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India are struggling against England on this tour because their fast bowlers have been ineffective, but back in 1971, on a slow Oval pitch, a legspinner took them to their maiden series win in the country
Interviews by Nagraj Gollapudi
August 6, 2011
It was Indian cricket's annus mirabilis. Months before, they had won in the West Indies; now they pulled off the same feat in England. But where the win in Port-of-Spain was down largely to India's impressive batting, this one was the bowlers' doing. India's spinners (Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, Bishan Bedi, Srinivas Venkataraghavan) accounted for 37 wickets to their seam-bowling colleagues' 11 in the series. At The Oval, it was all Chandra, whose eight wickets brought India their biggest win to date.
Photographic Memory : A divine visitation
50 Magic Moments : Solkar takes a blinder
Article : August 24, 1971 revisited
Players/Officials: Bhagwath Chandrasekhar | Farokh Engineer | Sunil Gavaskar | Ray Illingworth | Ajit Wadekar
Matches: England v India at The Oval
Series/Tournaments: India in England Test Series
England had been deprived of victories in the first two Tests. The Oval would decide the series.
Ray Illingworth, England captain We got a very poor pitch at Lord's, and we got the worst of it - it was green and brown and doing all sorts of things when we batted on the first day, and towards the end it became slow. India were eight down around tea on the final day and just then there was a spot of rain. At Old Trafford they needed over 400 in a day and a half, but we were disappointed by the rain again.
Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, India legspinner Before this Test there was speculation that I might be the bowler to be left out. I think it was our manager, Hemu Adhikari, who settled the matter. Our skipper, Ajit Wadekar, also had a lot of faith in me.
England roared off the blocks thanks to John Jameson, and were 355 all out at the end of the day. The second day was rained out. India were all out for 284 early on day four. England's game till then, but things didn't go exactly to plan after that.
Illingworth Our lead was decent - it should have been sufficient to win the match. There was nothing particularly wrong with the wicket, but we had ourselves to blame. We got bowled out for a very small total in our second innings and lost the upper hand.
Ajit Wadekar, India captain With the wicket getting slower, and even breaking in and around the rough, and with just two days left, I decided that it was best to bring the spinners on straightaway in the second innings. And they responded extremely well.
Sunil Gavaskar, India opener [On the morning of day two] the headlines in some of the English newspapers surprised us. One of the newspapers even went to the extent of saying that England could go ahead to an easy victory. Mind you, at this stage we had not even begun our batting; but the English critics were already predicting an England victory. This, more than anything else, spurred us on to do better.
England lost their first wicket early - Jameson run out by Chandra, who then went on to turn in an extraordinary performance.
Chandrasekhar It was the ball which castled John Edrich that made me aware that things could happen on this wicket. Edrich, a most dangerous batsman, effective, and capable of the long innings, played forward helplessly. It was my fast ball which breached his defence. I realised my legbreak would turn too.
Venkat [Srinivas Venkataraghavan] at the other end gave nothing away. On his day, and with a little encouragement from the wicket, he could really pin down batsmen. And then there was [Eknath] Solkar. I cannot imagine how badly off we spin bowlers would have been without him. His very presence almost had the batsmen thinking twice about pushing forward.
Venkat's catch to dismiss [Brian] Luckhurst, who had been batting steadily, was a blinder. I think Luckhurst did not read the length right and launched into the cut. He slashed more than cut, and the ball seared off the edge. How Venkat saw it and snatched it one-handed remains a mystery. Then, it was nice to see [Basil] D'Oliveira succumb to pressure. He tried to get at Venkat and miscued. He had mauled us in 1967. Ray Illingworth knocked a catch back to me. I just could not believe it all even then. Solkar came up with a fine catch to get rid of Knott. Venkat had been giving Knott a harrying time. Finally, I got [John] Price lbw for three. It was virtually a low full-toss that struck him on the ankle. I was in a daze. England all out 101 and I had figures of 6 for 38.
|"I went to sleep when I came back to the dressing room after being dismissed. I was nudged awake by Ken Barrington, the England manager, who told me that we had won. I said to him that I always knew we'd win" India's captain, Ajit Wadekar, was confident of victory|
Wadekar Chandra just needed to get a wicket in his first two or three overs, else he would start experimenting. So I knew I had to handle him properly. On that fourth day he got off to a good start. He and Venkat kept the Englishmen guessing.
Down the line I noticed that Derek Underwood was playing Chandra confidently, so I replaced him with Bishan [Bedi] for a few overs - which Chandra humbly accepted without getting agitated, even if he was in the thick of the wickets. Underwood tried sweeping Bishan and was caught at short leg. The last man was the left-hander, [John] Price, who was working Bishan out quite well, so I brought back Chandra, who finished the job by getting Price leg-before.
Illingworth That sort of pitch suited Chandra because he bowled very fast. If he got two or three inches of turn at that pace, that was enough to make him dangerous. Three of our batsmen, including me, got out to full-tosses. But he did bowl well: got on top of us right from the beginning. India were always a good side if their spinners were on top.
Farokh Engineer, India wicketkeeper Chandra was an absolute pleasure to keep to. Almost every ball was different. He was certainly the greatest spin bowler for me. Maybe the English batsmen misread some of his yorkers that were disguised as full-tosses.
England couldn't get any partnerships going and were dismissed for 101. That left India 173 to get to win the series. They started hesitantly, losing Gavaskar for a duck. But Illingworth, normally an astute tactician, missed a trick.
Illingworth We said to Derek, "Look, you've got to bowl a bit slower. You're not going to turn it at the pace you're bowling at." He bowled slower for two or three overs, but then he lost it and said, "I can't bowl this slow." Eventually I gave it to Luckhurst, who spun it a lot as soon as he came on, and got a wicket right away. If I had brought him on an hour earlier, we may have won.
It was a very slow, low, nothing sort of pitch. The biggest thing was the new lbw law: you couldn't be out leg-before to a ball pitched outside the off stump unless you weren't playing a shot. That made a big difference, because I know I bowled about 40 overs in the second innings and I must have hit the pads two or three times an over. That was disappointing.
Wadekar I was very confident of reaching the target. Illingworth's psychology was that we were not good against their pace, and in the process he floundered. Then he relied too much on Underwood. I just told my batsmen to wait and watch and go for the runs.
Small target or not, India were losing wickets every now and then.
Engineer When we batted in the second innings the wicket was at its worst, especially on the final day, so England certainly had the advantage still. And Illingworth was a shrewd captain - he had plugged all the boundaries. For once my batting was a bit boring, but I was just determined that we would graft and win the match.
We were just a handful of runs away from victory when Vishy [Gundappa Viswanath] was out. Abid Ali walked in. I was aware that the tail followed after him, and I told him to take it easy and to just try and push for singles.
The very first ball, he charged out, but Knott missed an easy stumping. Abid was so keen to get the winning runs, and eventually he did, by cutting Luckhurst to the boundary. What followed was sheer pandemonium. The Indian crowds charged down to the pitch and hoisted us onto their shoulders.
Wadekar I went to sleep when I came back to the dressing room after being dismissed. I was nudged awake by Ken Barrington, the England manager, who told me that we had won. I said to him that I always knew we'd win.
We were on top of the world. England were rated the No. 1 team then, and we had been very eager to beat them, especially because we had just beaten West Indies in the Caribbean. The spinners were once again the cornerstone of this famous victory.
Chandrasekhar quotes from The Winning Hand by Rajan Bala; Gavaskar quotes from Sunny Days (courtesy Rupa & Co, both titles)
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine in 2006Feeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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