‘From Mumbai to Durban’ authored by S. Giridhar S and VJ Raghunath (published by Juggernaut Books), captures India’s greatest Tests – won or lost – and narrows it down, somehow, to 28. Keeping in mind that the focus of the book is on Test history rather than cricket history, Melbourne 1981 looms larger in contention than Lord’s 1983 (World Cup win), Calcutta 2001 larger than Johannesburg 2007 (World T20 win).
The book’s preface successfully identifies what makes for a great Test match or even a great match – “For connoisseurs of the game, great matches are not merely those that their country won but those with drama, heroic moments, tight finishes, tremendous display of skill and acts of sportsmanship.”
The preface further explains the selection process as one where it is not about the margin of victory or one-sided wins but nail-biting draws, tied Test and games lost despite putting up a brave fight. “For any team, playing well overseas has a much greater value than feats in one’s own backyard, which is why we’ve selected 15 ‘away’ Tests. Beginning with the Bombay 1949 Test match against West Indies and culminating with Durban 2010 where they beat South Africa as India rose to become the No. 1 Test team in the world, these 28 Tests represent India’s finest cricketing moments and describe the ebb, flow and growth of Indian cricket,” it further clarifies the selection.
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With India taking on England at Edgbaston starting Wednesday, one of the highlight matches in the book is the 1971 Test match win – India’s first Test won in England – at the Oval – which ended with a series win and massive celebrations in India. Presenting the chapter titled “Magical, Marvellous Chandra” in full:
“The fifth day of the Oval Test, 24 August 1971, was a Tuesday but it was a holiday in India for Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival to celebrate the elephant-headed god. The match finished a little after lunch in England, so it would have been around 7 p.m. in India. Every cricket lover worth his salt was glued to the radio, listening to Brian Johnston, John Arlott and Trevor Bailey, that incomparable Test Match Special team bringing the ball-by-ball commentary from BBC. As Abid Ali cut the ball to the boundary for the winning runs, it was Johnston, his voice as fruity and sporting as ever, telling us that India had won. Everyone spent the next few hours in a trance. Younger Indians might recall a somewhat similar feeling when Kapil Dev’s team defeated West Indies at Lord’s on 25 June 1983 or when M.S. Dhoni’s men won at Wankhede on 2 April 2011 – the same ecstasy, goofiness, hugging strangers, distributing sweets, dinner forgotten…
The key to the victory at the Oval lay in the first Test at Lord’s. Just as India wrested the upper hand in the first match in West Indies to set the tempo for the series, Ajit Wadekar and his men took charge of Lord’s. India held all the cards till the final hour of play. Three things epitomized the spirit of this Indian side of 1971 at Lord’s. First, Wadekar showed his intent when he came to the crease as John Snow steamed in to bowl. The first ball from Snow to Wadekar was a bouncer. Wadekar hooked him, in front of square. He then proceeded to hit a most compelling 85, an emphatic way of saying the Indians would not take a backward step. Second, by taking 17 wickets between them, India’s spinners showed they had the fi repower to bowl out England in English conditions. Th e third and most stirring indication of this side’s feisty spirit was displayed on the fi nal day, when India had to get 183 to win but more than the threat of English bowling it was the threat of rains that worried them. So they changed their batting order and sent the cavalier Engineer up the order to attack, and by the time he was out, India had reached 87 for 3 and India had less than a hundred to get. Rain was imminent but the batsmen plugged on. And soon the Indians lost Viswanath and Sardesai, too. By the time the rains came, India had lost eight wickets and were 38 runs short of the target. In his post-match interview, Wadekar, with that new-found confidence – arising from the West Indies series win plus his own batting form – was absolutely blasé and said the Indians took risks because they were going for a win racing against the rains. He said all this in his characteristic mumbling drawl and the reporters had to really lean and stretch to catch what this man from Bombay was saying. When a team was playing like that, even that drawl sounded cool!
The Oval, home to Surrey, venue of this third Test, has always been kind to spinners. It was also the second half of the English summer. The Indians would have loved to bat first but Wadekar lost the toss and Ray Illingworth batted first. Geoff Boycott, their safest opener, was injured and not available. The man who replaced Boycott was John Jameson, a tall, well-built, aggressive opener. Jameson had an Indian connection – he was born in 1941 in Bombay, where his father was a police officer. Jameson was also England’s tactical response of throwing an aggressive opener to unsettle the Indians. India achieved an early breakthrough – as they had done in every England innings that summer – as Solkar dismissed Brian Luckhurst cheaply, caught in the slips by Gavaskar with just five runs on the board. But for the next couple of hours, England was on top, with Jameson proving it was a good move to bring him into the team. Brisk and fi rm drives featured his robust approach. It was not until John Edrich, who had been watchful and dour, and had got his runs square off the wicket, fell to Bedi after making 41 that a mini collapse was triggered. Keith Fletcher pottered around and was consumed by Bedi; Jameson, who was on 82, was run out; immediately thereafter, Chandra dismissed Basil D’Oliveira for just 2. From the comfort of 111 for 1, England had descended to 143 for 5. After a brief resistance, Chandra clean bowled the England captain and the score now read a sorry 175 for 6.
It was here that England again took charge. Alan Knott, the world’s best keeper during all his playing days, was also a very troublesome batsman, particularly for the Indian spinners. India prized his wicket the most throughout that tour. He had an unorthodox technique: he would play some outrageous shots and generally throw spinners off their stride. At the Oval, he was joined by a man with an illustrious lineage – Richard Hutton, son of Len Hutton. Richard had an unremarkable career and played only fi ve Tests, all of them in that summer of 1971. But he played his best innings that day against India. While Knott attacked vigorously, Hutton bided his time. When Solkar returned to claim Knott for 90, England had reached 278 for 7. Now, with just the tail for company, Hutton unfurled his attacking shots. Snow deserted him quickly but Derek Underwood hung around, which gave Hutton time to leap ahead and gallop past 50, 60 and 70. Finally, Venkat dismissed the two of them, but England had reached 355. Looking back today, it is interesting to note that India bowled 108.4 overs in a day.
After the second day was washed out without a ball being bowled, on the third day, India sent out Gavaskar and Ashok Mankad, who too came from a proud cricketing lineage, the son of Vinoo Mankad, the legendary all-rounder. Ashok failed in all three Tests that tour, but India stayed with him as they played an unchanged team in all three Tests. He was a canny captain for Bombay in the domestic circuit, an astute strategist. In England, he remained sunny despite repeated failures. His singing and funny announcements in the dressing room were more valuable than the runs he scored. Th at morning, India began badly. Mankad left early, Gavaskar followed soon after and India were a sorry 21 for 2. Snow was at the time the best fast bowler in the world, but John Price, his new-ball partner, was perhaps among the fastest. He came off a long diagonal run, a tall man with a high action, and he made the ball fl y off the pitch from a good length. He tested the Indians all through that summer. Once the two openers left, Wadekar and Sardesai, experienced and unflappable, weathered over 40 overs together. Th en, much like England, India lost wickets in a heap. Sardesai had just crossed 50 and Wadekar was nearing his half-century when Ray Illingworth, the skipper, got Sardesai, Viswanath and Wadekar in a cluster with his off spinners. India slumped to 125 for 5. Once again, just as England did, India’s lower order put up a fight. Engineer and Solkar got together for a 97-run partnership for the sixth wicket, with Engineer making 59 and Solkar compiling 44. At the end of day three, India were 234 for 7.
Just two days left, and not even two innings had been completed. On the fourth morning, after a rest day, Abid and Venkat fought back, adding 48 runs for the eighth wicket. Th e Indian innings ended at 284, conceding a lead of 71, but far less than what was feared when half the side had been dismissed for just 125. During this period in Indian cricket, Solkar and Abid were critical to the balance of the team. They were the archetypal utility cricketers whose contributions are buried under glorious exploits of the great batsmen and bowlers. Their figures are not outstanding, but in 1971–72, they regularly chipped in with bat and ball. In the eight Tests against West Indies and England in 1971, Solkar hit five fifties with a batting average of around 40 and took 12 wickets, while Abid Ali batted for an average of 26 and also took 16 wickets. They made sure India batted deep and had five bowlers at their disposal. To top it, Solkar at forward short-leg and Abid Ali at backward short-leg gave Indian spinners the best possible close-in catching support they could have asked for. Venkat, in a conversation with us on all-rounders, was emphatic that Kapil Dev’s and Ian Botham’s superior fielding and catching prowess must always be taken into account while comparing them with Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee, since one must be good in all three departments of the game to be called a great allrounder. In the same vein, Abid’s and Solkar’s catching expertise must also be seen as part of what they brought as all-rounders.
England began their second innings shortly before lunch. Jameson and Luckhurst negotiated three overs each from Abid and Solkar without fuss and the lead stretched to 94 runs. Till this point on the fourth day it seemed like normal service, but as they say, it was just the calm before the storm. The tsunami hit the Oval, in the form of a tall, thin, long-haired, full-sleeved magical destroyer, with a name worthy of South Indian spinners: Bhagwat Subramanya Chandrasekhar. With lunch a few overs away, Wadekar called upon Chandra to bowl from the Vauxhall end. Those who had seen him bowl would know that Chandra loitered around fi ne-leg or third man, a bit lost in reverie until the captain summoned him. His field was set with minimum fuss. He would urgently, insistently, spin the ball from right hand to left many times before a delivery. He had a straight run-up, bounding in about ten paces and would bowl a mix of legspinners, top spinners and googlies that fizzed off the pitch. Sometimes he would lose control and bowl a rash of long hops. When walking around, he often held his right hand at the wrist with his left hand. Chandra fielded on the boundary and would throw with his left hand. His right hand, affected by polio in his childhood, was only for bowling magical legspinners, googlies and top spinners. Suresh Menon wrote touchingly about Chandra: ‘We grew close after his playing days when I was starting out as a cricket writer and spent many evenings talking cricket either at a common friend’s house or his own. Sometimes I slept over, and my respect for Chandra grew every time he took off his shirt to relax – something he never did in company. How could this man even hold a pencil with his right hand, let alone deliver a cricket ball with such venom?’ Much in the same vein, Bedi, his roommate on many occasions, has said that Chandra, even in private, would never be seen in a towel or with his upper body bared. Even on a masseur’s table Chandra would be covered, for his right arm had been withered to the bone. There was only awe and admiration in Bedi that his comrade had overcome such a disadvantage to become one of the most feared bowlers in the world.
Chandra’s tremendous love for the old Hindi film songs of Mukesh and K.L. Saigal is legendary. Once playing against Gavaskar in a Ranji fixture, he beat Gavaskar all ends up. Instead of exulting, he walked over to Gavaskar to ask, ‘Suna kya?’ (Did you hear that), for wafting from a transistor radio in the stands was a song by Mukesh. Bedi said that Chandra did not understand the lyrics, but was captivated by the rhythm. The other story is perhaps not as well known. When the victorious team arrived at Santa Cruz airport and he was being given a hero’s welcome, he wriggled away to pigeonhole Raju Bharatan and ask him if he had brought him the promised recording of Saigal’s songs! Like many cricketers of his time from Bangalore and Mysore, Chandra was a product of tennis-ball cricket culture and it was the captain of Mysore state, V. Subramanya, who spotted his rare talent and catapulted him into the state Ranji team.
Chandra was a regular fixture in the Indian team after his debut in 1963–64 till he returned injured midway from a tour of Australia in 1967–68. The England series in 1971 was his comeback tour. In four innings thus far in the three Tests, Chandra had taken seven wickets for 341 runs. In those same four innings, Venkat had taken 11 for 306 and Bedi 10 for 324.
Now, when he came on to bowl, Luckhurst drove him back and Chandra touched it with his fingertips before it crashed into the stumps at the non-striker’s end. Jameson, backing up, was short of his ground and India had got a breakthrough in a most fortuitous manner. The fun had begun. Chandra and Sardesai who liked to go to the races had backed a winner called Mildred on the rest day. So when Chandra was about to bowl to John Edrich, Sardesai shouted out ‘Bowl him a From Mumbai to Durban 81 Mildred!’ Chandra, on cue, delivered a devastating googly that pitched on middle and took the off stump, while Edrich was shaping to play the ball to the onside. So, 24 for 2 became 24 for 3, as Fletcher went first ball to an excellent diving catch at forward short-leg by Solkar. Lunch was taken at this stage and tremors were being felt in Illingworth’s camp. Chandra could not wait to bowl as the Indian fi elders walked back after lunch. At the pavilion end, Venkat came on to bowl. Wadekar had Venkat and Chandra wheeling away during the entire innings. The two spinners attacked D’Oliveira and Luckhurst, who defended desperately, until Venkat beat the former. As D’Oliveira came down to drive, the ball dropped in its flight and the mistimed lofted stroke was held in the country, that vast acreage around deep mid-wicket and long-on. Venkat told us, ‘I might have got only two wickets in this innings, but I believe I bowled at my best right through the innings. I bowled unchanged from one end. I had a great tour, joint-highest of 13 wickets with Chandra in the Test series and 63 wickets in all the first-class matches the Indian team played, the highest by an Indian bowler. I took 9 for 93 in an innings against Hampshire.’
England’s next wicket will qualify as one of the best catches at forward short-leg ever. Knott played Venkat’s off break with a stretched forward defensive, and the ball hardly stayed in the air for a bit before looping to the left of the batsman. In a combination of unbelievable anticipation and incredible acrobatics, Solkar flung himself full stretch forward to catch it. England were now 54 for 5. From here, their innings went into a tailspin as Chandra cut through England like knife through butter. Illingworth was caught and bowled; Chandra rarely missed a catch off his own bowling and even when he held a return catch off a full toss, he made it seem as if he was expecting it. His next victim was Luckhurst, who had ploughed on to 36 when he fell to a blinder of a catch by Venkat standing at slip. If you look at the footage of this innings you will see that more of his teammates congregated around Venkat after this catch than when he claimed D’Oliveira or Knott. In fact, Chandra leapt in the air as Venkat caught the ball.
Almost immediately after, Chandra had his ‘fiver’ as Snow gave him a return catch and the scoreboard read 72 for 8. England’s biggest partnership of 24 runs was for the ninth wicket between Underwood and Hutton. All this while Venkat and Chandra had bowled unchanged. Wadekar now brought on Bedi who promptly consumed Underwood, caught jubilantly by Mankad running in from backward square-leg. Wadekar asserts that during that entire series India did not drop a catch. Th at was no empty boast. When we ran some statistics for the mode of dismissals eff ected by India since they began playing Test cricket, we got some very interesting facts. Till the end of the 1960s, only around 40 per cent of the wickets taken by India were through catches by their fi elders. But in the 1970s, this figure rose to 47 per cent. It dropped a bit again during the period 1981–2000 and then rose again in the golden decade of 2001–10, to almost touch the 1970s’ level. Th is sharp increase in the catches ratio in the 1970s is a reaffirmation of the excellent close catching of those days.
After Venkat bowled the next over, the skipper immediately brought back Chandra. John Price, the No. 11 for England, was stuck on the crease as he missed a fizzing full-length ball from Chandra. Chandra’s appeal and the umpire’s raised finger were simultaneous. In one action Chandra whirred around to collect his sweater from the umpire. The job was done, England all out 101, Chandra 18.1 overs, 6 for 38. Undemonstrative as ever, just cradling his right wrist in his left hand, he accepted the congratulations offered by his teammates and then led the team back. Wadekar had his own cap pulled low as did many of the others so one could hardly see big grins or smiles as the team went back. It was just past 4 p.m. and India had the rest of that evening and the next day to score 173 runs to record their first win in England.
A fourth innings chase is tricky at all times, but more so if the bowling unit is strong. England had Snow and Price as fast bowlers, while Underwood and Illingworth would exploit the turn that the wearing wicket afforded. India got off to a terrible start, losing Gavaskar for zero, lbw, as he offered no stroke to one that came back. Mank From Mumbai to Durban 83 tried to stay, but with India’s score on 37, he lost his wicket to the leftarm spin of Underwood. This was when Sardesai joined Wadekar. In a role reversal for both of them from the earlier series in West Indies, Wadekar, upbeat after finding his batting compass, batted fluently, while Sardesai was not fluent but hung in grimly. Th e experienced duo took India to 76 for 2, with Wadekar on a confident 45 at stumps. India needed 97 runs to win on the last day.
India got off to the worst possible start on the fi nal day. Without a run being added to the overnight score, Wadekar was run out by D’Oliveira stationed at third man, as he responded to Sardesai’s call for a sharp single. It would have been enough to shatter any captain but Wadekar in his book My Cricketing Years wrote that he was not ‘unduly alarmed’ as he was confident that the rest of the batsmen would do the job. He claimed to have promptly gone to sleep as soon as he reached the dressing room. Little Viswanath now joined Sardesai. A wicket at this stage would have spelt disaster but Viswanath came good, giving valuable company to Sardesai who was considered one of the best players of spin in his days. In A History of Indian Cricket, Mihir Bose wrote on this passage of play: ‘In 105 minutes they put on 48. The tension was unbearable, every ball required careful watching…runs were not so much stroked as chiselled out of the hard, granite, English attack.’ The score was 124 when Underwood dismissed Sardesai for 40 after Knott the keeper dove forward to take a catch right in front of the stumps off a defensive jab. The trusty veteran desperately wanted to be there till the end, but he later acknowledged Knott’s catch was truly great. Knott himself ranked it among his five best catches. Shortly thereafter, Solkar fell, a rare failure for him, but at a very inconvenient time for India.
With half the side gone, India still needed 39 runs. It was reassuring to see Engineer stride out to the middle to join Viswanath. We now remember Engineer as a flamboyant, effervescent batsman; with his thick hair and large sideburns, the obvious choice for Brylcreem advertisements. According to Venkataraghavan, ‘Engineer strengthened our team, coming back after missing the West Indies series. He played crucial knocks right through the England series.’ His scores so far had been 28, 35, 22 and 59, and he continued from where he had left off . Engineer calmed the nerves of his colleagues and the millions glued to their transistors in India with three boundaries and some brisk running. Soon the target was just a boundary away. Illingworth, who had thrown in the towel, brought on Luckhurst to complete the formalities. Viswanath tried to end the match with a blow that would land the ball in Mysore, but instead lost his wicket. That gave Abid his second opportunity in six months to be in the middle when India won. As he promptly cut Luckhurst for the winning boundary, both Engineer and he tried to hare it down to the safe haven of the pavilion. Fat chance! Even before they were halfway, hordes of delirious Indian fans descended on the ground, and inexpertly and very uncomfortably, hoisted Engineer on their shoulders. Th at worthy, as we all know, was a large man and it was sheer good luck that the fans deposited him near the pavilion without damage.
As the Indian players came out to the balcony, the fans could not have enough of them. For each of them, it was probably the happiest moment of their lives. Sardesai recounted that John Arlott took him to the Oval long room where the members sat in glum silence, still shocked beyond words at the defeat and the loss of the series. Wadekar said, ‘As I acknowledged the cheers of our supporters, I thought of those millions back home, who would share our joy and pride… The boys let themselves go and even Hemu (the stern manager) looked on indulgently…’ Indian restaurants in England for the first time had occasion to celebrate an Indian victory, and came up with menus that included a Wadekar cutlet, a Gavaskar curry and a Chandra soup. Wadekar mischievously said that Chandra Soup was an apt one for the Englishmen had landed themselves in one the previous day!
Venkat remembered, ‘It was Vinayaka Chaturthi day and when an elephant was brought from the zoo and strolled around the ground, the Indian team thought it was a great omen! It ended 26 matches without defeat for England and was Illingworth’s first defeat in 20 matches.’ Keith Miller, the great Australian all-rounder, in the Indian Express, called it ‘A historic triumph’. Miller wrote that Abid Ali now had a story to tell his grandchildren over and over again. He declared, ‘With that win over the West Indies earlier in the year and now the conquerors of England who trounced my own Australians, India are contenders for the best team in the world.’
Derek Underwood later wrote in his book Beating the Bat, ‘Many other sides might well have cracked under the pressure, but [India] grafted as I have never seen Indian batsmen graft in inching their way along the path to a historic victory.’ Th e entire British press acknowledged that a truly superior team had won. E.W. Swanton praised Chandra’s bowling and Wadekar’s ‘cool shrewd handling on the fi eld’. The Daily Telegraph ran an editorial saying that the Indian team had proved they were men for all seasons. John Woodcock who had earlier been totally captivated by the Indian spinners on their tour of the West Indies now wrote about the Oval win in The Times, ‘Last Friday evening no one gave them the slightest chance of winning… But Chandrasekhar fooled us all and yesterday India kept their nerve where Pakistan and Australia have recently lost theirs.’ Crawford White, in his column for the Daily Express, stated that once ‘Chandrasekhar turned on that 6 for 38 bowling burst to paralyse England’s innings for 101, this was their game’.
The Indian team came home to an unprecedented welcome. They were received like kings at Bombay’s Santa Cruz airport, submerged in garlands of marigold, travelling in a cavalcade that took hours to cover a few miles because thousands of fans had come to greet them. The gratitude and happiness of a cricket-mad nation knew no bounds. For weeks after, cinema-goers in India were treated to visuals of this reception in the newsreel that preceded the screening of films. The audience in the cinema hall would spontaneously stand and clap as the cricketing heroes came up on the screen. It was an unforgettable time in India’s cricket history.”
Test No. 692: The Oval, London, 19–24 August 1971: England (Toss) 355 in 108.4 overs (Alan Knott 90, John Jameson 82; Eknath Solkar 3-28, S. Venkataraghavan 2-63) and 101 in 45.1 overs (Brian Luckhurst 33; Bhagwat Chandrasekhar 6-38, Venkataraghavan 2-44) lost to India 284 in 117.3 overs (Farokh Engineer 59, Dilip Sardesai 54; Ray Illingworth 5-70, John Snow 2-68) and 174/6 in 101 overs (Ajit Wadekar 45, Sardesai 40; Derek
Underwood 3-72) by four wickets. [Captains: Ajit Wadekar (India) and Ray Illingworth (England)]
S. Giridhar S and VJ Raghunath are colleagues at Azim Premji University and authors of Midwicket Tales: From Trumper to Tendulkar and ‘From Mumbai to Durban: India’s Greatest tests
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