G. Viswanath: Chandra was devastating and tremendous

In the summer of 1971, leg-spinner B.S. Chandrasekhar's six for 38 set up India’s maiden Test match — and series — victory in England.

B.S. Chandrasekhar snaffles John Snow of his own bowling during the magical spell at the Oval that helped India register its maiden win on English soil.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

India travelled to England in the summer of 1971 on the back of a poor record in the country. It had never won a Test match there, and had lost 15 of 19.

Ajit Wadekar’s side, though, was a confident one, having earlier that year achieved a historic series victory in the West Indies. The first two Tests, at Lord’s and Old Trafford, were drawn. In the third Test at the Oval, the visitor was behind on first innings when B.S. Chandrasekhar produced a spell for the ages. The leg-spinner’s six for 38 set up India’s maiden Test match — and series — victory in England.

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“We felt on top of the world,” recalls G.R. Viswanath. “After winning in the West Indies, everyone thought that was the best chance for us to win in England. At the Oval, we won because of that magical spell by Chandra. Bowling them out for 101 in the second innings — I didn’t think it was possible.”

As India prepares for another Test series in England, Viswanath looks back on his own journey in 1971. Preparation, he says, was key. “We played eight tour games before the first Test and a few between the Tests (India played 19 first-class matches in all). That really helped us. We didn’t have any ODIs back then, so Tests were very important to us.”

It was a young Viswanath’s first tour of England — and only his third Test series. He did not enjoy the cold, and playing swing bowling, he admits, was not easy.

“The technique part of it — we managed that somehow. Of course you have to work on it. Nothing comes naturally. The conditions are totally different. Most of us were going there for the first time. These days they don’t play many county games before the Tests. They play ODIs and T20s, but that is no preparation for Test matches.”

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A cornerstone of India’s victory in 1971 was its spin attack: Chandrasekhar and S. Venkatraghavan finished with 13 wickets each, and Bishan Bedi 11.

“They were all world-class; they proved that spin can win matches in England too,” Viswanath says. “And of course, you will never get another match-winner like Chandra.”

While Chandrasekhar was running through England on the fourth day of the Oval Test, the beauty of his performance did not strike Viswanath immediately.

“When you’re there you don’t really think that much about it, because you’re so involved in the action,” he says. “You don’t see that spell as such. But afterwards, I watched it quite a few times. Even now they show it on TV. It’s one of the best spells of spin bowling I have seen in overseas conditions. The Oval wicket was dry and Chandra was devastating. He was tremendous.”

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