A Tale of Two Test Matches - Column by Gulu Ezekiel

2008 Dec 18 by DreamCricket

Watching Sachin Tendulkar and co. effortlessly guide India home against England in the first Test at Chennai on Monday brought back memories of a similar feat 32 years ago.

Watching Sachin Tendulkar and co. effortlessly guide India home against England in the first Test at Chennai on Monday brought back memories of a similar feat 32 years ago.

If in 2008 the victory was achieved with the nation still in shock after the terrorist outrage in Mumbai, in 1976 the Indians chased down a world record target (since beaten) at the Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad with India under the dark cloud of Emergency rule.

Before the 'ST Era' of Indian cricket-entering its 20th year next month--there was the 'SMG (Sunil Manohar Gavaskar) Era' stretching back to 1971 when the master opening batsman hit world cricket like a storm in his debut series in the West Indies.

By the time he returned to the Caribbean five years later, West Indies cricket was in the throes of crisis.

Clive Lloyd's team had just returned from Australia where they were smarting under a 5-1 thrashing and the India series was looming as a make-or-break one for the captain.

The home side easily won the first Test at Bridgetown, Barbados before surviving a close call in the second Test at Port of Spain, Trinidad which ended in a draw.

The third Test to be played at Georgetown, Guyana was a washout and the Indians were back in the Trinidad capital where the third Test match was shifted.

Bishan Bedi and his men were not complaining. In 1971 India had recorded their first win on West Indian soil at the Queen's Park Oval where the wicket traditionally assisted spinners. Besides, the large number of Indian settlers on the island always backed teams from their original homeland. That made the venue like a home-away-from-home for Indian cricket teams. And Gavaskar had a phenomenal record at his favourite ground.

There was little indication that history was in the making over the first four days of the Test as the home side took a big first innings lead of 131 runs and then confidently declared their second innings at 271 for 6 on the fourth afternoon. In Chennai too England captain Kevin Pietersen had declared his second innings-though by then England had lost nine wickets--after taking a lead of 75 runs. The target in Chennai was 387 runs, something that had never been achieved on Indian soil. And to top it all, the final day at Chennai also marked the 75th anniversary of the first Test match played on Indian soil.

The target Lloyd had set India back in 1976 was a massive 403. Only once before in Test cricket had a team scored over 400 to win and that had been achieved by Don Bradman's 'Invincibles' in England in 1948.

Who could have believed the brittle Indian batting could match that feat? Certainly not Lloyd who fatally underestimated the courage and resolve of the Indian batsmen.

Keeping the wicket in mind, West Indies had done the unprecedented by fielding three spinners in their playing XI. But two of them were playing their maiden Test and their lack of experience and nerves were exposed on the final day. India ended the fourth day at Chennai at 131 for one. At Port of Spain 32 years earlier, the score stood at 134 for one. Still, in both cases victory on the final day for India seemed improbable.

Unlike in the 'SMG Era' where scoring massive totals in the fourth innings had become something of a habit, Indian teams of the 'ST Era' have a dismal record in this regard.

With Gavaskar and brother-in-law GR Viswanath both reaching centuries on the final day and Mohinder Amarnath scoring a rock-like 85 (the same as Yuvraj Singh at Chennai), the Indians made it with time to spare.

One of the AIR commentators-no live telecast back then-broke down and wept when the target was reached even as he exclaimed that Mrs. Indira Gandhi's 21 Point Economic Programme had played a part in the victory!

Back home in India, some of the doom and gloom that hung over the nation during the dark days of the Emergency was lifted and there were celebrations across the country.

Hopefully some day, captain Bishan Singh Bedi will finally write his memoirs and we will get to know how he felt in his own words.

The match also changed the course of cricket history. Lloyd had learned his lesson and lost faith in spin. From now West Indian teams would field four fast bowlers and mow down all before them for the next 20 years.

Indeed, in the very next Test at Kingston, Jamaica, the Indian batsmen were subjected to a fearsome bouncer battery which left them battered and bruised. Lloyd kept his job as West Indies won the series 2-1. And for better or for worse, international cricket would never be the same again.

Tendulkar's joy and relief at hitting the winning runs at Chennai and the dedication of his century and the victory to those who had lost their lives and fought courageously in Mumbai too brought back the smiles on our faces, albeit briefly.

Both Test matches showcased cricket's healing touch. And Pietersen's England too deserve our everlasting gratitude for coming back to India and giving a resounding reply to the scourge of terrorism.