Of India's seven wins against the Windies

HARESH PANDYA

AS Indian and West Indian cricketers clash in the Caribbean for yet another series, it may be interesting to take a trip down memory lane and throw a cursory glance at our Test triumphs over these once giants of the willow game. Exactly 70 Tests have been played between these two countries so far, 37 in India and 33 in the West Indies. While the West Indies has won 28 among them, we have triumphed in only seven.

Considering the star-studded team at Sourav Ganguly's command and also the fact that the West Indians are no longer a force in world cricket they once were, this is India's best possible chance in many years to improve its record against them. Usually it is the spinners who have played a major role in India's wins over the West Indies save in Chennai in 1978-79 and in Mumbai in 1994-95. But then there too they lent a helping hand to the more effective medium-pacers Kapil Dev and Ghavri in Chennai and Srinath and Prabhakar in Mumbai and saw to it that no Indian victory was possible without some contribution from the slower bowlers.

Unlike bowlers, Indian batsmen have never struck collectively, except once, when it came to defeating the West Indies. Perhaps they did not have to. For in four of the seven wins Gundappa Visvanath, the most artistic of all Asian batsmen, was our hero. In three of these four triumphs he scored brilliant centuries and in the other he hit one of the greatest 90s. Wisden has recognised it by placing it among one the 50 outstanding Test innings ever seen in cricket. The fact is dripping with irony that though Gavaskar holds most of India's batting records against the West Indies, his contribution to the wins achieved against them during his playing days has not been that staggering, to say the least. It is in this regard that Visvanath has well and truly defeated his brother-in-law.

It all began with the dawn of the glorious decade of 1970s in which so many things happened in the world of cricket. Nobody had perhaps expected that Wadekar, the new Indian captain thanks to the casting vote of the selection committee chairman Vijay Merchant, and his boys would create history when they landed on the stunningly beautiful Caribbean islands to take on the powerful West Indies, led by Garfield Sobers, in 1970-71. But they did, at Port of Spain in Trinidad, and how!

It was the second Test of the series, the first having ended in a draw with rain allowing no play at all on the opening day. Batting first after winning the toss, the hosts made only 214 against an attack comprising Abid Ali, Bedi, Prasanna and Venkat. Fredericks was bowled neck and crop by Abid Ali off the very first ball of the Test. It was a short-of-length delivery that kept very low. The southpaw decided to play on the backfoot but the ball struck him on the pads and crashed into his stumps. India could not have hoped for a more auspicious start. Later on Abid Ali bowled Lloyd, too, for seven. While Prasanna removed danger man Kanhai for 37, Venkat took the all-important wicket of Sobers for 29.

The tail failed to offer any resistance. Only Charlie Davis, who seemed to read the spinners fairly well, made an useful 71. Abid Ali finished with two for 54, Bedi three for 46, Prasanna four for 54 and Venkat one for 35. Solkar, who opened the bowling with Abid Ali, did not take any wicket in his three overs. But as usual he fielded spectacularly close to the wicket and held three catches. Visvanath, still nursing his injury, could not play in this Test. But another little man was making his debut after missing the opening Test in Jamaica. He was, of course, Gavaskar. Sardesai had already struck a purple patch, having made runs galore in tour matches and a superb 212 in the first Test in adversity. Continuing his good form, Sardesai scored 112. His other Mumbai colleagues also chipped in with useful contributions. Gavaskar (65), Mankad (44) and Solkar (55) all batted sensibly. Only Wadekar failed to contribute anything as he was bowled for a blob by spinner Jack Noreiga. India totalled 352 and enjoyed a crucial 138-run first innings lead.

Sensing a possible victory, Indians bowled with vigour and enthusiasm. Wadekar used Abid Ali and Solkar to take the shine of the ball. In no time he threw it in the trusted hands of his spinners who seemed to bowl to the letter. The first innings failure Fredericks batted enchantingly and scored a priceless 80 before being run out. Davis again proved dangerous and remained unconquered on 74 coming in at one drop in his side's total of 261. Durrani, bowled like a man possessed in the second innings and dealt two vital blows and broke the back of the Caribbeans. He accounted for Lloyd (15) and Sobers, of all people, for no score. Bedi, too, took two wickets. While Prasanna went wicketless, Venkat had five for 95. Solkar held two more catches and enhanced his reputation as a fine close-in fielder. With Gavaskar scoring an unbeaten 67, India made the required runs to win by losing only three wickets. Since India had never defeated the West Indies in a Test, the win was hailed as historic and a harbinger of the golden phase in Indian cricket. India continued to play as a better side and eventually won the series 1-0.

Lloyd came to India with a strong army in 1974-75, Besides Lloyd, there were Gibbs, Roberts, Julien, Boyce, Kallicharran, Fredericks, Rowe and Richards, among others. Luckily for India and unfortunately for the visitors, Rowe had to return home before the start of the five-Test series due to a serious eye problem. But so formidable was Lloyd's batting line-up that Rowe's absence was hardly going to make any difference to the side's fortunes; or so it seemed.

The Indian team, on the other hand, was in a turmoil. Wadekar had called it a day after the 0-3 drubbing at the hands of Englishmen in the summer of 1974. The team-spirit he had created and sustained for about four years had broken all of a sudden. Bedi, a key member of the side, was said to be not on good terms with Wadekar in England. In such circumstances India not only recalled Pataudi but also asked him to lead the side. But he could not do anything to begin with as Lloyd and company gave the hosts a thrashing by 267 runs in the first Test at Bangalore. Bedi was omitted from the side on disciplinary grounds. In the second Test at Delhi not only Pataudi was not available owing to injury but his deputy Gavaskar was also ruled out for the same reason.

After a lot of drama and suspense till the first morning as to who would lead the country, Venkat was pitchforked as captain at the 11th hour. In reply to India's 220 (P. Sharma 54, Sudhir Naik 48, Visvanath 32), the visitors made 493 with Richards going berserk, making the most of India's sloppy fielding to score a majestic 192 not out. India managed only 256 in the second essay (Engineer 75, Sharma 49, Visvanath 39) and lost by an innings and 17 runs. The all-important third Test, from India's point of view, was in Kolkata. Pataudi was back, but not Gavaskar, to take over from Venkat who, strangely enough, was relegated to the rank of 12th man at Eden Gardens. Aunshuman Gaekwad and Ghavri made their Test debut here while Madan Lal was recalled. The hosts batted first and made 233 with Visvanath playing a technically sound innings of 52 and delighting the Bengalis with his artistry despite Roberts taking five for 50 with his menacing fast bowling.

The visitors were expected to reply with a mammoth total. Instead, they were made to struggle like never before for every run by Madan Lal (four for 22) and Bedi (two for 68). So much that they could take only a seven-run lead. But for Fredericks' remarkable 100, they would have been in deeper trouble. India fared better in the second innings which revolved round Visvanath's masterly 139, an innings that did not surprise Lloyd who had anticipated such a knock from the master craftsman after his sweet innings in the first two Tests. Visvanath was ably supported by Ghavri who played like a seasoned campaigner and contributed 27 vital runs. Engineer scored 61 in his typical swashbuckling style. The match was interestingly poised. The depth in the Caribbean batting line-up was such that the target was not beyond the visitors' reach although it was not going to be that easy considering the reputation of the Indian spinners and the fact that the visitors had to bat in the fourth innings on a wearing wicket.

And it proved just so. Bedi (four for 52), Chandrasekhar (three for 66) and Prasanna (who did not take any wicket but gave away only 42 runs in his 25 overs, never allowing batsmen undue liberty) bowled India to a handsome victory by 85 runs. Though Kallicharran and Richards chipped in with 57 and 47, their contributions were not substantial enough to save their team. Visvanath was declared man of the match. He was India's highest scorer in both innings in this low-scoring Test. But more from his vintage blade was still in the offing. With a win under their belt and their main batsman in cracking form, India's confidence was soaring on the eve of the fourth Test in Chennai.

The fact that Chepauk was a turning track had shown a glimmer of hope to the Indian spinners of doing something sensational and enabling the team to come from behind in the series. The West Indians weakness against top-class spin bowling was thoroughly exposed at Eden Gardens and there was no reason why India's world-class spinners should not pose problems to them at Chepauk either. As luck would have it, India won the toss. It meant India would bat first and avoid batting on such a wicket in the fourth innings, especially when the visitors boasted of an experienced off-spinner like Gibbs. But India's dream of making the most of winning the toss was shattered in a jiffy when Roberts began firing on all cylinders. He was not bowling; he was bombarding as the Indian batsmen found his pace too hot to handle and began their all too customary procession from the pavilion to the pitch to the pavilion again.

It was fast bowling at its best with line, length, speed, movement and everything perfectly there. But one little Indian stood tall amid the ruins. He was Visvanath. He had the courage and the technique to stand manfully against Roberts, the juggernaut. Not only he stood like a rock but also made a wonderful counter attack and let loose an array of intoxicatingly exquisite shots, including square-cuts, late-cuts, square-drives and full-blooded hooks too. There was no way Roberts or any other bowler could get at Visvanath batting in such vein. So Lloyd decided to zero in on the other end! And he did succeed quite well. India would not have totalled 190 it eventually did but for Visvanath's unbeaten 97. Mankad was the next highest scorer with 19. Roberts finished with seven for 64 and Julien two for 12. Despite the batsmen's failure to give them a good score, the bowlers, particularly Prasanna and Bedi, did not lose heart.

Bowling with intelligence and imagination, the two sent the West Indians packing for a paltry 192. Prasanna finished with five for 70 and Bedi three for 40. It was a spirited display with Indian close-in fielders co-operating splendidly. Only Richards and Lloyd could face the duo with some confidence and made 50 and 39 respectively. Gaekwad played a gutsy knock of 80 in India's second innings with Visvanath contributing 46 and Ghavri 35 not out.

Although India's total of 256, with a two-run lead for the visitors, was not all that imposing, it was going to be a fighting one, what with the frightening looks the Chepauk wicket and the Indian spinners were sporting. In all, they needed 255 runs to win the Test and with it the rubber as well. In spite of Kallicharran's stubborn resistance, the visitors were bowled out for 154. The left-hander made a polished 51 before being run out but none of his colleagues appeared to have any clue to the guiles and variations of the Indian spinners who were literally tormenting the batsmen. Prasanna again bowled superbly and had four for 41, Bedi three for 29 and Chandrasekhar two for 51. India won the contest by exactly 100 runs and squared the series in style with one Test still to go. Needless to say, Visvanath was again adjudged man of the match.

The West Indies convincingly defeated India by 201 runs in the decisive Mumbai Test, the first to be staged at Wankhede Stadium, with Lloyd playing a captain's innings of 242 not out. He was well supported by Fredericks (104), Kallicharran (98) and wicketkeeper Deryck Murray (91). How the visitors had massacred the Indian bowlers could be seen from their first innings total of 604 for six declared. But India still managed to reply with a good score of 406 which was possible thanks to some great batting by Solkar (102), Visvanath (95), Gavaskar (86) and Gaekwad (51). Gibbs finished with seven for 98. The visitors declared their second innings at 205 for three and then bowled India out for 202 (Brijesh Patel 73 not out, Gaekwad 42) with Visvanath and Gavaskar scoring only 17 and 8 respectively. It was fast bowler Vanburn Holder's turn now to rock the Indian innings by taking six for 39.

The fourth win came again at Port of Spain in 1976. Lloyd challenged the Indian team, led by Bedi, to try and win the Test by scoring 400-plus runs in the fourth innings against an attack spearheaded by Holding. But the Indians took the gauntlet and romped home with time and wickets to spare thanks to Visvanath (112), Gavaskar (102), Mohinder Amarnath (85) and Patel (49 not out) who all batted with grit, guts and gumption. India thus became only the second side after Don Bradman's all-conquering Aussies of 1948-49 to win a Test by scoring more than 400 runs in the fourth innings. Despite Richards' quicksilver 177 in the hosts first innings, Visvanath was declared man of the match for his aggressive, superlative innings in course of which he tore into Holding bowling menacingly with the second new ball which Lloyd had taken as a last hope.

India next beat the calypso kings in Chennai in 1978-79. While the hosts were led by Gavaskar, the visitors were captained by Kallicharran. Though many leading stars of the West Indies were busy playing in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket down under then, Kallicharran's side had a string of world-class batsmen and speed merchants in its ranks. It was a six-Test series and it was only Chepauk which produced a result. It was a low-scoring Test played on a minefield of a wicket on which only Visvanath, Kallicharran and Gomes could bat with confidence and comfort.

Kallicharran seemed to have won half the battle when he won the toss and chose to bat first. The visitors made 228 and, considering the nature of the pitch, it was not a poor score by any count. Kallicharran played a classic innings of 98 even as Kapil Dev (four for 38) and Venkat (three for 60) made life miserable for other batsmen. India could reach a respectable total of 255 and gain a lead of 27 runs thanks to Visvanath who essayed one of his more memorable innings under trying circumstances. Sylvester Clarke and Norbert Phillip bowled threateningly on a wicket tailor-made for bowlers like them and took four wickets each. Gavaskar scored four and Vengsarkar zero. Rising to the occasion, Visvanath made an invaluable century (124). He demonstrated ideal technique, footwork and temperament to deal successfully with the short, rising deliveries of Clarke and Phillip.

In fact, as it turned out, it was the innings of the series. In spite of southpaw Gomes' 91, comparable to Kallicharran's 98 in the first innings, the West Indies could not go beyond 151 in the second essay. Kapil Dev, Ghavri and Venkat all bowled well and were rewarded with three wickets each. India required only 124 runs to win the Test. But it was a very difficult target on a wicket like this. With only 17 runs on the board, India lost Gavaskar for one, Chauhan for 10 and Vengsarkar again without scoring. But Visvanath (31), with good assistance from Gaekwad and Kapil Dev, ensured an Indian victory, even if by only three wickets. He was again chosen for the man of the match award. That Chepauk is India's happy hunting ground is a fact.

Many of India's triumphs, not only against the West Indies, have been registered there. Chepauk was again the venue when we beat the Caribbeans in 1987-88. It is best remembered as Hirwani's Test. Narendra Hirwani, the bespectacled leggie with mysterious looks befitting the nature of his bowling, devastated them by taking 16 wickets on a dusty bowl on his maiden appearance in the heavyweight division of cricket, a la Bob Massie who had achieved a similar feat at Lords in 1972-73. It was also Ravi Shastri's only Test as captain.

India won the toss and made 382 with Kapil Dev scoring a breezy 109 and Arun Lal a defiant 69. Then Hirwani took over. He made the calypso charmers hop and dance and left them singing altogether a different tune, taking eight for 61 as Richards' men could muster only 184. Richards and Richardson scored 68 and 36 respectively. Walsh and Patterson restricted the Indian second innings to 217 for eight (local hero Woorkeri Raman made 83) declared. The West Indies had to score 415 in the fourth innings to win the Test which was a tall order.

There was no question of a West Indian victory on such a wicket and against some of the better spinners of the world. But the visitors could not make even a fight of it. Hirwani flummoxed them again with figures of eight for 75. They tried to hit him regularly and paid the price as they were bowled out for 160 only. India won the Test by 255 runs and also levelled the four-match series 1-1, having lost the first Test in Delhi by five wickets. The last time India defeated the West Indies was in Mumbai in 1994-95.

Walsh was leading the visiting side in the absence of Richardson. His trump-card, Brian Lara, was at the height of his prowess, having come to India after his world-record innings, 375 against England and 501 not out against Durham. India was captained by Azharuddin. Batting first on a lively wicket, Indian batsmen were in all sorts of trouble against Walsh who finished with six for 79 followed by K. Benjamin who took three for 48. India could reach 272 mainly due to Nayan Mongia's valiant innings of 80 batting down the order.

Comeback man Manjrekar contributed 51 runs while Vinod Kambli flattered to deceive after scoring a sparkling 40 which was studded with eight arrogantly-struck fours. Tendulkar made 34 and Azharuddin failed to open his account. Indian spinners (Raju five for 60, Kumble three for 48) made up for batsmen's failure and made sure that the visitors were restricted to 243. Lara, who had a torrid time at the wicket, was bowled by Raju for 14.

Boosted by Tendulkar (85), Manjrekar (66), Srinath (60) and Kumble (42), the hosts scored 333 (Benjamin four for 82, Walsh two for 64) in their second innings and asked the West Indies to score 362 runs to win the Test. But they made only 262 (Junior Murray 85, Jimmy Adams 81) and India won by 96 runs. Prabhakar gave India a flying start when he consumed Simmons and Lara with just two runs on the board. Both batsmen failed to score runs. Prabhakar finished with two for 17, Srinath four for 48, and Raju three for 85.