There are victories, and there are notable triumphs. These are generally in the nature of historic wins the first victory in Test cricket, the first victory over a particular country, the first rubber triumph, the first win overseas, and so on. But in such a plethora of historic firsts, an event that took place on March 10 1971 is remembered even today by Indian cricket fans with noticeable fondness. For old-timers, it serves as a trip down memory lane, while for a later generation, it is a reminder of a great event.
Before the Indian team embarked on the Caribbean tour in February 1971, the two countries had played 23 Tests dating back to 1948. The record read - West Indies won 12, drawn 11. As if this was not bad enough from an Indian viewpoint, the startling fact was that not once in all those matches did India even take a first-innings lead!
Even as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was being swept back into power with a huge majority, not all eyes were on events in New Delhi. It was a watershed election in the history of the nation, but some 10,000 miles away, halfway around the globe, another watershed event was taking place, one that held the interest of not just cricket followers in this country. India had won a Test against the West Indies at the Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain. To some of today's generation, not familiar with Indian cricket history, the reaction could well be, "So what is the big deal?" On the contrary, it was a triumph worth going gaga over, as I shall try and explain.
Before the Indian team embarked on the Caribbean tour in February 1971, the two countries had played 23 Tests dating back to 1948. The record read - West Indies won 12, drawn 11. As if this was not bad enough from an Indian viewpoint, the startling fact was that not once in all those matches did India even take a firstinnings lead! India had beaten England, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand, had scored rubber triumphs over three of those opponents, and had even registered three victories outside the sub-continent. But when it came to playing the West Indies, the Indians seemed to suffer some kind of mental block.
Over the years, batsmen like Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Frank Worrell, Rohan Kanhai, Gary Sobers, Basil Butcher and Clive Lloyd had annihilated the bowlers, while the Indian batsmen came up a cropper while facing up to the fiery pace of Wesley Hall, Roy Gilchrist and Charlie Griffith, and even the spin of Alf Valentine, Lance Gibbs and Sobers.
This then was the background to the tour. Even though the West Indies were going through a rebuilding process following the retirement of some stalwarts, even though the Indian team had a new look about it, including a new captain in Ajit Wadekar, no one gave the Indians any chance of even stretching the West Indies, who still had Sobers, Kanhai, Lloyd and Gibbs in their ranks. Winning the rubber was of course out of the question.
And yet, in the first Test at Kingston, India not only took the first-innings lead but also forced the West Indies to follow on. Dilip Sardesai, with his now-legendary innings of 212, was very much the star. The shock had been registered, but the home team put up a much better show in the second innings to save the match comfortably. Following the dramatic events, there was considerable interest in the second Test.
Could India pull off something similar again, or was the Sabina Park performance just a fluke? When the West Indies were dismissed for 214 on the opening day, it was obvious that the new-look Indian side meant business. Sardesai again lead the way again with 112, and with useful contributions from Ashok Mankad (44), Eknath Solkar (55) and an exciting debutant in 21-year-old Sunil Gavaskar (65), India managed to take a lead of 138, despite the gallant effort of Jack Noreiga's nine for 95 in only his second Test. At the close of play on the third day, West Indies were 150 for one, and the pattern of play seemed to be following that of the first Test.
But there was a dramatic change in the script on the fourth day, Wednesday, March 10. The Indian bowling attack was not even at full strength, with Erapalli Prasanna injured. But Srinivas Venkatraghavan rose to the occasion, bagging five wickets for 95 runs. That wayward genius, Salim Durrani, chipped in with the wickets of Lloyd and Sobers in successive overs the latter for a duck. Ere long, West Indies were all out for 261, leaving India with a modest victory target of 124.
About the only interest inherent now was whether India would finish it off on the fourth evening or whether the match would go to a fifth day. With Gavaskar (67 not out) leading the way, India were home with a day to spare, the debutant completing a memorable debut by hitting the winning boundary. Fittingly enough, it was the 25th Test between the two countries, and with the remaining three Tests being drawn, the victory enabled India to win a rubber against the West Indies for the first time. The win at the Queen's Park Oval was a definitive turning point in Indian cricket history, as future events proved.
Little wonder, then, that the mention of March 10 1971 to any old-timer will have his eyes sparkling with delight in a moment, and he will be "off" on that trip down memory lane again.