PARTAB RAMCHAND | 30 AUGUST, 2018
Down Memory Lane
When it was first achieved 42 years ago it was hailed as the greatest triumph in Indian cricket. And despite the number of notable victories notched up by Indian teams since then – particularly in the new millennium – the win over the West Indies at Port of Spain in April 1976 has not lost any of its lustre. It still takes its place right up there with the most remarkable victories in Test cricket.
Coming into the third game of the series India were one down having lost the first Test at Bridgetown in three days by an innings while the second Test at Port of Spain was drawn with India very much on top. The third Test was scheduled to be played at Georgetown, Guyana but persistent rain meant a shift back to Port of Spain. This in a way was heartening news for the visitors as the Queen’s Park Oval had proved to be a lucky ground.
Not only had the West Indies just about managed to avert defeat in the previous game on the previous tour in 1971 the Indians had scored a historic maiden victory over the West Indies in the second Test at the same ground and then had clinched the series with a draw in the final Test at the same venue.
All the same midway through the match it appeared that the West Indies would coast to victory and take a winning 2-0 lead in the four Test series. They led off by getting 359 with Vivian Richards then in the form of his life top scoring with 177. Skipper Bishen Bedi (4) and BS Chandrasekhar (6) shared the wickets. When the Indians batted Michael Holding proved to be quite unplayable and the visitors slid gradually to 228 all out.
Holding finished with six for 65 while only Madanlal (42) and GR Viswanath (41) offered some defiance. India’s chances of squaring the series had evaporated and well known writer and broadcaster Tony Cozier wrote ``the likelihood of India winning and leveling the series remote as it was at the start of play is now virtually extinct.’’ It was a view shared by everyone.
West Indies were in the enviable position of calling the shots and they proceeded to consolidate by getting 271 for six before Clive Lloyd declared midway through the fourth day. Alvin Kallicharran top scored with an unbeaten 103 as India were now set a victory target of 403 in about nine hours. Cozier again summed up the situation admirably observing ``India will do well to save the game and can only win through some cricketing miracle.’’
It was a preposterous target. Only once before in the history of Test cricket at the time comprising nearly 800 matches had a team reached a target of 400 plus to win a Test – Don Bradman’s ``Invincibles’’ against England at Leeds in 1948. Set a target of 404 in 345 minutes Australia were home with seven wickets and 15 minutes to spare. It seemed far-fetched to think that this Indian side could emulate that all conquering squad. For one thing history was against them. They had to accomplish a task that had been done only once in 99 years of Test cricket.
Secondly they had a makeshift opener in Anshuman Gaekwad and a makeshift No 3 in Mohinder Amarnath both having just been elevated to the position thanks to batting failures on the twin tour (the Indians had gone to New Zealand before making the trip to the Caribbean). Of course Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath were around as also Brijesh Patel a stroke player in form. All the same the target constituted Mission Impossible in the face of an attack spearheaded by Holding.
It was generally perceived that the Indians would lose three or four wickets by stumps on the fourth day with the mopping-up operations to be carried out on the final day. And yet by close of play on the penultimate day India were 134 for one. Gavaskar and Gaekwad had put on 69 runs and then Gavaskar and Amarnath came in unbeaten at stumps having made 86 and 14 respectively.
The first hopeful signs of a major upset surfaced in the hearts of Indian cricket fans and Cozier too saw that ray of hope when he ended his day’s dispatch by saying ``we could witness history in the making.’’
And so the final day’s play commenced with India needing 269 runs more with nine wickets in hand. There was still a lot of work to be done and West Indies were still the favourites for despite the excellent start the target was still a long way off. It was going to be a long, hard road to traverse for the Indians.
So much would depend on Gavaskar but the opening batsman shortly after getting his hundred was out for 102. With the score 177 for two Viswanath joined Amarnath and now the fight back had to start all over again. And it was this third wicket partnership that swung the match irrevocably India’s way. Amarnath was defiance personified while Viswanath charmed the ball away from the fielders.
The West Indian bowling was clueless as the duo with their contrasting methods brought India closer to the target. Cozier paid the greatest tribute to the Indians’ strategy when he said ``India planned their tactics with the perfection of a cricketing Lester Piggott.’’ The third wicket partnership added 159 runs before Viswanath was run out for 112. India at 336 for three now needed 67 more runs in roughly 22 overs as there was a little over an hour left.
Surely they could not falter now – and they didn’t. Patel joined Amarnath and he hurried India towards the target with a flurry of boundaries. But Amarnath who had played a pivotal role in the unbelievable chase unfortunately couldn’t be there till the end. With just eleven required he was run out for 85 for which he batted for 442 minutes showing great skill, rugged determination and intense concentration.
Shortly afterwards it was all over with Patel making the victory hit – a superb cut off Imtiaz Ali that went skimming to the boundary. That stroke came in the 13th of the 20 mandatory overs and India were home with six wickets and seven overs to spare. ``The greatest victory in Indian cricket’’ and ``Indian cricket’s finest hour’’ was the general chorus and few disagreed. And with a score of 406 for four India set a world record for a team chasing a target successfully which stood till 2003 when West Indies scored 418 for seven in defeating Australia.