Fourth Cornhill Test, The Oval

England v India 1979

Terry Cooper

Toss: England. Test debuts: England - D.L.Bairstow, A.R.Butcher.



Sunil Gavaskar during his epic 221 at The Oval in 1979 © Getty Images
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The match was drawn after the most gripping closing overs in a home Test since the draw at Lord's against West Indies in 1963, a match it closely resembled as all four results were possible with three balls left. Gavaskar's inspiring and technically flawless 221 earned him the Man of the Match award and brought that rarity in recent Tests in England - a final day charged with interest. Botham played the major part in preventing an Indian victory and confirmed his status as Man of the Series. As the team fought each other to a standstill, there were mainly Englishmen in the crowd who would not have displayed their customary dejection at a Test defeat.

Gavaskar's innings was the highest by an Indian against England, overtaking the unbeaten 203 by the younger Nawab of Pataudi at Delhi in 1963-64, and his stand of 213 with Chauhan surpassed the previous-best opening partnership for his country against England - 203 by Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Merchant at Manchester in 1936. India's 429 for eight - they were set 438 in 500 minutes - was the fourth-highest score in the fourth innings of a Test. To reach their target they would have needed to set a new mark for a side batting fourth and winning, but this generation of Indian batsmen have some notable performances in that department and the job did not frighten them.

England gave first caps to Butcher and Bairstow, omitting Randall and Taylor, while Willey returned after a gap of three years for Miller. Yajurvindra Singh replaced the injured Amarnath for India.

The game, played in virtually unbroken sunshine, began prosaically as Butcher and Boycott dug in without attempting to dominate. Butcher's disappointing innings ended in the over before lunch and Kapil Dev, as at Leeds, extended the breakthrough by taking two quick wickets. He slanted one into Boycott, and three balls later made one straighten at Gower, who he had also claimed lbw for a duck at Headingley. Willey and Gooch repaired the damage, Willey playing the strokes of the day by hooking and cover-driving with immense power. Botham achieved the three runs he needed to reach the landmark of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in his 21st Test, beating the 23 Tests required by Vinoo Mankad for this double. But Gooch's first Test century still eluded him; he fell in the first over of the second day.

Botham, as bowler and fielder, sent India sliding into trouble, taking two wickets and holding two catches, and India had subsided to 137 for five when bad light halted the game 40 minutes early. Botham's second catch was remarkable. Bairstow could only parry the ball when Vengsarkar edged Willis. The ball struck Brearley on the boot, flew upwards, and as Bairstow came across to retrieve it, Botham grabbed it one-handed at second slip. Viswanath had played exquisitely for almost three hours.

England were batting again by lunch on Saturday. The regular fall of wickets, caused by much batting below Test class from both sides, had driven the match along swifter than the normal sedate progress of a Test, and this was, of course, an important factor in allowing the marvellous finish.

Butcher was unable to improve significantly on his first innings form. Gooch drove one vast six, but when Gower failed again, Willey and Boycott decided on rather pedestrian consolidation over the last 75 minutes. Later events proved their caution justified. Boycott toiled with the handicap of back trouble on the Monday in the last three hours of his seven-hour effort, Botham was run out, neglecting to ascertain Boycott's intentions as he charged up the pitch, and so England were indebted to a crisp knock from Bairstow as they moved to their declaration.

At 76 for no wicket on the fifth morning, India wanted roughly a run a minute. Their rate was never brisk - 48 in the first hour, 45 in the second, and 44 in the third. Hendrick, allowing only 11 runs in six overs, did most to peg India's progress and, in mid-afternoon, Willey conceded only two runs in eight grudging overs. However, Hendrick disappeared for good with shoulder trouble after his spell, and Brearley's capacity for restriction was limited.

England were despairing of wickets when, after five and a quarter hours, Chauhan edged Willis. The despair soon returned as Vengsarkar joined Gavaskar in an accelerating stand which produced 153 at better than a run a minute. Gavaskar masterminded the show, doing all the thinking and playing most of the shots. Tea came at 304 for one and, after a mere six overs between the interval and five o'clock - England ruthlessly slowed down the game - the last 20 overs began at 328 for one with 110 wanted, and India favourites.

At 365 Botham uncharacteristically dropped Vengsarkar on the boundary - an error for which he swiftly compensated by transforming the match with three wickets, a catch and a run-out in the remaining 12 overs. He collected a simple catch off Vengsarkar at 366 and Willey swept aside the promoted Kapil Dev. Yashpal Sharma and Gavaskar rattled the score along to 389, when Botham returned with eight overs left. It was a gamble by Brearley, for Botham had looked innocuous during the day. But he struck with the key wicket, Gavaskar drilling a catch to mid-on shortly after England had taken a drinks break - a rare move, tactically based, with the end so near. Gavaskar's memorable innings lasted eight hours nine minutes, and he hit twenty-one fours, most of them coming from firm clips past mid-wicket and his unexpectedly powerful cover-drive. However, his cool control of the developing crisis was missed by India as much as his runs.

Viswanath unerringly found one of the widely spaced fielders, as had Vengsarkar and Gavaskar. Then Botham firmly ended India's hopes by having Yajurvindra Singh and Yashpal Sharma lbw in successive overs and, in between, making a slick stop to run out Venkataraghavan. Botham's final four overs brought him an absolutely crucuial three for 17. A target of 15 from the last over was too much, and the climax came with fielders encircling the bat.

© John Wisden & Co