the West Indies, by 1970-71, they were a shadow of the side of the mid-60s. Not only had the three Ws long since left the scene, more worryingly for them, their fast bowling powerhouse – once so safe in the hands of Wes Hall and Griffith – was a shadow of its former self. Both these bowlers had left the scene and the West Indies were in a stage of rebuilding their fast bowling attack. Their batting was still fairly formidable - no batting with Sobers, Kanhai and Lloyd can be considered anything less – but Butcher had left the scene and this was definitely not a side that you would consider anywhere near the best of West Indian cricket. Having said that, you still have to go out there and win – and I will not take anything away from India’s achievement in this series by talking any less of the West Indies side of that era.

The rest of the description of this series will be largely based on what I have read in books and articles. This was a well-documented series in the 70s, as you can imagine, and I will borrow liberally from my memory of those readings. There may be the odd factual error – I hope the reader will bear with me. None of those sources is available with me now so I must depend largely on memory and on statistics of those matches from the Internet.

The Indian side that visited the West Indies then had a couple of surprises. For one, there was no Farokh Engineer. The first wicketkeeper was a P. Krishnamurthy from Hyderabad who had yet to play a Test for India when selected for the tour. The reserve wicketkeeper (who got many chances in the first-class games on the tour but never played a test) was R. Jeejeebhoy. Similar fate lay in store for one of the main fast bowlers, D. Govindraj, who did play rather creditably in the first-class games but never made it to the Test side. The Indian bowling was invariably opened by Syed Abid Ali and Eknath Solkar.

Another surprise was the absence of Chandrasekhar. This was not so much a surprise as a disappointment – Chandra had been out of action for more than three years after sustaining an injury in a scooter accident. Although it was hoped he would recover in time for this series, it was not to happen. He was not fit in time and had to sit this one out. Maybe he was saving his best for the series to follow (but that is another story).

The team had a mix of experience and youth. While on one hand, there was the youthful exuberance of Ashok Mankad, Eknath Solkar and Gundappa Vishwanath (who had just made their Test debuts about a year ago) and Gavaskar (still only a first-class player - first-class in every sense), there was the experience of a Dilip Sardesai, M.L. Jaisimha, Salim Durani, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan to balance this youth. And India had that eternal trier – Syed Abid Ali – I used to marvel at his tremendous energy and never-say-die attitude.

The team was being led for the first time by Ajit Wadekar – he had just been made India captain when Vijay Merchant, casting the deciding vote as chairman of selectors, voted in his favour. Wadekar thus took over the reins from Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.

The rival captain was Gary Sobers, easily one of the all-time greats of the game. He was leading a side still in the process of finding itself after a series defeat in England and the loss of some key players like Basil Butcher and Wesley Hall.

Now, let us look at the series itself.

First Test, Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica
In keeping with India’s traditional performance in inaugural tests of series, India could have been excused a first Test disaster. The first day’s play was totally lost to rain but when the match resumed on the second day, the way India batted, one could have easily mistaken this to be a warm-up match. Had it not been for that veteran Dilip Sardesai and his fighting stand with Eknath Solkar, India would not have batted out that day. As it turned out, these two stayed put, taking India from 75./5 to 212/6 – Sardesai was eventually ninth out with the score on 382 (his own score being 212). India finished on 387.

When the West Indies batted, they were probably not expecting the type of collapse they had. Riding pretty at 201 for 4, they suddenly found the Indian spinners in a dream spell – and crashed to 217 all out. Suddenly India were very much on top. Since the first day had been washed out, a lead of l50 would have been enough for India to impose the follow-on – which it did. But any visions India had of victory (especially with West Indies on 32/2, following on) were quickly disposed of. They ran into their old tormentor, Rohan Kanhai , who with Lloyd and Sobers for company, played out the rest of the game and ensured India got no more than a draw from this one. Many were left to rue what might have happened if a day had not been lost but, after the first Test, it was clear that India had drawn first blood. Foreboding of things to come.

Second Test, Queen’s Park Oval, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
For the second Test, India made two changes. Two of the four Hyderabadis in the side, the dour Jayantilal and the flamboyant Jaisimha were replaced by two young batsmen from Bombay, Ashok Mankad and Sunil Gavaskar. Gavaskar had just scored a century and a half-century in the tour game against Trinidad and had virtually forced himself into the side on the merit of this performance. These two batsmen were to open the innings, with Abid Ali batting lower down.

The crowd had not even settled down in their seats when Abid Ali, as if as a precursor of things to come, clean bowled Roy Fredericks with the first ball of the match. Thanks to a fighting, unbeaten 71 from local boy Charlie Davis, West Indies managed to reach a somewhat respectable but not entirely adequate 214. Throughout this series, Charlie Davis would prove to be a thorn for the Indians.

The Indian reply began solidly. Gavaskar , in his debut innings, was sedate while Mankad was the more aggressive partner. With Mankad’s 44, Gavaskar’s 65 and yet another excellent partnership from Sardesai-Solkar, India managed 352 – a lead of 138. Sardesai got his second successive century of the series, Solkar his second successive half –century. A remarkable achievement for West Indies in this innings was the nine-wicket haul of spinner Jack Noreiga. He claimed all the wickets except the first one to fall – that of Ashok Mankad.

The West Indies second innings began equally solidly. Kanhai got out with the score on 73 but by the end of the third day they had wiped out the deficit and had got themselves comfortably to 150 for 1.

Nobody could have been prepared for the drama on the morning of the fourth day. First Charlie Davis got himself injured and had to retire hurt. Then Roy Fredericks, never the best of runners, got into a mix-up with Clive Lloyd (himself run out in both innings of the first test) , and got himself run out for 80. West Indies had not added a run to their overnight score.

More drama was to follow. In fact, much more. Salim Durani, who had until then had a quiet match and series, came up with the ball of the series to clean bowl Sobers for a duck (152/3) and a short while later, got rid of Lloyd (169/4). When Venkat clean bowled Camacho at the same score 169/5), the injured Davis returned to the field to salvage the game. But Venkat would not be denied. Durani having opened up the innings, it was Venkat now who ripped through the batting, finishing with 5/95 as West Indies were dismissed for 295, Davis with a fighting unbeaten 74, watching on helplessly.

India now needed just 124 to win. Mankad and Gavaskar, with a handful of tests between them, went about their job very confidently and though Mankad fell before the end, triggering a mini-collapse, it was perhaps only fitting that Gavaskar was there at the end to see India to a memorable win – its first ever in the West Indies.

Third Test, Bourda, Georgetown, Guyana
West Indies, one-down, were keen to come back into the series. They replaced Camacho with Carew, Holder with Boyce and keeper Findlay with Desmond Lewis who had done very well in the tour game against the Indians.
India made one change – Gundappa Vishwanath finally got a chance to play while Prasanna missed this game.

Without any spectacular performance, the West Indies still managed a workmanlike 363, Lloyd getting run out yet again for a useful 60 while newcomer Desmond Lewis continued his good form, topscoring with an unbeaten 81.
In reply, India once again began solidly and eventually went on to 376, Gavaskar continuing his fine form – this time getting his first century in Tests. There would be 33 more to follow. Vishwanath managed a 50.
The West Indies second innings was equally solid – (that man) Davis and Sobers hitting unbeaten centuries as West Indies set India a target of 295 to get. This being unreasonable in the time available, India preferred to get some batting practice with both Mankad and Gavaskar helping themselves to half-centuries. Test drawn – India still one-up with two to go.

Fourth Test, Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados
India had just suffered their first defeat of the tour – to a strong Barbados side, containing players like Sobers, David Holford, Vanburn Holder and Keith Boyce. It was not good for their confidence, within hardly a day of this defeat, to be playing a hungry West Indian side, now very keen to get back on level terms. For this Test, the West Indians made many changes to their side, dropping Gibbs, Noreiga, Shillingford and Boyce. Instead they gave Test debuts to Trinidadian spinner Inshan Ali and, as this was Bridgetown, a raw fast bowler Uton Dowe. Besides, local fast bowlers, Vanburn Holder and John Shepherd got a chance to play in front of their home crowd. India made just one change – Jaisimha coming back in the side in place of Durani.

The West Indies batted like they meant business. Sobers blasted his way to an unbeaten 178, (that man) Davis, Kanhai and new man Lewis all chipped in and they had 501 on the board when Sobers declared. He must have thought it would be enough to force India to follow-on.

It very nearly was. The Indian top order crumbled. Mankad went for six. Unable to resist the temptation to hook, Gavaskar was caught by Holder off Dowe for just one. (In his memoirs, Gavaskar recalls this innings, saying he learnt his lesson from this one shot – he never again threw his wicket away trying to hook). Soon India was 70/6 and it was once again upto that pair – Sardesai and Solkar – to put on a marvelous rescue act – this time all of 186 runs – to see India out of the woods. They got their third century and half-century of the series respectively and , while in the analysis of this series, Gavaskar’s contribution will far outshine others, spare a thought for these two men who were as instrumental in securing India’s series win as probably Gavaskar. A fighting last wicket partnership of 61 between Sardesai and Bedi ensured that India avoided the follow-on and India finished on 347.

Having been forced to bat a second time, the West Indies must have looked for some quick runs but they had not reckoned with some fine bowling from, this time, Abid Ali who put the brakes on their ambitions and managed to restrict them to 180/6 declared. India were set a score of 335 in a little over a hundred overs.

At another ground, in another time and in another situation, India may well have attempted this target. But this was Bridgetown, Barbados - they were still not one-day cricket days – and India was not going to take any risks and let go its precious series lead. As it turned out, it lost Mankad cheaply and wickets continued to fall but Gavaskar had no intentions of repeating his first innings mistake. He would stay till the very end – and deny the West Indians, in the process getting another Test century. The lead was still intact – and there was just one more Test to go.

Fifth Test, Queen’s Park Oval, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
The Indians went into this Test knowing they had only to save it to win the series. They were back at the very ground in Port-of-Spain where they had just a few weeks ago pulled off a remarkable victory. But if they thought this would work in their favour, they had not reckoned with the resolve of their rival captain, Gary Sobers. This match would be as hard-fought as the previous one with no quarters given or taken.

The West Indians had recalled Noreiga, dropping Inshan Ali who had had a largely uneventful game in Barbados. They had also brought in David Holford (famous cousin of Sobers and famous for their stand against England in 1966) in place of Roy Fredericks.
For India, Prasanna was back in the side for Ashok Mankad. Abid Alid would open with Gavaskar.

India batted first and lost Abid Ali early to Sobers. But Gavaskar was “in a zone” by this stage of the series. He, together with Sardesai (who at this late stage in his career suddenly seemed to have finally answered his many critics), shored the Indian innings and , thanks to a useful half-century from Venkataraghavan, India managed a score of 360.

In itself, not a bad score. But the way the West Indians went about their batting, it began looking very inadequate. First Lewis (for a wicketkeeper he was amazingly prolific) got 70-odd, then (that man) Charlie Davis decided to have one last go at the Indians with his first hundred of the series and captain Sobers hit what was becoming rather routine – another century. Maurice Foster was very unlucky to be bowled by Abid Ali for 99 (many West Indians in the stands are reported to have lost their bets on this one) and West Indies managed an imposing 526 – a lead of 166.

It was the afternoon on the fourth day now but when Abid Ali fell cheaply to Sobers yet again, India could not have been very comfortable. Having come so far and with just another day and a half to go, this would be a really cruel anti-climax, were India to give it all away now.

But that little master Gavaskar was going to have none of it. This time he even surpassed himself – playing serenely and taking on everything that Sobers, Dowe, Shepherd and Noreiga could throw at him. By the time he was out, with the Indian score on 377, his own share a magnificent 220, he had seen India to relative safety. India finally managed to get 427, thus setting West Indies a target of 262 to win.

Any ambitions the West Indians would have had of chasing this were quickly snuffed by Abid Ali, especially when he bowled Kanhai and Sobers off successive deliveries – the latter to an absolute snorter. A middle-order collapse from the West Indians ensured that in the end they were fighting for survival and had lost all appetite for the chase. Most importantly, India had managed to hang on to that precious lead and on the 19th of April, 1971 India completed its first ever overseas series win.

Ajit Wadekar and his men returned home, heroes. Deservedly so. It was a proud moment for Indian cricket. It had taken all of 39 years for this to happen.

I was just 7 or 8 years old then. Too young to really understand what was going on. In later years I would be much more part of the Gavaskar juggernaut. But maybe it was this series that not only started off Gavaskar on his route to fame but started me off too on my love for the game. I wonder !

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