’71 series triumphs inspired India to win overseas more often: Bedi

By Avishek Roy, IANS,

New Delhi: Any path-breaking triumph will inspire future generations and so did the historic 1971 series victories over the West Indies and England, says former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi and a member of the two teams.

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As India get ready to play their 100th Test match against England at Lord’s Thursday, the legendary left-arm spinner recalled the historic twin triumphs under Ajit Wadekar.

“To put it in Ajit Wadekar’s words, that victory sowed the seeds for the future and in the decade or so after ’71, the Indians started winning overseas,” Bedi told IANS.

Forty years ago, India were still struggling to savour a Test victory overseas, even though they had some of the best batsmen and bowlers in the business but they quietly went about their task.

Bedi is never tired of talking about bowling quality of Chandra (Bhagwat Chandrasekhar) Pras (Erapalli Prasanna) and Venky (S. Venkatraghavan) who with them had formed the famous spin quartet.

Bedi vividly recollected how the Indian side landed in England on the back of a historic maiden series win in the Caribbean. That was only the second overseas series win after their success away from home, in New Zealand under Tiger Pataudi in 1967-68.

India’s first series win in England on seven tours spread over 39 years came thanks to a great spell by Chandrasekhar (6/38) in the third Test at the Oval. His fantastic bowling saw England crumble for 101 in the second innings, leaving India to get 173 for victory and it was achieved without serious trouble.

“It was the most devastating spell of spin bowling I have ever seen, the shy, unassuming Chandra was ripping it through the air,” says Bedi with great pride.

“When we won the match, the scene was quite like the one witnessed after the 1983 World Cup victory. The stands, full of Indians with the tricolour in their hands, erupted in delirious celebration. They swarmed the Oval to congratulate us. It was a great feeling.”

“We should have won the second Test at Lord’s as well,” said Bedi. India fell short by 38 runs chasing 183.

Saying that spin was the most potent weapon India had in their armoury, Bedi quickly pointed to the “outstanding” athleticism and anticipation of Eknath Solkar, Abid Ali, Sunil Gavaskar and Wadekar in the close-in ring. Solkar and Abid were just brilliant and had an amazing knack of picking the “dying ball.” Gavaskar and Wadekar were not far behind in the slips, snapping up the faintest of edges.

And above all, Bedi said, the contribution of another man from backstage. A “sharp cricketing brain” is how Bedi described Colonel Hemu Adhikari, the manager of the team who strategised England’s downfall.

“He had a sharp cricketing brain, very shrewd, and he was a very good coach. He organised the nets in an excellent manner. He was a good judge of the conditions and in picking the right combination. He was the manager in the 1974 tour as well, but we could not repeat the victory.”

“Most of the players in the 1971 series were below 30 and the youthful exuberance of the team showed up. We were a determined bunch.

“When I was watching the old video of that win, I observed that we were a much younger team than the English team, captained by Ray Illingworth, which had many players on the wrong side of the 30s.”

“Our victory over the West Indies in their backyard gave us the confidence of beating England as well.”

Bedi said playing in the second half of the English summer helped the spinners.

“We were lucky to be in England in the second half of the summer when the weather is generally dry and pitches conducive to spin bowling. The kind of fielders we had in the close-in cordon, we spinners had a great time. We are grateful to them.”

“We were largely dependent on the spin bowlers and I think the spinners got around 50 wickets on that tour. It was one of the high points of our careers and I am privileged to be part of those two tours.

“Our batting revolved around Gavaskar, Farokh Enginner, Dilip Sardesai, Abid Ali and Eknath Solkar. They were consistent.”

Fortunately in those days, Bedi said, there was not the madness of media scrutiny that Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team faces at every step todday.

Talking of the hype and hoopla the upcoming four-Test series between World No.1 India and an aspiring England has attracted, Bedi felt it would be a close contest and whoever gains the early advantage will try to preserve it.

“This Indian team is outstanding with an outstanding batting line-up. We are maybe short of bowling ammunition. We need to be sharp in the field.

“The English team is on a high as well. I have a feeling that it is going to be a close contest. Whoever takes the lead will sit on it. The team that wins the first Test will have a massive advantage. Not all the matches are going to be decided,” Bedi maintained.

(Avishek Roy can be contacted at [email protected])