November 11, 2013

Andy, Vishy and me

Flashback to 1975, when the mighty West Indians came up against a pint-sized giant at the Chepauk

Andy Roberts took seven in the first innings at the Chepauk, but one man in the opposition was the equal of everything he threw at him © Getty Images

I could barely sleep all night. My alarm was set for 6am and I rose about a minute before it went off.

I was 15 years old, it was January 11, 1975, and Madras was abuzz. The beloved annual harvest festival, Pongal, was a day or two away, and cricket was in the air. On my study table - laden with books on trigonometry, physics and chemistry- lay a small booklet: a five-day ticket to the fourth Test between India and Clive Lloyd's West Indies, beginning in few hours' time at Chepauk Stadium.

Unlike previous occasions, I did not have to share this Test with anyone - it was all mine. I lived and breathed cricket in those days. Like many, my interest in the game was inversely proportional to my ability at it. Despite trying very hard, it seemed impossible for me to get in line against that hard red ball on a zippy matting wicket, facing bigger schoolmates who could bowl seriously fast. My bowling was not so much military-medium as civilian-slow. And the best that could be said of my fielding was that it was safe. But I could - and did - fantasise about metamorphosing from a bespectacled and scrawny "substitute" into an athletic and swaggering allrounder.

By 7:30am, armed with a tiffin-carrier, whose layers contained a breakfast snack, lunch, and a tea-time treat, I joined the serpentine queue to enter Chepauk Stadium. And once in, duly settled onto a thin white cotton thundu (towel) spread on the hard concrete rafters.

After having lost the first two Tests, India had stormed back to win the third at the Eden Gardens, riding on a brilliant second-innings 139 by GR Viswanath. The elegant left-armer Bernard Julien quickly removed India's openers (Farokh Engineer and Eknath Solkar) but it was Andy Roberts who wrought havoc. On a slow and turning pitch, he was fast and furious.

One sequence was emblematic. The pink and portly Ashok Mankad pulled a bouncer to the square-leg fence. As Roberts turned at the top of his run-up for the next ball, the entire stadium knew retribution would be swift in coming. With just a floppy canvas hat for protection, Mankad looked the sitting duck he was. With the barest hint of extra effort, Roberts got the ball to rear off a good length and straight at Mankad's jugular. As the batsman frantically fought to get his bat up in time, the ball flew off the gloves in front of his face and looped gently into the palms of a waiting Roy Fredericks. I suspect Mankad was quite relieved to be walking back to the pavilion on his own two feet.

It was barely after lunch and India were reeling at six down for 76. And soon thereafter were eight down for a little over a hundred; Roberts had grabbed six straight. His fielding station was right in front of my stand, and the sporting crowd cheered Roberts back to us after every successful over. He was reputedly the youngest of fifteen siblings. As we stared in awe at his impressive physique, the irrepressible wit of the Madras cricket fan surfaced: "Machan, if this is what No. 15 looks like, can you imagine how big the first one must be?"

As the predictably furious bouncer arrived next, Vishy tucked his head down an inch or two into his barrel chest - the way a tortoise pulls back into its shell - and the ball whistled a hair's breadth above his blue-felt India cap

When Bishan Bedi walked in to join Vishy, you sensed the end might be two balls away. And yet, over by over, the pair gritted it out to add over 50 runs. Vishy cornered the bulk of the action, and seemed to win most of the tactical games he and Lloyd played, from about the fourth ball of each over, to retain the strike. I remember one over by the bustling Keith Boyce in which Vishy hammered him for three boundaries, and an incredibly powerful square-cut drive off Roberts that singed the grass as it sped to the boundary.

While others have rhapsodised about Vishy's innings that day, and talked of the many marvellous shots he played, 40 years later what I remember most vividly are two moments - both defensive. The first one followed the rasping square drive off Roberts that I just described. As the predictably furious bouncer arrived next, Vishy tucked his head down an inch or two into his barrel chest - the way a tortoise pulls back into its shell - and the ball whistled a hair's breadth above his blue-felt India cap. Vishy nonchalantly walked down the pitch to pat down a bump or two, seemingly oblivious to how close to serious injury he had been seconds ago.

The second one was also to a ball by Roberts that reared off a good length. Vishy, on the back foot, behind the line, met the ball right in front of his chin, and - this is no exaggeration - it seemed to flow down the length of the dead-straight bat and drop like a blob of lead at his feet. You could hear an audible gasp from the crowd at what they had just seen. A ball travelling at what must have been in the high-80s or low-90s mph, hitting a bat and coming to an almost complete stop in a matter of a few feet. If you ever want a definition of technique, or the superhuman things Vishy could do with those wrists, this was it. In my mind's eye, I can see Roberts wryly smiling and shaking his head at Vishy, and the murmur of appreciation from the slip cordon.

Of course, as everyone knows, Vishy was left stranded on 97 that day. Last man out was the genial Chandra, who gingerly ramped one from Roberts into Lloyd's capacious hands at slip. The two Karnataka stalwarts walked off, in conversation. I presume Chandra was apologising for not being able to hang around long enough for Vishy to get to that hundred, and the latter assuring him that it was perfectly all right and that he had done marvellously well to stick it out for as long as he had - about 40 minutes. Neither man ever placed much store in landmarks in any case. As they neared the pavilion, I cannot remember whether the West Indians slowed down to let Vishy lead them back in - or whether Andy Roberts with his 7 for 64 led them off. Talk about a tough choice.

Fifteen-year-old schoolboys, even of the more bookish and introspective sort, cannot be counted on to appreciate the long-term significance of events that they witness. And yet I, like almost every one at Chepauk that day, knew I had seen something I would remember for the rest of my life.

Sankaran Krishna is a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ESPN on January 30, 2014, 15:20 GMT

    I'm Sri Lankan. I too remember Vishwanath. Great batsman.

  • Ashok on November 15, 2013, 7:34 GMT

    Gavaskar - Vishwanath - SRT - Dravid - Laxman: the golden quintet of Indian batting.

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2013, 4:03 GMT

    I watched Vishy one of my Favouriteshe was so Cool aGood man Neverinvolved in politics I also remember his Inining in Port of Spain one of the hightest Chases at tht time he was playing Carner Holding Roberts Croft and WayneDaniels,,,he was calm and a Gentleman Fearless no Helmets he was 5 :5,,,good article I listented to the Commentary in 1975 and the 5th Test Indian lost in Wankhede i snicked in Free aand watched the last day ,,,Brijest Patel made his name,,

  • Puru on November 14, 2013, 12:40 GMT

    2 other happenings spring to mind.

    Recently Vishy was playing Golf in Blr and I walked upto him and told him that 97 no is the greatest knock by an Indian.He smiled and shook my hand.

    I remember that at the ground that day was a wise old man in th stands with me .he had a pair of binoculars.He would say that Patudi and Pras are talking ...a wicket is going to fall.amazingly it happened everytime .Patudi's captaincy and his use of his spinners to win matches and give them the right fields were a treat and the old man was right everytime. Iin the first innings ,both Viv and Lloyd were caught at deep mid off a nd mid on off mistimed drives.well thought out by Pat and Pras after some minor field alterations and duly predicted by our old companion. In the second innings too Grenidge was caught on the bounday line off Bedi after a mistimed sweep.The fielder has just been moved there!

    Brilliant players.Vishy,Pat,Pras,Andy,kallicharan et al.

    Amazing & Magical times.

  • Dummy4 on November 12, 2013, 22:56 GMT

    I remember listening to the radio commentary after one of my classmates had sneaked in a transistor radio into my 9th grade classroom. Aah, the joys of a boy's high school! Funny how two things stood out from this great test match. (1) the fact that Prasanna and Bedi wove such a spell that by the end of 2nd day, the 3rd inning of the match had already started with India down by 4 wickets. It was clear this Test wasn't going to see a 5th day. (2) I was a big supporter of Lloyd's young Windies team with new, upcoming stars like Richards, Roberts, Greenidge and Kallicharan. It was definitely deflating to hear the roars of the crowd (and my classmates with their hideous dances after each Windies wicket fell!!) as Prasanna and Bedi wove their magic and cleaned up 18 of the 19 wickets to fall. The other two included one for Ghavri and Kalllicharan getting run out after playing quite well for 51.

  • Puru on November 12, 2013, 16:32 GMT

    Great post by S Krishna. I was 14 when I watched that match.The bowling attck of Roberts,Boyce,Holder ,Julien and Gibbs was put to the sword in an exhilirating display of controlled aggression.On 96 he glanced and the crowd that will be his 100 but it was stopped on the boundary and Chnadra was boweld leaving Vishy on 97 no.In my mind it is the GREATEST Innings ever by an Indian.Second innings Vishy (48) guided young Anshuman Gaekwad (80 run out) and India went on win the test by 100 runs.Still remember the catch Enginner took of Pras to dismiss Viv.Twas the Doosra. Vishy's cover drives on the up against a fearsome attack was a sight.The sound of his bat on ball, reverberated in the stadium such was his timing that day.The Cheapuk crowd was treated to the strokeplay with elegance and power that has yet to be surpassed on Indian soil.

    I wish the BCCI shows footage of this match to our Youngsters .To Learn how to combine Talent and Humility.Gentelman Vishy true great & awsome Role Mode

  • Dummy4 on November 12, 2013, 14:15 GMT

    Judging by the comments and the article itself, maybe the Australians and Ricky Pointing in particular should ponder why even though they were champoins, they were never popular and their setbacks and defeats were always cheered by almost all non Austrlian cricket fans. But in case of West Indies, they were always adored or respected in their heydays. All people loved them.

  • Dummy4 on November 12, 2013, 13:33 GMT

    Beautifully written....took me back to the good old days...

  • Dummy4 on November 12, 2013, 13:17 GMT

    Mr krishna thanks for taking all the fans of Vishy down memory lane. In fact whenever I feel lonely this is one of the ways I get over the feeling. Reading about this particular innings. I was almost as old as you at that time, though much less fortunate; as I had to settle for Radio commentary. But in those days people like Anant Setlvad & Dicky Ratnaugar did wonderful job. Your description of the defensive shot is marvellous, but T 20 generation will wonder what is marvellous in a defensive prod. One cannot describe Vishy in any better way than " neither man placed much store in landmarks ... "

  • Sudhakar on November 12, 2013, 12:50 GMT

    This is one of the first memories I have about cricket in Chennai. I remember my cousin in Triplicane coming home with a laddu - offered by an ardent fan who was celebrating an India win. I saw scores of people thrilled having beaten the west indies. It was not until 1983 I realized the significance of this event. Many say that Tendulkar or Kapil or Saurav Ganguly has taken Indian cricket to the top. In my view, significant steps were built brick-by-brick and this innings by GRV must count as a foundation to the glory we have achieved today.