On This Day: Gavaskar's double ton takes India close in thrilling chase

Legendary former India opener Sunil Gavaskar entered record books and slammed a brilliant double century against England at The Oval in 1979.

SUNIL GAVASKAR

Sunil Gavaskar being congratulated by Indian supporters at The Oval after the legendary batsman notched his 20th Test century against England. (The Hindu Archives)   -  The Hindu Archives

Before the Oval Test began, Sunil Gavaskar was a thoughtful young man. The fact that a Test century had eluded him on the tour weighed heavily on his capable shoulders. The master batsman was also aware that if he broke the jinx he would bury Sir Len Hutton's record of 19 Test centuries, the best effort by an opener.

The Indian opener perhaps wished he had a crystal ball to have a glimpse of The Oval shape of things to come. The Indian captain Venkatragavan had other problems. He had to win the Test to level the series or he had to draw the Test to maintain respectability.

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Mike Brearley, the most successful England captain, had no such worries. And young Ian Botham just needed three runs to upstage Vinoo Mankad's fastest double (1,000 runs 100 wickets) in Test history. Yes, there were many thoughtful men among the 22. 

India recalled Yajurvindra Singh in place of the injured Amarnath and England, with an eye on the Australian tour, inducted opener Alan Butcher, wicket-keeper David Bairstow and all-rounder Peter Willey into the Test XI.

Gooch, Willey and Botham pushed England to a respectable total and then the England pacemen put the lid on India. At that stage, only two things were of consequence: one that happened and one that didn't happen. Botham swept Bedi to the fence and Mankad's record aside to post the fastest double in Test history.

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But Gavaskar fell 87 runs short of his ambition. Boycott's classic crawl and some fine batting from Willey and Bairstow helped Brearley to set what appeared to be a Himalayan task for India.

A victory target of 400-plus will daunt even the mightiest. But Brearley, the prudent man he is, was also aware that some of the same Indians had humiliated Lloyd's star West Indian side a few years ago by chasing and getting the target.

Thus the England captain set 438 as the target. Only one thing was possible, Brearley and many others surmised: A victory for England. But this crazy, crazy game has time and again proved many a Cassandra wrong and sent all logic into orbit.

Sunil Gavaskar, more than anybody else, wanted to have his pound of flesh, victory or no victory. And when this young man's blood is up, even the intrepid take cover.

What a chase

"Brown Bradman" is the sobriquet given to Gavaskar, and the incredible batsman rewrote the record books with his finest performance till date. First, he dominated a record first-wicket stand of 213 with Chetan Chauhan (80), taking complete responsibility for guiding India on the greatest fourth innings chase ever.

India, set a forbidding 438 to win the match in 445 minutes and 20 mandatory overs, made an unbelievable bid for victory. Gavaskar and Vengsarkar (52) put on a massive 153 for the second wicket in even time before the latter fell.

Gavaskar himself succumbed during the mandatory overs after an innings of 221 which included twenty one 4's and occupied 489 minutes.

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England will remember this performance by India for a long time to come. It was Gavaskar's day at The Oval and there could have been no better display of the art and science of batsmanship. If there can ever be absolute perfection in batting then this was it. Not a mistake, as he exhibited immense self-control and steely resolution in a situation where only the really great can survive.

When India began the final 20 overs of the Test it needed 110 with nine wickets on hand which was a rate of 5.5 runs an over. Gavaskar fell to a tired stroke. Viswanath after promising to finish what his brother-in-law started holed out at cover.

Ian Botham

Ian Botham receives the Man of the Series award from Alec Bedser at the end of the fourth Test against India at The Oval in 1979. (The Hindu Archives)   -  The Hindu Archives

 

Yashpal and Yajurvindra Singh got doubtful leg before the wicket decisions, while Venkatraghavan, given run out, thought that he was in. The excitement was electric but India finished up wanting 15 in the last over and was left with nine to get with one ball to go.

It was not bowled and so the Test was drawn with England winning the series by the triumph at Edgbaston. England's attack looked absolutely helpless on the last day, the slowness of the pitch having drawn its teeth.

Again, there was the major handicap of losing Hendrick who seemed to be having some sort of trouble with his shoulder. And Hendrick is the bowler the Indian batsmen have found troublesome throughout the series.

Gavaskar scales new heights

The Oval effort was Gavaskar's 20th Test century and enabled him to humble the record of 19 centuries of England opener Len Hutton. Only five other batsmen, Australian Sir Donald Bradman (29), West Indian Sir Garfield Sobers (26), Englishmen Colin Cowdrey and Wally Hammond (22 each) and Neil Harvey of Australia (21) have scored more centuries.

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Gavaskar also achieved another distinction, that of scoring the highest number of runs by any Indian against England breaking the record of 203 runs by former India skipper Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.

This is also the highest score by any Indian on the English soil surpassing Vinoo Mankad's 184 in the historic Lord's Test in 1952 which has come to be known as a Mankad versus England match.

Gavaskar's fine knock also won him 'The Man of the Match award.' He received the award from former England batsman John Edrich. However, 'The Man of the Series' award went to English all-rounder Ian Botham.

(This article was first published in Sportstar's edition of September 8, 1979)

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