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India vs West Indies: Beating the unbeatable

When a written off Indian side was propelled by a significant incidence to decimate the unbeatable West Indies.

Indian team to tour West Indies 1971
The Indian squad which won the 1971 series in the West Indies

When West Indies dominated World Cricket, probably no team feared them as much as Indians. In those days, forget about posing a potent threat, India was not able to take even psychological advantage in any of the matches against the islanders. But on one special day, the jinx was broken and India stamped their authority in that whole series thereafter. Let’s relive the memory of that epoch-making event. 

Back in 1971, when India toured West Indies for 5 match series, the first Test in Kingston Jamaica staged a drama that had multi-facet emotions penned down in its script. The first day was washed out and the things were so much drenched that even toss was not possible. On the second day, Indians - put into bat by WI skipper Garry Sobers - scored 387. Later, to everyone’s surprise, Indians bowled the home team out for 217. Indian skipper Ajit Wadekar, standing in his first match as a Test Captain, went to West Indian dressing room in the innings break and announced, “Garry, we have decided you will bat again”. Now the keen eyes must have noticed that the lead wasn’t 200 plus and Wadekar must have made a mistake. Some of you might even have given him the benefit of the doubt considering the slip-up was on his captaincy debut. If you did so, the great Garry Sobers also shared your doubt 45 years back. Sobers said the deficit was not sufficient to make them bat again and asked Wadekar to check with the umpires. In turn, Wadekar requested Sobers to approach the umpires as it was his team who were required to bat.

Also read: West Indies v India, 2016: Top 5 India - West Indies Encounters in Whites

The umpires enlightened Sobers about the MCC Cricket Law 13, Clause 3 of which implies – If no play takes place on the first day of a Test match, and the play first commences on day 2, the side which bats first and leads by at least 150 runs shall have the option of requiring the other side to follow their innings. Indeed, the West Indies batted again. After this match, such an incident has happened only once in Test Cricket in last 45 years: during England vs Pakistan, Lords Test in the year 2001.

But back then, this circus with the rules, jugglery with the Laws and such a rare incident hardly caught anybody’s attention. The real news material was: ‘Underdogs India enforced follow-on upon mighty West Indians’. To let the enormity of this apparently small thing sink in, let me take the help of some numbers.  Till they set a foot on Caribbean Islands in 1971, India had not won even a single match against WI out of total 23 and lost 12. Five of those losses were huge innings defeats and 4 of them were by huge margins of greater than 100 runs. At the end of December 1958, West Indies wished India a Happy New Year in the Test at Eden Gardens by handing them with a humungous defeat by innings and 336 runs. This humiliation was followed by 5-0 whitewash when India toured West Indies in 1962. The domination of Caribbean kings was so ruthless and brutal that India had not managed even a single instance of even a first innings lead in any of the matches played against West Indies till then, be it a home or an away match! When the Indian team departed for the tour nobody expected them to stand any realistic chance. Indians would have taken pride in valiant defeats, having lost by small margins. Such was the mindset of an average Indian Cricket fan of that time, whenever their team toured overseas.  And out of nowhere, here came this big jolt, delivered by the minions to the giants. And that was the real news.

But before India had delivered this unprecedented blow in this match, at one stage they were tottering at 75 for 5 in their first innings and were in all sorts of trouble facing WI pace battery. The dull old story of Indian drudgery seemed inevitable. The journalists were sharpening their knives. A radio commentator had gone to an extent describing this Indian unit as some local club team. It was from this situation, the heroics of Dilip Sardesai (final score 212) and Eknath Solkar (61) helped India to reach 387 by putting up a fighting sixth wicket partnership. Later, Indian spin trio of Bedi-Venkatraghavan-Prasanna ran through the West Indian line up, embarrassing them with massive pay slip off first innings arrears. If that was not sufficient, a rookie captain had just broken the news of unthinkable follow-on. It was a huge blow to the West Indian pride.

Not only with the rules, but Ajit Wadekar was spot on with the game strategies also in that series. West Indies somehow managed a draw in the first Test with legendary Rohan Kanhai and Gary Sobers bailing them out. But the power packed performance by India in the series opener had set the tone for the rest of the season. It instilled the belief that lion can be tamed in its own den. Indeed, in the second, Test India tasted their first ever win against mighty West Indies. It was incidentally the Test debut for Sunil Gavaskar, who contributed in the famous win with handsome fifties in both the innings. Remaining three matches were draw and India had won the Test Series against WI 1-0. The series win was a significant landmark in the annals of Indian Cricket and the fans had all valid reasons to boast extravagant celebrations. The icing on the cake- they had found their next batting superstar in Gavaskar who scored mountains of runs in the series against the deadly fast bowlers and tricky spinners. The victory now tasted sweeter.

This was to share a leaf out of the golden moments in Indian Cricket history, ahead of the upcoming Test Series between India and West Indies. Things have changed since then. When two teams take on each other in the first Test at Antigua, India stands second and West Indies is languishing at as low as eighth in the Test rankings. Unlike past years, Indians are favourite. But the task has yet to be accomplished. Indians need to put their act together and can’t afford to let complacency creep in. After all, who else know better than the Indians that underdogs can turn the tables? 

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