Viswanath's finest hour -1974-75

Partab Ramchand

October 18, 2002

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By the late sixties and early seventies, the great West Indian side of the decade had broken up, but by 1974, the rebuilding process had been completed, and it was a strong and confident side that came to India during the winter. Clive Lloyd took over the captaincy and the side bristled with brilliant young stroke players in Gordon Greenidge, Roy Fredericks, Lawrence Rowe, Vivian Richards and Alvin Kallicharran. In addition, they had fine all-rounders in Bernard Julien and Keith Boyce and a fearsome pace bowler in Andy Roberts while veteran Lance Gibbs, at 40 was still around to shoulder the spin burden.

Gundappa Viswanath
© ICC
Even as the West Indies had completed their rebuilding process, India were going through a turbulent period. In England in 1974, India had been routed in all three Tests and a few seamy happenings off the field added to the already clouded atmosphere. As the team approached the series against the West Indies, they could not have been in a confident frame of mind, particularly since Ajit Wadekar suddenly announced his retirement and the Indian Cricket Board slapped a one Test ban on Bishen Bedi for airing controversial views during an unauthorised TV interview in England.

The selectors had to find a new captain and they fell back on Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. But while leading India in the first Test at Bangalore, which was lost by 267 runs, Pataudi was injured. A temporary replacement had to be found for the second Test at New Delhi and the selectors' choice was Sunil Gavaskar. But the opening batsman was injured in a Ranji Trophy game and this led to utter confusion as to who would lead India since the captain had not been appointed even on the night before the commencement of the Test.

Ultimately, S Venkatraghavan was chosen to lead the team on the morning of the match. But the change of captaincy did not result in a change of fortunes and India lost by an innings and 17 runs their fifth successive defeat in the space of six months - to go two down in the series.

At this stage, interest in the series declined and a 5-0 rout was predicted. The West Indian batsmen had made hay with Greenidge, Richards, Lloyd and Kallicharran making hundreds while Roberts with his pace, Vanburn Holder with his cut and swing and Gibbs with his off spin had mowed down the Indian batting. There seemed a lack of fighting spirit in the home team.

Astonishingly, however, India won the next two Tests to draw level in the series. And they did so without the services of Gavaskar, who was still on the injured list. The architect of this turn about was Gundappa Viswanath.

With scores of 52 and 139 at Calcutta and 97 not out and 46 at Madras, he more than anyone else helped shaped victories by 85 runs and 100 runs. The spin trio of Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar weaved patterns around the West Indian batsmen and suddenly the visitors looked very vulnerable. They were also timely contributions from new players like Madan Lal, Anshuman Gaekwad and Karsan Ghavri and this offset the poor form of Pataudi. But if Pataudi's reflexes had considerably slowed down - this was his last series - he displayed shrewdness and skill in his captaincy, a notable factor in India's fightback.

Predictably enough, there was tremendous interest in the decider to be played at the brand new Wankhede stadium in Bombay. Could India emulate the feat of Australia in 1936-37 as the only side to come from 0-2 down to win a five-Test series? The answer was emphatically answered in the negative by the West Indies who ran up a total of 604 for six declared on the third morning after a minor riot interrupted play on the second evening. Lloyd hammered an unbeaten 242 while Fredericks got his second hundred of the series.

Despite some fine batting by Gavaskar, Viswanath, Gaekwad and Eknath Solkar, who posted his only Test century, India just about managed to avoid the follow on and the West Indies had plenty of time to coast to victory by 201 runs in the decisive Test, played over six days.

While the batting certainly played its part in the West Indies' triumph, the most vital role was the pace bowling of Roberts who with 32 wickets, set a record for IndiaWest Indies matches. Gibbs showed that he had lost none of his old magic in taking 21 wickets.

But India too came out with flying colours, thanks principally to the batting of Viswanath who finished with 568 runs in the series. He strode like a colossus, emphasised by the fact that the next highest aggregate was Farokh Engineer's 222. The spinners, handled in adroit fashion by Pataudi, too had a major hand in India's gallant showing. Also, the fact that all five Tests produced results in India, where pitches were reputedly slow and heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen, did not go unnoticed. Indeed, it was a series in which the accent was on attack even as negative tactics were generally shunned.

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