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In Bombay, the birthplace of Indian cricket, unprecedented scenes were witnessed on the night of August 24, the day India beat England in the third Test Match at The Oval. There was dancing in the streets. Revellers stopped and boarded buses to convey the news to commuters. In the homes, children garlanded wireless sets over which the cheery voice of Brian Johnston had proclaimed the glad tidings of India's first Test victory in England, a victory which also gave them the rubber.
As in the West Indies, the spin attack was the cornerstone of India's success in the Test series and their overall record of seven wins and only one loss - a distinguished performance on a short tour. Of course, the inclusion of Chandrasekhar gave it a sharper edge and its effectiveness was enhanced no less by the vast improvement in fielding standards. For this, credit goes mainly to the manager, Lt. Col. H. R. Adhikari who, to borrow from football parlance, was a "track suit" manager.
Chandrasekhar, Bedi, Venkataraghavan and Prasanna comprised one of the most versatile spin combinations that any country has ever sent on tour. Of the 244 wickets that fell to bowlers on the whole tour, these four captured 197 and in the Tests, Chandrasekhar, Bedi and Venkataraghavan accounted for 37 as against 11 by the two seamers, Abid Ali and Solkar. Masters of their craft, the spinners bowled well even under unfavourable conditions and at Lord's and The Oval, where the pitches assisted them, they were quite menacing.
Although most of England's batsmen had faced him in 1967, Chandrasekhar posed even more problems than on his first visit. Venkataraghavan returned for his second tour a much improved bowler, possessing greater variations in pace and flight, and seemingly able to extract more bounce than he did earlier in his career. With 63 victims, he was the highest wicket-taker on the tour.
Bedi bowled tirelessly, and in the challenging manner of the classical left-arm spinner. He must rank amongst the finest bowlers of his type to have toured this country. Prasanna, whom many (Gary Sobers included) consider the world's best off-spinner today, failed to gain a Test place. India could not afford the luxury of two bowlers of a type and Venkataraghavan's superior batting and fielding ability gained him preference.
Although Abid Ali provided a sensational start to the Old Trafford Test by capturing the first four wickets for only 15 runs in 11.1 overs, the Indian seam attack played a very minor role. Their quickest bowler, Govindraj, did not play a single Test.
None of the batsmen performed feats which could be called outstanding. But Gavaskar and Wadekar both made a thousand runs and Viswanath, though he scored three centuries before the first Test, just failed to emulate them. There were many times when we saw glimpses of Gavaskar's undisputed class. Had he resisted the temptation to drive early in his innings, he might have made many more runs.
Happily for the tourists, Wadekar seemed to have banished from his mind the memories of an indifferent West Indies tour. If less aggressive and spectacular than in 1967, he played responsibly and consistently. A pugnacious fighter in the Test matches, he made 85 at Lord's to redeem India from a shocking start. Wadekar had a poor second Test but, at The Oval, he lifted India out of a crisis in the first innings and played a major role in India's successful struggle for runs in the last innings on a difficult wicket.
The best of Visnawath was seen during the first leg of the tour. Not the biggest, but the most useful effort during this spell of good form was his dogged 68 in the first innings of the first Test. It helped India to stay in the fight. Second in both the tour and the Test batting averages was the left-handed Solkar, whose batting not only improved in technique, but acquired a refreshing, positive personality.
Engineer's availability for the Test matches made the difference between defeat and victory. At The Oval, he batted most sensibly during a difficult period in the first innings and his experience of playing in a tense situation - which most of his team-mates lacked - came in just as handy in the final stage of the battle for victory. Although it was a long time since he had kept to the Indian spinners - and taking Chandrasekhar needs a lot of practice - Engineer's performance behind the stumps was of the highest class.
Sardesai did not recapture his form of the West Indies tour, but the best he had to offer came in the nick of time, at The Oval, when he made 55 in the first innings in the teeth of some inspired bowling by Illingworth. His cool-headed resistance in the second innings was hardly less valuable.
The above-mentioned players represented the complete strength of the Indian batting. Mankad and Jayantilal proved disappointments and Baig, the toast of the Indian tour of twelve years earlier, failed to make a comeback. It must be some sort of a record that not a single century was scored on behalf of the side winning the rubber.
In the field, as already mentioned, Wadekar's team were far superior to any previous Indian side in England. Solkar shone in all positions. Close to the wicket, he, Wadekar and Venkataraghavan took their catches expertly. It was also a measure of the Indians' fitness that they kept remarkably free of injuries and illnesses.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Middlesex v Indians at Lord's, Jun 23-25, 1971
Tour Match: Essex v Indians at Colchester, Jun 26-29, 1971
Tour Match: DH Robins' XI v Indians at Eastbourne, Jun 30-Jul 2, 1971
Tour Match: Kent v Indians at Canterbury, Jul 3-6, 1971
Tour Match: Leicestershire v Indians at Leicester, Jul 7-9, 1971
Tour Match: Warwickshire v Indians at Birmingham, Jul 10-13, 1971
Tour Match: Glamorgan v Indians at Cardiff, Jul 14-16, 1971
Tour Match: Hampshire v Indians at Bournemouth, Jul 17-20, 1971
Tour Match: Minor Counties v Indians at Lakenham, Jul 28-30, 1971
Tour Match: Surrey v Indians at The Oval, Jul 31-Aug 2, 1971
Tour Match: Yorkshire v Indians at Leeds, Aug 11-13, 1971
Tour Match: Nottinghamshire v Indians at Nottingham, Aug 14-17, 1971
Tour Match: Sussex v Indians at Hove, Aug 25-27, 1971
Tour Match: Somerset v Indians at Taunton, Aug 28-30, 1971
Tour Match: Worcestershire v Indians at Worcester, Sep 1-3, 1971
Tour Match: TN Pearce's XI v Indians at Scarborough, Sep 4-7, 1971