The Great Chase
This day, 30 years ago, India's batsmen, led by Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath, chased down a mammoth fourth-innings target of 403 at Port of Spain, setting a stunning world record. KN Prabhu was there.
Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad, ranks high among cricket grounds for its scenic beauty. For India, it holds memories to treasure. Here, in 1971, a 21-year-old stripling named Sunil Gavaskar set himself up to become the most prolific opening batsman of his time. And it was here, too, in April 1976, that India scored a victory over the West Indies with few parallels.
India came to the third Test at Trinidad after being outplayed in the first match of the four-Test series at Barbados. They had come close to winning the drawn second Test at the Queen's Park Oval, and when the third Test, scheduled to be played in Guyana, was rained off and the venue shifted back to Trinidad, they felt that they were in with a chance.
Yet, till the very last day, the outlook did not look promising. Even that inveterate optimist, India's captain Bishan Bedi, believed that the game was lost when I met him for breakfast on the morning of the penultimate day, for the West Indies, with a lead of 131, were set to put up a challenging target. They did this thanks to Alvin Kallicharran who made amends for his duck in the first innings, where he was one of BS Chandrasekhar's six victims, with an unbeaten 103 to enable Clive Lloyd to declare with two hours remaining on the fourth day.
The target of 403 was about the same as what the Australians had faced in Leeds in 1948, when Don Bradman (173 not out) and Arthur Morris (182) had carried the day. It is tempting to take the comparison further. The Australians won by seven wickets and India by one less, but in effect, India lost only two wickets - Anshuman Gaekwad and Gavaskar - to the bowlers; the two others, Gundappa Viswanath and Mohinder Amarnath were run-out. The Australian opening pair, Morris and Lindsay Hassett, put on 57 runs, while Gavaskar and Gaekwad added 69. The second-wicket partnership between Bradman and Morris was worth a mammoth 301. As against this, Gavaskar and Amarnath put on 108 - a modest contribution, patient and studious, yet, a study in aesthetics and an exercise in the art of playing spin bowling on a slow turner.
No pedant could have faulted Gavaskar's approach, though it lacked some of the fluency and certainty of his 156 in the second Test. With this knock, he made sure that the calypso, "Gavaskar, the Little Master", would continue to be played in Trinidad. Amarnath's was an innings of gravitas allied to power, as he forced the ball through the gaps in the wide web that Raphick Jumadeen cast in a vain bid to trap him, or drove it through Albert Padmore's widespread leg-side dragnet. Watching this battle with pleasure was the cricket writer and historian CLR James who kept repeating to me his well-known tag, "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?"
When Gavaskar left, for 102, Viswanath matched his supple grace with the bold outline of Amarnath's strokes in a stand of 159 to carry India to 292 for two by tea. Driven to despair by the failure of his spinners, Lloyd claimed the second new ball. It fared no better than the old, as 37 came from the eight overs shared by Bernard Julien and Michael Holding - who limped off the field after his opening stint. Viswanath gained his fourth Test century but lost his wicket when there were 70 runs left, as he responded instinctively to Amarnath and lost the race to the stumps to Jumadeen.
Five minutes later came the manda count. It was a wise move to send Brijesh Patel ahead of Eknath Solkar. Patel, with his bristling moustache looked like a Bombay pirate and he played the part by plundering runs. Everything was grist to the mill - mishits, byes - and there were also some dazzling strokes as Patel and Amarnath raced each other. But this was to cost Amarnath his wicket as Lloyd's accurate throw from cover ran him out. All the dejection, weariness and strain showed on Amarnath as he trudged off the field. He had batted for over 400 minutes and was unlucky to miss a well-deserved century by 15 runs.
When Patel pulled Jumadeen to bring up the victory with six mandatory overs remaining, the crowd came racing to the pavilion, and the cheers of the Indian supporters echoed from the Northern Hills which towered over the skyline. Among the cheerleaders was veteran writer Phil Thomson who had been at that Leeds match too. It was a moment to savour, for cricket history had been made - 406 remains, to date, the highest fourth-innings total by a team to win a Test.* Significantly, it also marked the beginnings of the West Indies' dependence on pace. In Lloyd's lexicon, spin would be a luxury he could dispense with.
*At the time the article was writtten, 406 was the highest winning total in the fourth innings. The record has subsequently been broken by West Indies, when they made 418 against Australia in 2003.
KN Prabhu, formerly sports editor of The Times of India, is India's seniormost cricket writer