The Brabourne classic of 1949 and after

The book, which takes the readers on a time travel, is engaging.

Resilience, valour and skill... India’s V.V.S. Laxman (left) and Rahul Dravid walk back to the pavilion after their mammoth partnership (376) in the second Test against Australia in Calcutta on March 14, 2001. One of the greatest partnerships of all time, it paved the way for India’s come-from-behind victory in the match.   -  PTI

From Mumbai to Durban

India’s Greatest Tests

By S. Giridhar & V. J. Raghunath

(Published by Juggernaut Books; Price: Rs. 799)

The year was 2001. The Australians had smelt blood and were closing in for the kill. Blown away by a formidable attack in the first innings, the Indians were on the ropes in the second innings too. The host was staring at adversity, and an inevitable defeat. Then, against all odds, a timeless fightback arrived.

Magic was in the air as V. V. S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid, with resilience, valour and considerable skill, scripted one of the greatest partnerships of all time.

The venue was the iconic Eden Gardens. The attack that suffered at the hands of these two elegant Indians included the mighty Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. The all-conquering Steve Waugh’s men were kept wicket-less on Day Four, and then the irrepressible Harbhajan Singh bowled India to a sensational victory on the final day.

Test cricket is the real thing. This fact is driven home forcefully in From Mumbai to Durban, which picks 28 greatest Tests India has figured in. The authors, S. Giridhar and V. J. Raghunath, have written the book in lucid style, travelling across eras with ease. The book possesses substance and style.

Giridhar and Raghunath, good cricketers in their time, with the latter making a name for himself in the competitive TNCA First Division League, have picked 28 classics to showcase India’s rise as a cricket nation, moving from the periphery to the centre stage.

The book comprises four chapters: Hope Takes Roots, A Heady Feeling, Everyone’s Game and The Rise to the Top.

In his foreword, accomplished cricket writer Gideon Haigh writes: “In putting this book together, the writers have also shown Test match temperament. It’s no trifling matter to put a book together of such detail and size, imbued with such passion and commitment.”

The book begins with the classic at the Brabourne Stadium between India and West Indies in 1949, where the host pursued an improbable 361 for victory. In a rousing chase, the Indians, powered by a fine 122 by Vijay Hazare and overcoming West Indian captain John Goddard’s negative tactics, were just six runs away from a famous win with two wickets remaining when umpires Mohoni and Joshi called off play with two minutes still left for the draw of stumps.

The authors say, “Apparently, they (the umpires in question) were overwhelmed by the unbearable tension of the climax, but it was an inexcusable error.”

The book concludes with the Test in Durban in 2010 (hence the name Mumbai to Durban) when India, with Laxman conjuring a pristine 96 and Harbhajan bowling a destructive spell to claim four for 10, defeated a strong South African side by 87 runs.

In between, there are a host of unforgettable Tests, personalities and performances.

There cannot be a more dramatic moment than when India captain Ajit Wadekar walked into the West Indies dressing room in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1971, and informed the legendary Garry Sobers, the West Indies captain, “Garry, we are enforcing the follow-on.”

The authors write: “Sobers was left speechless, even as the West Indians froze in their seats. There was consternation in the dressing room. Rohan Kanhai walked up to Wadekar and asked if he really meant it.” The Test was reduced to four days and follow-on could be enforced with a 150-run lead.

This vignette and India’s historic 1-0 triumph in the same series, encapsulated the team’s upward movement in the game. The batting heroics of a young Sunil Gavaskar and the more experienced Dilip Sardesai, apart from the exploits of the spinners, were major factors in India’s Caribbean conquest.

A few months later, B. S. Chandrasekhar, an unpredictable leg-spinner but a predictable match-winner, ran through the English line-up at The Oval in London to hand India a titanic away victory. In the same year, 1971, India, led capably by Wadekar, had defeated both West Indies and England away from home. India was now a major cricket power.

The book also documents Tiger Pataudi’s brave captaincy and that wristy genius Gundappa Viswanath’s penchant for winning matches. Indeed, Viswanath made 112, as India chased down 403 at Port of Spain in 1976 — the highest successful pursuit in Test cricket at that point. Clive Lloyd was shattered and that setback was the genesis of West Indies’ menacing four-pronged attack in the days to come.

India too moved to pace from complete dependence on spin and the emergence of Kapil Dev as the game-changing all-rounder gave the side more teeth and balance.

Kapil was quite the star when a star-studded Pakistan visited India in 1979. Following a dramatic draw in New Delhi, where a tireless Kapil scalped nine, India went on to notch up a remarkable series victory.

And then the heroic Kapil, with his hamstring strapped and taking pain-killers, bowled India to a sensational 59-run victory against Australia, taking five for 28 in Melbourne in 1981. India was defending only 143. It was the same Test in which Viswanath notched up an ethereal 114.

Several memorable Tests followed; the pulsating ‘tie’ in Madras in 1986, and that 1999 Test of great fortune swings where Sachin Tendulkar, battling shooting back pain, made a brilliant 136 on Day Five against a varied Pakistan attack at Chepauk, only to finish on the losing side as the visitor nailed it by seven runs. Later, Tendulkar shed tears in the dressing room.

In the modern era, Virender Sehwag, that fearless marauder, tore into the Pakistan attack in Multan in 2004 for the first triple-hundred in a Test by an Indian. Then, the lion-hearted Anil Kumble, with six for 72, bowled the Indians to a mammoth innings and 52-run win, India’s first on Pakistan soil.

The book, which takes the readers on a time travel, is engaging.