For the record, this was also India’s maiden Test win in Old Blighty. The victory in England came at the back of the sensational series triumph in West Indies, making 1971 a golden year for Indian cricket.
The visitors got off to a horror start as Wadekar was run out without adding to his overnight score after England did not give away easy runs.
A timely fourth-wicket stand of 48 in 95 minutes between Sardesai (40) and Gundappa Viswanath (33) eased India’s nerves. However, England kept fighting.
Sardesai was caught behind off Derek Underwood and Eknath Solkar (1) was caught and bowled off the same bowler.
India went to lunch at 146 for five. Viswanath found good support from Farokh Engineer, who struck an unbeaten 28 with three crucial fours.
Viswanath departed with India three runs away from victory. It was Abid Ali who took India past the winning line with a square cut for four off Brian Luckhurst.
The chief architects of India’s historic win in England
After England won the toss and posted a challenging 355 in their first innings, not many would have given India a chance of registering a famous win.
John Jameson (82), Alan Knott (90) and Richard Hutton (81) ensured England took good advantage of batting first. Eknath Solkar was India’s best bowler with figures of 3 for 28 from 15 overs.
The spin trio of Bishan Bedi, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan claimed two wickets each to ensure England did not go past 400.
India then needed to bat well in their first innings. After Sunil Gavaskar and Ashok Mankad fell early, skipper Wadekar (48), Sardesai (54) and Solkar (44) made key contributions even as Viswanath fell for a duck.
However, it was Engineer’s 59, coupled with crucial cameos from Abid Ali (26) and Venkataraghavan (24) that ensured India reached a competitive 284.
It was in the second innings that India turned the tide. Chandrasekhar ran through the England batting line-up with exceptional figures of 6 for 38.
He sent back John Edrich and Keith Fletcher for ducks and ended Brian Luckhurst’s resistance for 33 before running through the tail. Thanks to Chandrasekhar’s brilliance, England were rolled over for 101 in 45.1 overs.
Although the Indian openers again fell early, Wadekar, Sardesai, Viswanath and Engineer combined well to take India to a historic triumph.
What India’s heroes have said about the 1971 triumph in England
According to former wicketkeeper-batter Farokh Engineer, India’s win over England in 1971 put India on the cricketing map. He was quoted as telling TOI:
"Do people still remember that victory? I’d like to think that we put India on the cricketing map. 1971 was a great year for Indian cricket. Earlier that year, we beat the West Indies in their own den for the first time.
"What a series that was, especially that Oval Test. We had a great chance to win on the last day. I remember we were in trouble in the first innings before my partnership with Eki [Solkar] saw us through. I told Eki, let’s fight for every run and he responded brilliantly."
Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar felt that India’s win against West Indies earlier in the year boosted their confidence going into the England series. He told IANS:
"My first tour to England was 50 years back and we were just coming after beating the West Indies, so we were a pretty confident bunch. It was a great blend of youth and experience and it was a fun tour. There were plenty of matches against the County teams."
Viswanath credited Chandrasekhar’s spell of 6 for 38 in England’s second innings for the victory at The Oval. He was quoted as saying in The Hindu a few years back:
"We felt on top of the world. After winning in the West Indies, everyone thought that was the best chance for us to win in England. At the Oval, we won because of that magical spell by Chandra. Bowling them out for 101 in the second innings — I didn’t think it was possible.
"They (the spinners) were all world-class; they proved that spin can win matches in England too. And of course, you will never get another match-winner like Chandra."
Since 1971, India have registered Test series wins in England in 1986 and 2007. On the current tour, they are leading England 1-0 in the five-match series, with three Tests to go.