Venkataraghavan recalls India's Port of Spain win 50 years on

“We backed ourselves. The self-belief was our greatest quality,” recalls S Venkataraghavan, who took five for 95 in the second innings of the Port of Spain Test which India won by seven wickets.

India’s seven-wicket victory was epic in many ways. It set up its first-ever series win against the West Indies.   -  THE HINDU

Those four days at Port of Spain in March 1971 gave Indian cricket moments to celebrate for all times, as we do today to mark the 50th anniversary of that incredible performance. It was the first victory on West Indian soil by a team which had Dilip Sardesai, EAS Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi, Salim Durani and Ajit Wadekar as the senior members – all having played more than 20 Tests – and the rest looking to build their careers.

India’s seven-wicket victory was epic in many ways. It set up its first-ever series win against the West Indies and gave the cricket world a batting colossus called Sunil Manohar Gavaskar. Among those who watched that Test from the dressing room were GR Viswanath, ML Jaisimha, K Jayantilal, Rusi Jeejeebhoy and D Govindraj.

For Durani, Sardesai, Jaisimha, Prasanna, it was the second tour to the West Indies since the ill-fated series in 1961-62 when skipper Nari Contractor was felled by a bouncer from Charlie Griffith. Unfortunately, Contractor never played Test cricket even though he continued to figure in first-class cricket for 10 more years.

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“We backed ourselves. The self-belief was our greatest quality,” S Venkataraghavan, who took five for 95 in the second innings, told Sportstar  over the phone from the United States. He had just one wicket in the first innings but a wicket to cherish – Garry Sobers. “I remember that dismissal. I bowled him around the legs,” Venkataraghavan remembered getting the scalp of a well-set Sobers.

India's tour of West Indies in 1971 gave the cricket world a batting colossus called Sunil Manohar Gavaskar.   -  GETTY IMAGES


As Venkataraghavan recalled, “It was a pretty young side we had. Very few had travelled to the West Indies and it was a huge challenge. The conditions were unknown and we did not even have a proper view of the opposition before we met them. We were yet to assess the strength of the West Indies team even though we had claimed the honours in the first Test. We had a terrific combination. The performance of Gavaskar, Sardesai, Solkar gave us guidance. I and Bedi had to shoulder the responsibility because Prasanna hurt his finger in trying to stop a straight drive.” 

The Test got off to a sensational start when Syed Abid Ali bowled the dangerous Roy Fredericks first ball. “The ball stayed low,” said Venkataraghavan. “It was just the start to galvanize the team.” The confidence had come from the previous Test at Kingston when India asked West Indies to follow-on.

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“The match had been reduced to four days and they were shocked when asked to follow-on. In fact, I told Ajit (Wadekar) that we could ask the opposition to follow on. I went up to inform one of the umpires (Douglas Sang Hue) while Sobers was sent the message that rattled them. Sobers was flabbergasted. Asking West Indies to follow on was unheard of, especially by a team which had lost 5-0 in 1961-62,” said Venkataraghavan.

There were some glorious moments from that significant Test at Port of Spain. Clive Lloyd bowled by Abid Ali in the first innings. Sardesai (112) and Eknath Solkar (55) adding 114 for the fifth wicket. “It was a decisive partnership. It gave us the belief that we could do it. We were brimming with confidence and thought we were capable of doing anything at any point in time.”

File Picture: S Venkataraghavan in action.   -  GETTY IMAGES


Solkar incidentally was playing his 10th Test and was to return to the venue in 1976 to be part of a great win with India chasing a target of 400-plus. It was Solkar’s only appearance on that tour which ended on a controversial note when West Indies hit the Indians with short-pitched bowling at the Sabina Park.

Venkataraghavan gave credit to Wadekar, who was captaining in only his second Test. “He gave us a free hand really. Each player’s role was well defined. The wicket of Fredericks was a grand start. A big boost. No two opinions about that wonderful start. Also, the wickets of Lloyd in both the innings because he was a kind of mini veteran in that series after having played four years of international cricket.”

Durani claiming the wickets of Sobers and Lloyd in the same over in the second innings was unbelievable. “Durani’s spell was the icing on the cake. What a fantastic over from a genius of a cricketer. Only he could have done that. But sadly he was not consistent. A lot of things worked for us in the second innings. Fredricks getting run out after a misunderstanding with Charlie Davis. Rohan Kanhai edging to me at slip off Bedi. I was happy to contribute with five wickets in that innings.”

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West Indies, 150 for one at the end of the third day, lost nine wickets for 111 runs when play resumed after a rest day, setting India a target of 124 runs.

File Picture: The wickets of Clive Lloyd in both the innings at Port of Spain were crucial to India's win "because he was a kind of mini veteran in that series after having played four years of international cricket," says S Venkataraghavan.   -  GETTY IMAGES

The reason for Venkataraghavan rating it as a special match was the strength of the West Indies batting line up. “To keep Kanhai and Sobers quiet needs a lot of taking. They were superhuman at the crease, fantastic batsmen who could transform a match on their own. That’s why I rate it as one of the greatest wins for India.”

Even as Venkataraghavan raved about Gavaskar’s monumental batting show, he gave credit to Sardesai and Solkar. “Sardesai gave us confidence. He was one of the stalwarts of Indian cricket. His stand with Solkar was the starting point for us. Of course, it was the collective showing that helped Indian cricket make history at Port of Spain.”

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Durani played only four Tests following the Port of Spain victory while P. Krishnamurthy, who kept wickets in all the five Tests, gave way to Farokh Engineer for the subsequent history-making tour to England. Syed Kirmani travelled as the second wicketkeeper.

Venkataraghavan also remembered that the Port of Spain triumph coincided with the General Elections results back home. “The elections kind of overshadowed our achievement but we were part of history. It was a mind-boggling victory because never would have anyone imagined that West Indies would lose at home. Personally, it was the hallmark of my career to be part of that team and I am sure I would have done better.” He did contribute big with six wickets from the match apart from that stellar catch to get rid of Kanhai.

As we celebrate the golden jubilee of one of the finest days of Indian cricket, we miss six members of that 15-member team – Sardesai, Wadekar, Solkar, Jaisimha, Ashok Mankad and Krishnamurthy.

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