A series victory at long last - 1978-79

Partab Ramchand

October 20, 2002

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The West Indian side that toured India in 1978-79 was perhaps the weakest to come to these shores till that date. In the aftermath of the Packer crisis, most of the top stars had defected to the Australian TV tycoon's World Series Cricket, and the team that came to India was largely made up of unknown names. Captain Alvin Kallicharran was of course a world-class player, and Larry Gomes was fairly wellestablished as a batsman whose wicket had to earned. But little was known of the others, and predictably enough, interest in the visitors was lukewarm.


It was obvious that much would depend on how Kallicharran got the best out of his depleted side. He certainly led from the front, scoring 538 runs and inspiring players like Gomes and Faoud Bacchus to come good. The left-handed Gomes was a model of consistency, hitting 405 runs with four half-centuries, while Bacchus, after notching up scores of 96 and 61, touched his peak in the final Test at Kanpur.
Given the fact that India were at full strength, the home team was expected to win the series. They did, and though the 1-0 margin in the six-Test series may give the impression that India struggled for victory, they were very much the better side, and the West Indies were lucky that they were not beaten by a more comprehensive margin. Incidentally it was India's first home triumph over the West Indies in five attempts.

It was obvious that much would depend on how Kallicharran got the best out of his depleted side. He certainly led from the front, scoring 538 runs and inspiring players like Gomes and Faoud Bacchus to come good. The left-handed Gomes was a model of consistency, hitting 405 runs with four half-centuries, while Bacchus, after notching up scores of 96 and 61, touched his peak in the final Test at Kanpur. In scoring 250 in 8-1/2 hours, the Guyanese right-hander made the highest score at Green Park, the second-highest score in any Test in India, and the second highest in India­West Indies matches, next only to Rohan Kanhai's 256 in Calcutta in 1958-59.

There was little substance in the rest of the batting. The bowling too depended heavily on the pace duo of Sylvester Clarke and Norbert Philip. While they were no match for the likes of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft - the men they had the thankless task of replacing - they were a pretty hostile pair and had their moments in the series, notably in the fourth Test at Madras on a pitch of exaggerated bounce. Clarke and Philip were involved in a bouncer war with Kapil Dev and Karsan Ghavri, and with some help from Vanburn Holder, almost won the match for the West Indies before India squeaked home by three wickets for the only decisive result of the rubber.

But considering their relative inexperience, the generally flat tracks and the strong Indian batting line-up, Clarke (21 wickets in five matches) and Philip (19 in six) could look back with some satisfaction. The series took place just after India's historic tour of Pakistan, and with India losing that series, Sunil Gavaskar replaced Bishan Singh Bedi as captain. The responsibilities certainly did not affect his batting, for Gavaskar took a heavy toll of the Caribbean attack. For the second time in his Test career, he topped the 700-run-mark for a series. In scoring 732 runs with four hundreds, including a double century, Gavaskar confirmed his stature as one of the world's leading players. En route, he hit a century in each innings for a third time, the only batsman to achieve this feat, and became the first Indian to reach 4,000 runs in Tests.

The Indian batting never had it so good. Besides Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath (2), Dilip Vengsarkar (2), Anshuman Gaekwad, Mohinder Amarnath and Kapil Dev got hundreds. As many as 11 centuries were notched up by Indian batsmen, and in two successive Tests in New Delhi and Kanpur, three Indians got hundreds in the same innings. At the Feroze Shah Kotla, India surpassed a 18-year-old record by compiling their highest-ever total in Test cricket ­ 566 for eight declared. But this record lasted for precisely one match. In the next game at the Green Park, India raised this to 644 for seven declared.

The bowling was in the shadow of these stupendous batting feats, but Kapil Dev, Ghavri and Srinivas Venkataraghavan came up with some fine performances. Kapil Dev took 17 wickets and Ghavri 27, and for once, Indian pace bowling was the dominant destroyer. The tour of Pakistan had seen the break-up of the spin quartet, and this series hastened the end. Both Bedi and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar were dropped, and even if they were brought back, it was obvious that the main thrust of their attack was over.

It was left to Venkataraghavan to carry the spin burden virtually on his own, and he did this admirably, taking 20 wickets in the six Tests, playing a leading role in the lone victory at Madras and almost bowling India to victory at Calcutta. The West Indies had only one wicket left when bad light halted play, and they were again lucky to escape defeat at New Delhi when rain halted proceedings with India in an advantageous position.

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Tour Results
Karnataka v West Indians at Ahmedabad - Feb 10-12, 1979
Karnataka won by 11 runs
India v West Indies at Kanpur - Feb 2-8, 1979
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India v West Indies at Delhi - Jan 24-29, 1979
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North Zone v West Indians at Jalandhar - Jan 20-22, 1979
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India v West Indies at Chennai - Jan 12-16, 1979
India won by 3 wickets
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