Noreiga will be remembered for his feat

THE passing of Jack Noreiga, in his native Trinidad on August 8, aged 67, inevitably stirred memories of a Test match that reserved a special place in the game's history for both himself and for Indian cricket.


THE passing of Jack Noreiga, in his native Trinidad on August 8, aged 67, inevitably stirred memories of a Test match that reserved a special place in the game's history for both himself and for Indian cricket.

In the second Test at the Queen's Park Oval in Port-of-Spain in 1971 — and his second in a fleeting career that began and ended in the same series — Noreiga's nine for 95 made him the first West Indian to claim nine wickets in a Test innings, a unique record he carried with him to his grave. Only Colin Croft and Michael Holding, each with eight, have ever threatened it. Yet it was not enough to deny India a signal victory by seven wickets, their first over the West Indies after 16 previous Tests and three series.

Noreiga, an unassuming civil servant, was going on 35 and carrying the first signs of middle-age spread when he was recalled for Trinidad and Tobago for the 1971 regional Shell Shield tournament, nine years after his only previous match against Nari Contractor's Indian touring team of 1962.

Within a month, he was chosen for the first Test and, by the first innings of the second, his flighted off-spin on a typically helpful pitch earned him nine wickets in a row after opener Ashok Mankad had fallen to Grayson Shillingford.

A few fortunate factors aided Noreiga's rise from anonymity to overnight and permanent fame.

The West Indies bowling lacked the penetration that was its hallmark when they were irresistible in the mid-1960s. Suitable for replacements for their lethal fast bowling pair, Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, were still several years away and Lance Gibbs' off-spin that made him the first West Indian to take 300 Tests wickets was in temporary decline.

In the circumstances, Noreiga was one of 12 bowlers used in a series that revealed a confident and united Indian team under Ajit Wadekar and announced the arrival of a new star, the 21-year-old Sunil Gavaskar, who compiled 774 runs (average 154.8).

In his two Shield matches, preceding the Tests, both at favourable Queen's Park, Noreiga claimed 17 wickets. They included 11 that led Trinidad and Tobago to their first victory in 26 years over the perennially powerful Barbados, led by Garry Sobers who would also captain him in the Tests.

Noreiga subsequently rated his bowling in that match even above his nine in the Test. Sobers was a second innings victim but he took special pleasure in twice bowling Seymour Nurse, then nearing the end of his career but still a batsman of high quality. Noreiga made little impression in the first Test in Jamaica, his first match outside of Trinidad (one for 69 in India's one innings of a drawn match) but was a different proposition back home at Queen's Park where Trinidadian spinners have revelled on the slow, turning, unpredictable pitch.

West Indian woes were foreshadowed by the loss of the toss and the bustling Abid Ali's first ball. It was a shooter — a "rat" or "ground-eater" in West Indian jargon — that took the startled left-hander Roy Fredericks on the pad before rolling back onto the stumps.

In spite of an order that also included Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd and the solid Charlie Davis, the West Indies could only muster 214 with four wickets to Erapalli Prasanna and three of Bishen Bedi. It was an early ticket to defeat.

Mankad and Gavaskar (on Test debut) laid a solid foundation to the reply with an opening partnership of 68 before the lively Shillingford bowled Mankad. After that, every wicket was Noreiga's but they were not frequent enough nor cheap enough to prevent India building a lead of 138 in which Dilip Sardesai's 112 was the second of three centuries in the series.

As the players left the field at the end of the innings, Sobers suitably handed Noreiga the ball and thrust him forward to lead the West Indies off. As Noreiga recalled later, Shillingford, the only other wicket-taker and always one ready for a laugh, quickly moved to his side to accompany him off, saying "Ah, Jack, we wrecked 'em!"

The luck that seemed against them from the start once more deserted the West Indies entering the fourth day. Steady, but unpenetrative, outside of Queen's Park, Noreiga was dropped for the fourth Test in Barbados but when reinstated for the fifth and final match at Queen's Park, he took five for 129 in the second innings.

It was not enough to secure the win the West Indies needed to square the series as Gavaskar's 124 and 220 ensured a comfortable draw and the only series triumph India have managed in the Caribbean. Of his 17 Test wickets, at an average of 29 runs each, 15 were at Queen's Park.

By the following year, the Noreiga magic had worn thin. He lost his place in the Trinidad and Tobago team after three Shield matches, was not picked for the Tests against New Zealand and slipped back into club and zonal cricket in Trinidad.

He eventually turned to coaching and looking after a family of nine children, which he did with increasing difficulty but without complaint.

Sobers, who led Noreiga in his four Tests, remembered him as "a very useful bowler, especially at the Queen's Park Oval" but even more as "a jovial personality and real team man."

"Like most Trinidadians, he enlivened the dressing room with his humour," Sobers added.

It was a distinct attribute in that series.