1979 Oval Test: Memory of a great Indian run chase
In the fourth and final Test match of the 1979 series against England, India were trailing by 0-1 and the scoreboard looked like following on fourth day afternoon:
England 305 (Gooch 79), India 202 (Viswanath 62), England 334/8 declared (Boycott 125).
England captain Mike Brearley declared the second Innings with about eight hours and 150 overs of play left, for India to score 438 runs to win. Although India managed a world record chase of 406 couple of years earlier at Port-of-Spain against West Indies, not many gave a chance for this chase, against an attack consisting of Bob Willis, Ian Botham, Mike Hendrick, Phil Edmonds and Peter Willey, on a final day track. The realistic question was if India could survive eight hours of play.
Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan opened the innings and negotiated the final session of the fourth day. India finished at 76 without loss and needed 362 more to win. More realistically, England needed 10 wickets to win the series 2-0.
Mike Brearley went on the attack on the fifth morning. However, Sunny and Chauhan batted as they would do on the first day of a Test, respecting the good balls and putting the bad ones away. England had a set back when Mike Hendrick had to leave the field due to injury and Gooch, Willey had to share the workload. India started milking this attack and score reached 150 soon. Sunny then dispatched a Peter Willey long-hop to a boundary to bring up his 20th century in his 50th Test match.
There was a massive pitch invasion by the Indian supporters, with everyone wanting to give a pat on the back of Sunny. Somehow, he kept his concentration and India went to lunch at 192/0 (Sunny 114*, Chauhan 69*), needing 246 in next two sessions.
Post lunch, Indian opening partnership crossed 200 and things were looking desperate for England. Finally, Willis induced an edge from Chauhan and Botham took the catch in the slip. India 213 for 1.
Out came Dilip Vengsarkar, who had a duck in the first innings and was visibly nervous. Sunny started taking more strikes now, to make him comfortable and cover drove an Ian Botham slower ball for another boundary. That shot, for the first time in the match, made everyone think that India might pull off an impossible chase. India went to Tea at 304 for 1, needing 134 runs in last two hours.
Mike Brearley slowed down things after tea and only six overs were bowled in thirty minutes after tea. The score had moved to 323-1 when Sunil drove Willis to mid-on to complete the third double hundred of his Test career. He soon discovered for the second time in his innings that the pitch-invaders were as formidable as the English bowlers.
He was in the process of regaining his breath after being manhandled by them when David Constant, the umpire at the bowler's end, walked up to him and said that “You shouldn't have taken me so seriously”. Apparently, Sunil had been fielding next to Constant at square-leg the day before, and the latter had turned around to say that unless someone scored a double hundred, India had no chance of making a match of it!
India needed 100 of last one hour and 20 overs to go. 21 runs were scored in the next few overs. 79 to win from 14 overs. Under pressure, Vengsarkar slogged Edmonds to long-on and luck seemed to be with India, as Ian Botham dropped the catch.
But, asking run rate was climbing and Vengsarkar perished, trying to repeat the same shot. Botham held on this time. India 366 for 2, 72 to win. Everyone expected Viswanath to come in next. However, in a bid to catch up with run-rate, skipper Venkataraghavan promoted Kapil Dev. The move did not work though. Kapil tried to slog only the third ball he faced and was caught by Gooch at Long on. India 367 for 3, 71 still to go.
There was another surprise. Yashpal Sharma, only playing his second Test match, was promoted ahead of Vishy. At the other end, Sunny passed his highest score in Test match cricket. In a desperate bid, Brearley turned to his trump card.
Ian Botham did not disappoint his captain. Sunny tried to flick one Botham delivery on the up and David Gower took the catch at mid-on. India 389 for 4. Entire England team and Oval clapped as Sunny walked out of the ground.
Viswanath came in and immediately raced away to 15 of 12 balls. But, at 410 for 4, he tried inside-out stroke of Willey and Brearley held it inches above the ground. India needed 28 runs with 5 wickets in hand now, still a possibility.
However, Botham did it again as he had Yajurvenda Singh LBW and India was 411 for 6 now. Venkat promoted himself now and played some attacking shots. However, he fell short of the crease with one desperate attempt for a run. India 419 for 7.
Four runs later, Yashpal Sharma was plumb leg before the wicket to Botham. India 423 for 8. Ghavri and Bharat Reddy had to be watchful now. The last over was bowled by Peter Willey and with 10 runs needed from two balls, Reddy could only drive to mid-off for a single. Match ended in a draw, with India 429 for 8.
It was well past midnight in India then. For Indian supporters, it took long hours for the feeling to sink in about what happened in that historic day of Test match cricket. Sunil Gavaskar was Man of the Match. He almost made an impossible chase a reality.