1971, a year to remember

A dream spell. Chandrasekhar took six for 38 in the second innings at The Oval.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

After 39 years of one humiliating defeat after another, India had finally won a Test and the series on English soil, writes Gulu Ezekiel.

Indian cricket came of age in 1971. As it entered its fifth decade, there was still only one victory overseas, against New Zealand in 1968, and this had left a yawning gap in the team's record.

All that changed in one dramatic summer.

It all began in December 1970 with the removal of the Nawab of Pataudi as captain. He led the team for nearly a decade. Bombay's left-hand batsman Ajit Wadekar took over the captaincy.

Wadekar led the team to West Indies early in 1971 and the Indian team emerged triumphant.

A couple of months later, India was in England where it was beaten on the previous tour four years earlier.

Further, England under Ray Illingworth had regained the Ashes in Australia the previous winter and was considered the best side in the world. It had gone 26 Test matches without defeat and was on top of the cricket world.

Wadekar's team was an experienced one with more than half the squad having toured England before. Opening batsman Sunil Gavaskar had scored a record 774 runs in his debut series in the West Indies.

In its six previous visits India had not even got close to victory on English soil. Twice, there was the ignominy of a whitewash (5-0 in 1959 and 3-0 in 1967). Now it was left to Wadekar and his men to re-write cricket history.

With the weather intervening, the first Test at Lord's and the second at Old Trafford were drawn. The third and the final Test was scheduled at the Oval.

B. S. Chandrasekhar was part of the 1967 team to England but he had been out of the team for four years. This was due to injury as well as to some strange selection policies.

He would play a historic role at the Oval. Of course Bishan Bedi and S. Venkatraghavan too played their part.

Illingworth won the toss and England made 355 by the end of the first day. Bombay-born opener John Jameson hit 82 in only his second Test but it was once again wicket-keeper Alan Knott who was the scourge of the Indian bowlers top-scoring with 90. His century partnership with Richard Hutton (81) pulled England out of trouble, when the team was struggling at 175 for six.

The entire second day's play was washed out and it looked like rain would have the final say in the series.

The Indian batting struggled on the third day and ended at 234 for seven. There were useful scores from Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai, Eknath Solkar and wicket-keeper Farokh Engineer, who like his English counterpart, was the top scorer with 59. The next morning the tail added useful runs to extend the total to 284. India conceded a lead of 71 runs.

Then came the magic spell from Chandra on the fourth day. In fact, he had a `hand' in the inadvertent dismissal of Jameson when Brian Luckhurst drove the bowler hard down the pitch. The ball deflected off Chandra's hand and went on to hit the non-striker's stumps, with Jameson stranded outside his crease.

John Edrich was stunned as he was yorked by Chandra after facing just five balls. He was beaten more by the pace than by the spin.

The very next ball saw Keith Fletcher's dismissal on the stroke of lunch. He was brilliantly caught by Solkar at his famous short leg position. England was 24 for three and the alarm bells had started ringing.

From just wanting to hang on for a draw, suddenly the Indians sensed their chance of a victory. Wadekar admitted later that he felt India could win.

Solkar's greatest moment would come when he lunged forward and snapped up Knott (1) inches off the ground from Venkat's bowling.

England's tail had been the bane of the Indian bowlers right through the series but with half the side gone for 54, it crumbled under Chandra's onslaught.

The predominantly Indian fans in the stadium could scarcely believe their eyes — England was all out for 101, its lowest score since 1948 and Chandra had taken six for 38, the best figures by an Indian on English soil.

The victory target was 173, not a formidable one but not an easy task either.

Time was not the issue. There was still two and a quarter hours batting left on the fourth day and the full fifth day, weather permitting.

Caution was the watchword, especially with both openers Gavaskar and Ashok Mankad dismissed with 37 runs on the board.

Wadekar and Sardesai took the total to 76 at stumps on the fourth day and now the target was less than 100 runs.

The final day was an auspicious one being the Ganesh festival and all of India was praying for a miracle.

But there was setback on the final day when Wadekar was run out without adding to his overnight 45. The tension was mounting all round as G. R. Viswanath and Sardesai took the score close against the accurate but increasingly desperate English bowlers.

Sardesai (40) and Solkar fell within 10 runs of each other. Had the pendulum swung at 134 for five?

Engineer with typically bold strokes broke the shackles while Viswanath stuck around for nearly three hours for his 33.

Then with victory tantalizingly close, he perished in trying to hit the winning boundary and it was left to Abid Ali to complete the formalities with four wickets in hand.

After 39 years of one humiliating defeat after another, India had finally won a Test — and the series to boot — for the first time on English soil and Wadekar and his men had made 1971 a golden double.

THE SCORES Kennington Oval, August 19 to 24.

England 355 (J. A.Jameson 82, J. H. Edrich 41, A. P. E. Knott 90, R. A. Hutton 81, Solkar three for 28) and 101 (B. W. Luckhurst 33, Chandrasekhar six for 38) lost to India 284 (A. L. Wadekar 48, D. N. Sardesai 54, E. D Solkar 44, F. M. Engineer 59, S. Abid Ali 26, Illingworth five for 70) and 174 (A. L. Wadekar 45, D. N. Sardesai 40, G. R. Viswanath 33, F. M. Engineer 28, Underwood three for 72).