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Recalling the famous 1979 Test between India and Pakistan in Delhi

Swarup Dutta
630   //    Timeless

Image credits: Cricket Country
Image credits: Cricket Country

Even before the Pakistan tour of India 1979/80 started, there were controversies and spicy stories all around. When India were touring England earlier that year, Sunil Gavaskar gave an interview to a journalist and mentioned that under certain constraints, “Pakistan will beat us to the pulp”. Unfortunately, it came out in the Print with only the quoted sentence, which created quite an uproar among the Indian fans. Media projected in a way that India was already giving up.

Gavaskar was taken aback. His relationship with the media was already at the lowest ebb due to misreporting of his potential participation in the Packer series. But, this was the last straw. He then declared that he would never talk to press again.

On the other side of the border, Sarfraz Nawaz, the highest wicket-taker when India last toured Pakistan, was not picked for India series. There was a rumor on alleged differences with the skipper Asif Iqbal. Suddenly, Imran Khan was to be the lone leader of the pace attack. Ehteshammuddin shared the new ball with him in the 1st Test in Bangalore. For the second Test, he was replaced by a wry, but nippy medium-fast bowler from Karachi, Sikandar Bakht.

The first day of the second Test match belonged to one attractive left-hander from Pakistan, Wasim Raja (elder brother of Rameez). He came to the middle at 36 for 3 after Kapil Dev removed Majid Khan, Mudassar Nazar, and Zaheer Abbas in an inspiring opening spell. But, first, with the company of Javed Miandad (34) and then with Asif Iqbal (64), Raja did not only rescue the team, but did that with a dazzling array of strokes all around. Pakistan finished the 1st day on 217 for 4, with Raja being not out on 94.

Many felt that with the talent he had, Wasim Raja could have achieved more in international cricket. He was a naturally attacking player and his bat swing was so clean. Interestingly, he had scored 900+ runs against West Indies at an average of 57.

In fact, when Pakistan toured West Indies in 1977, he scored 500+ runs and hit a Test series world record of 14 sixes. Kevin Pietersen had emulated this later. But, no one has done this in an away series. Against an attack comprising Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, and Colin Croft, this was not a bad record to have.

Going back to the Test, Pakistan were bowled out for 273 on the second day, with the last 6 wickets falling for just 53 runs. Kapil Dev, who was becoming a real force to reckon with, finished with 5 for 58.

Sikandar Bakht's magical spell (8 for 69) bowled out India for 126
Sikandar Bakht's magical spell (8 for 69) bowled out India for 126

Imran Khan and Sikandar Bakht opened the bowling for Pakistan and on a lively pitch and the former started generating a lot of pace and bounce. 'Sunny' Gavaskar had been never seen being hit so many times on the knuckles. But, unfortunately for Pakistan, Imran had to leave the field with a ruptured rib-muscle after bowling only 7 overs.

Sikandar was undeterred though. In an astounding spell of fast bowling, he bowled 21 overs at a stretch to take 8 for 69, to bowl India out for 126. Till date, this remains as one of the best bowling figures by a visiting bowler in India.

Pakistan’s 2nd innings was almost a replica of the first. They were going on nicely at 201 for 4, with Raja scoring yet another attractive half-century (61). But, Kapil Dev (4 for 63) again polished off the rest and Pakistan lost their last 6 wickets for 41 runs. They still had a formidable lead of 390 though and looked to be the clear favorite to bowl India out, with one and a half days still remaining. 

This was again an Oval like situation for Indi where they had a huge score to chase on the fourth innings, with plenty of time remaining. But, they were soon in trouble, losing Gavaskar and Chauhan with not much on the board. However, Dilip Vengsarkar stood like a rock. First with the company of GR Viswanath and then with Yashpal Sharma, he batted on and on.

Vengsarkar’s 9-hour epic firmly established him as one of the crisis men of the Indian batting unit. In fact, there were times on the last day of the match, when many felt that he should have attacked more. But, then, India lost few wickets at the wrong time and he had to choose the path of discretion. India ended the final day on 364 for 6, just 26 short of what could have been an amazing win, after being shot out for 126 in the first innings.

From Pakistan’s point of view, the absence of Imran Khan played a major role. He bowled only one over in the second innings. Sikandar Bakht again took up most of the workload, bowling 38 overs. With Imran being not available, Asif Iqbal and Mudassar Nazar had to send down 45 overs between them, making India’s job significantly easier. Honours being even was probably a justified result at the end of this classic Test match, with some fine individual performances from both sides.