A 'series of sixes'

RAJU BHARATAN

THE essential difference between Sachin and Vivian is that the one never did let his stature as the world's best batsman cramp his style. While the same rating 'gets to' Ten even in his 101st Test. The first ever Test at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium (late in January 1975) was, as the series decider, a six-day one. The launch of that Wankhede humdinger saw Clive Lloyd's West Indies and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi's India deadlocked 2-2. Some series was that 1974-75 one vs the West Indies! It saw no fewer than 39 sixes hit. As many as 32 of them by the West Indies clubbers with the biceps of a boxer. Making you marvel at how Tiger Pataudi's India at all managed to square the series 2-2 by the fourth Test finish-point at Chepauk. But that was the supreme calibre of our spin quartet - bagging 51 of the 68 wickets that fell to our bowlers in the five-Test series. Yet finally run amok did Clive Lloyd (242 off 288 balls: 4 sixes, 19 fours) plus 37 off 17 balls - 2 sixes, 3 fours) in the fifth Test of the series at the Wankhede Stadium.

Run amok here did Clive in the same vein in which we had viewed Lloyd lord it during the second stanza of the first Test at Bangalore's KSCA Stadium (163 off 140 balls: 2 sixes, 22 fours). Face to face with the Ace of Spades (in Clive Lloyd) was Tiger Pataudi's India. The standing ovation the West Indies captain received from the awestruck Wankhede crowd, as the series neared its end, was a measure of the way Clive Lloyd had dominated the Tests with a clutch of 9 sixes struck with savage splendour. As the West Indies ran up a total of 309 for 3 on the first day to create the springboard for the visitors to declare at 604 for 6, you just could not believe that Clive Lloyd (242 not out) had submitted a written protest against the wicket prepared by the Bombay Cricket Association for its maiden Test at the Wankhede Stadium. A Test ultimately turning out to be the 3-2 series clincher for the Caribbeans. Polly Umrigar, predicting the Wankhede wicket to be one laden with runs, let it be known, in colourful Parsi Gujarati, that we should be telling the Caribbeans where they got off even as the Lloyd protest came to be lodged.

As the same Lloyd came away with that hurricane 37 in his second-innings Wankhede assault (the rubber virtually in his bat-hold), Clive was viewed to be misty behind his specs. Having all but won his very first Test series as the West Indies captain by then, Lloyd no longer had any ground for protest. For the sporting Wankhede crowd (in the teeth of riots just before tea on the second day) had cordoned off the pitch area for Clive Lloyd (201 not out in a total of 528 for 5) to return to centrepitch and further hit Tiger Pataudi's India where it hurt most (242, bat in hand, in 604 for 6 decl). Tiger Pataudi (9 & 9) batting at No. 9 - after having spurred India to match-winning spinning efforts in the Eden and Chepauk Tests undeterred by his own total loss of touch with the bat - thus finally met his 3-2 Wankhede match in Clive Lloyd. Tiger's second innings 9 here came at No. 7. The way Pat 'walked' even as Lance Gibbs appealed for lbw, I for one knew that we had seen the last of India's most elegantly unassuming captain of all time. The princely arts and graces Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi brought to the game, I discerned, would not let him linger, even for a moment, at a point in his career when he stood exposed against the pace of Andy Roberts on paceless Indian pitches.

Characteristically, there was no announcement, no fanfare, about Tiger's calling it a Test day. "Why make a noise about it once you know you are no longer good enough?" was Tiger's laconic rejoinder to my later query about his having quit near anonymously. Quit after the then Cricket Board President, P.M. Rungta, had brought Hyderabad's Tiger Pataudi back as India's captain by sending Mumbai's Ajit Wadekar packing from cricket itself! That Ajit still managed to persuade Clive Lloyd's West Indies to play two one-day matches for his 'benefit' at the same Wankhede Stadium (after that fifth Test) is a pointer to how glowingly the entire Caribbean viewed Wadekar's Test achievement in the Isles. For it was Ajit Wadekar - via the bountiful blades of Dilip Sardesai (642 runs from 8 innings in 5 Tests, ave. 80.25) and Sunil Gavaskar (774 runs from 8 innings in 4 Tests, ave. 154.80) who had held Port of Spain firm to seal, 1-0, India's first-ever Test rubber abroad against one of the Big Three in the game - Gary Sobers' West Indies.

Ajit Wadekar accomplished the feat notwithstanding his scoring but 151 runs from 7 innings in those 5 Tests. Maybe Tiger Pataudi's 1974-75 aggregate of 94 from 7 innings in 4 Tests vs Clive Lloyd's West Indies was on a 1971 Wadekar par. Only Ajit won that early-1971 Test series vs the West Indies abroad, while Tiger could hold on only till the Wankhede Stadium Test - before saying downcast die. No allowance made by the ruthless Indian audience here for Tiger's having raised India's team performance well beyond its known potential in the key Eden and Kotla Tests. Two Tests seeing Lloyd's West Indies beaten, against all odds, by 85 runs in the one, 100 runs in the other. Indeed, in the Eden Gardens Test, Lloyd's West Indies looked overwhelmed by the mere spectacle of our spin, once she was left with 310 runs to hit to win.

In the realm of batsmanship, G. R. Visvanath had been India's one-man task force in queering the Eden pitch, for the West Indies, with vintage knocks of 52 & 139. Did Visvanath's lustre dim in any way as Sunil Gavaskar returned for the Wankhede Test to hit a peerless 86? Peerless that Sunny 86 remained only until Visvanath came on the Wankhede scene to strike 95 even as Eknath Solkar (102) struggled, in the final lap of his knock, to raise his first and last Test ton. Ekky had been in fine touch while racing to 76 not out by close on the third day; Sunny had timed his shots even better than Solkar during his 86; yet Visvanath was all eye, wrist and foot in sculpting 95 of the best.

If the Wankhede crowd still rooted for Sunny's 86, it was not because it loved Visvanath less, only because it loved Gavaskar more. Ekky it viewed as the supercatch rather than the superbat for all the artistry Solkar brought to that 102. Ekky's 8 catches in the series (only one of them now at the Wankhede to get rid of the free-stroking Roy Fredericks for 104) was what had made Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and B. S. Chandrasekhar look spinning ogres in the crucial fourth Test at Chepauk. Yet it was S. Venkatraghavan ((30-8-75-4) who had come through as menacing from the first Test itself at Bangalore as he joined Chandra (28-5-112-4) in bowling out the West Indies for 289. This after Clive Lloyd & Co had finished at 212 for 2 on the rain-shortened first day. During a break, as the AIR Expert in that Bangalore Test, I fell to debating with guest commentator Tony Cozier how he compared Erapalli Prasanna (22.2-4-46-1), as a world-class off-spinner, with Lance Gibbs (15-4-39-1). "Prasanna is the absolute artist!" Tony as commentator announced to the world at large, observing how precisely Lance Gibbs suffered in comparison. It had certainly needed all the art and craft of Alvin Kallicharran (124) to counter the Bangalore wiles of Prasanna, before finally yielding his wicket to that parabolic off-spinner - caught by the omnipresent Farokh Engineer behind the sticks.

Yet Venkat had been the more penetrating off-spinner in that Bangalore Test. In fact, Venkat and Engineer were to vie for the Indian captaincy in the second Test at Kotla - after Tiger Pataudi had sustained a finger injury in the Bangalore Test. Delhi's head cricket honcho, Ram Prakash Mehra, even publicly named Farokh Engineer as India's captain on the eve of that second Test. Only for our selectors to go into a hoary huddle, an hour before that Kotla Test began, to make over the Indian captaincy to S. Venkatraghavan. I mean the Kotla Test witnessing Bishan Singh Bedi back (53-13-146-1) - after having been stood down by martinet Board President P. M. Rungta at Bangalore. No less do I mean the Delhi Test in which Vivian Richards 'Kotlambasted' his way to 192 not out (with 6 sixes). To think that umpire Madhav Gothoskar (in his book,'The Burning Finger') admitted to the possibility of Viv's having been out when but 12 - caught by Engineer off who if not Venkat!

To accommodate Venkat (as caretaker captain), our selectors had banished Chandra from that Kotla Test. A Chandra who had Viv's head spinning as, on that Master Blaster's Test debut at Bangalore, this 'Freak Tweak' caught him in a couple of minds to fox him for 4 & 3. "The same Chandra would have been collared at the Kotla," argued Raj Singh Dungarpur on behalf of the selection committee. Maybe Chandra would have been so overcome, may be he would not have, seeing how the 'India Rubber Man' troubled Viv Richards when returning for a fresh stab at 'The Ma'an' in the third Test at Eden. Meanwhile, with Chandra away from the Kotla stage, Viv Richards came up with that blistering 192 not out. "In a year this Vivian lad is going to be a world-class bat," predicted Bishan Singh Bedi during a party at the end of the day.

Vivian Richards, in fact, went on to become the world's best in his time. It is for Sachin at the Wankhede Stadium now (in his 101st Test) to demonstrate that he really is the world's best still - in the eyes of Neena Gupta and Vivian Richards alike.