April 12, 1976: The day India pulled off a cricketing miracle not even the most optimistic glued-to-the-radio fan would have given them a chance of doing. A successful run chase of 406 runs in the fourth innings against the mighty West Indies side led by Clive Lloyd in Trinidad proved that Indian cricket had arrived on the world stage. Till 2003, this would remain the highest successful run chase in a Test.
April 25, 1976: The day India ‘surrendered’ the following Test in Jamaica, despite losing only 11 wickets in the match. Faced with venomous short-pitched bowling from an all-pace attack led by Michael Holding, a series of batsmen retired hurt. West Indies won the series 2-1.
The third Test of the 1976/77 tour of West Indies was a memorable victory for India, but it inspired a change in the tactical framework of Lloyd’s West Indies, who would then embark on a period of undisputed reign — once described by Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley as the longest undisputed supremacy by any team in any sport across any time.
Trinidad: A dream finish for India
The heroes of India’s chase in this historic Test were Sunil Gavaskar (102), Mohinder Amarnath (85) and Gundappa Viswanath (112*), with opener Anshuman Gaekwad (28) and Brijesh Patel (49*) also playing vital knocks.
“It was a dream finish. It was out of this world. It was a miracle. Call it what you will, but the like of it comes only once in a cricketer’s lifespan,” the Times Of India said in the match report two days later.
“I was confident we could save the game, because the wicket was still good, but the thought of winning never entered my mind.” Sunil Gavaskar said about this Test in his autobiography Sunny Days.
On Day 5, India needed 269 runs to win, with Gavaskar and Amarnath at the crease. Right from the morning of the final day, the Gavaskar calypso was endlessly played — about the India opener being like a wall who could not be got out — writes Mihir Bose in his book The History of Indian Cricket.
Gavaskar was out in the first session itself, bringing Viswanath out to join Amarnath. Viswanath scored his 4th Test century, but went out with 70 runs remaining. Brijesh Patel was pushed up the order in place of Eknath Solkar as India sensed they were close to pulling off a historic win.
Patel plundered the winning runs after an aggressive cameo, with six mandatory overs remaining in the match. The crowds came racing to the pavilion, radio commentators in India cried hoarse that this was a victory for Indira Gandhi’s Emergency policies.
“India defy history, whip West Indies,” was the short but telling headline in the Trinidad Express.
West Indies 359 & 271/6d
India 228 & 406/4 (Gavaskar 102, Amarnath 85, Visvanath 112) pic.twitter.com/BGwIjDjbat
— Cricketopia (@CricketopiaCom) April 12, 2018
How surprising the victory was can be gleaned from the fact that Lloyd was so confident of victory that he declared the West Indies second innings in search of an outright win. The first match of the series had been won by the home team by an innings margin inside two and a half days, and there was no reason to believe another rout was not in the offing.
“What we achieved was rare. The last time a side chased 400-plus to win a Test was Bradman’s team in 1948,” Viswanath said in an interview in 2016.
Jamaica: A bloodbath and a surrender
For Clive Lloyd, this defeat was the final humiliation he was prepared to let his team suffer. He told his spinners after the match, “Gentlemen, I gave you 400 runs to bowl at and you failed to bowl out the opposition. How many runs must I give you in the future to make sure that you get the wickets?” David Tossell’s book Grovel: The Story and Legacy of the Summer of 1976 related the scenes that transpired in the West Indies dressing room after this defeat and how it played a crucial role in how the Caribbeans would remodel themselves.
Lloyd decided that he would do away with the convention of picking spinners in his side as he felt the strength of his side lay in their fast bowlers — a piece of wisdom about the West Indies side that has come to be seen as an integral part of their cricketing reign over the next two decades.
Going into the last Test of the series in Jamaica with the series at 1–1, West Indies duly picked a four-pronged pace attack of Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel, Bernard Julien, and Vanburn Holder.
This strategy — combined with the West Indies quicks aiming at the Indian batsmen’s bodies on a relaid green pitch — saw an Indian ‘surrender’ in Jamaica.
Amarnath was dismissed by a short-pitched delivery. Viswanath, with a broken finger and Brijesh Patel, hit in the face, were forced to retire hurt. Gaekwad batted bravely for 81 but was eventually hit behind his left ear and had to spend two days in hospital. Gavaskar later said that he was particularly upset that the crowd had chanted ‘kill him’ as Michael Holding had bowled to Gaekwad. Indian captain Bishan Bedi declared the innings before the Indian tail had to face the music. In the Indian second innings there were, therefore, a record five batsmen who were ‘absent hurt’.
Michael Holding would later say about the match, “On that surface it was inevitable that some batsmen would be hit against such a pace-based attack as ours, especially as we adopted the tactic of bowling around the wicket, aiming the ball at their bodies. I was not too keen on this method since it gives the batsman little chance of avoiding a bouncer, but it was 1–1 in the series and we were under extreme public pressure to win.”
According to Wisden, the Indian team resembled Napoleon’s troops in the retreat from Moscow as they boarded their plane home. The glory of having pulled off the 406-run chase in the previous Test would have seemed a distant memory to that team.
For the West Indies, this was to be the beginning of a new era. India would have to wait to be seen as world-beaters for many more years, but the seeds of standing tall against the best were probably sown in this series.