75 Years of India in Tests: 1970s

By Ashis Ray, IANS

London : It was the best of times and the worst of times. The Indian selectors chaired by Vijay Merchant replaced Tiger Pataudi with Ajit Wadekar as captain for the 1971 tour of the West Indies. The latter only asked for Dilip Sardesai to be included in the squad. Two innings by this technically sound Bombay batsman helped India turn the corner in test cricket.

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In the 1st test at Kingston, Sardesai rescued India from a low of 75 for five with an immaculate 212. The West Indies was thereafter forced to follow on. The momentum gained from this ascendancy carried India to victory in the 2nd test at Port of Spain, with Sardesai producing 112, not to mention Srinivas Venkataraghvan’s five for 95 and Salim Durrani’s wickets of Clive Lloyd and Garry Sobers (for a duck) in the decisive West Indian second innings.

Four months later, India replicated the feat in England, with Bhagwat Channdrasekhar grabbing six for 38 at The Oval. Wadekar became the toast of the country. Sunil Gavaskar also emerged as a hero by amassing 774 runs in his first four tests in the Caribbean with an average of 154.80 and with a performance in England, which promised better things to come.

Back home, India beat Tony Lewis’ Englishmen 2-1; but stumbled badly in England in 1974, when not only were they whitewashed in a three test series, but also dismissed for a paltry 42 in the 2nd test at Lord’s. Gavaskar’s 101 at Manchester – in challenging circumstances – was the only consolation in an otherwise dismal summer.

Wadekar, whose wife was, sadly, threatened by public anger, quit cricket altogether after the drubbing; and Bishan Bedi succeeded as skipper. The tenure under him was particularly undistinguished as India lost to second stringers in Australia (when the top players had switched allegiance to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket) 3-2 in 1977-78; and were thrashed 2-0 in a three test series in Pakistan a few months later. However, thanks to Gavaskar and the stylish Gundappa Viswanath, the Indians quite remarkably chased down 403 at Port of Spain in 1976 and India’s ultimate total of 406 for four became – until lowered by the West Indies against Australia in 2002-03 – the highest fourth innings total to win a test.

Returning to England in 1979, the Indians lost the 1st test at Birmingham and thereby the series. But Gavaskar remained prolific. In the 2nd test at Lord’s, Viswanath demonstrated his class with a second innings century, which inspired Dilip Vengsarkar, who, too, got a hundred, and gained immeasurably in confidence. Finally, in the 4th Oval test, India almost squared the series when Gavaskar, with a memorable, 221, thrust them to within nine runs of a target of 438 to win.

Re-installed as captain, Gavaskar hereafter led India to a 2-0 win against Kim Hughes’ Australians at home; and took the first step towards clipping the wings of an all-star Pakistani side by winning the 3rd test in Bombay by 131 runs. The bespectacled left-arm spinner, Dilip Doshi, with a tidy six wickets in a low scoring match, ensured success. There was more to come in this series when the decade turned into the 1980s.