<
>

Twenty five years later, the Queens Park Oval triumph still lingers on

When Dinanath Ramnarine and Neil McGarell bowled in tandem against South Africa at Antigua last week, it was the first time in twenty five years that West Indies had the cheek to play two specialist spinners. On a humid afternoon at the Queens Park Oval in Port of Spain, precisely 25 years to the day, India registered one of the great victories in Test match history. Then, the West Indies played not two, but three, specialist spinners on a wicket expected to take turn as the match progressed. Having dropped veteran spinner Lance Gibbs, pushing 42, the selectors reposed their faith on three callow apprentices in left arm orthodox Raphick Jumadeen, off spinner Albert Padmore and leg spinner Imtiaz Ali, the latter two making their Test debuts.

It was the third Test of the 1975/76 series, scheduled originally to be held at the Bourda in Georgetown, but forced by torrential rains to be shifted to Port of Spain. West Indies were lulled into playing three spinners by the outcome of the second Test just over a week earlier, also in Port of Spain, when India's own spin troika tied the hosts in knots, taking 14 wickets between them and almost snatching victory. But of course Jumadeen, Imtiaz and Padmore were not exactly a patch on Bedi, Chandra and Venkat.

Lloyd won the toss and took first strike, hoping to catch India on a wearing wicket in the end game. Viv Richards, then in the midst of a prolific run, slammed his third century in three Tests, surviving a searching examination from Chandra, his old nemesis, who took all five wickets on the opening day. But the West Indies lost their bottom half for 34 on the second morning, mostly to Bedi, and settled for 359.

In reply the Indians could muster only 228, Madan Lal top scoring with 42. Sunny Gavaskar, who had a lowest score of 65 in five previous innings at the Queens Park Oval, failed for the first time, falling leg before to Holding for 26. Lloyd declared after lunch on the fourth day inviting the Indians to chase down a target of 403 in a minimum of 595 minutes. The sheer numerical value of the target had an intimidating ring; besides, history was overwhelmingly on Lloyd's side. Only Bradman's Invincibles had exceeded 400 in the fourth innings to win a Test match.

By stumps on the same evening, India had moved to 134/1 with Gavaskar unbeaten on 85, leaving another 269 to get in a full day's play although the primary aim was still to save the game. Next morning Gavaskar struggled almost an hour to make his fourth hundred in six innings on the ground, even as the calypso composed in his honour on the last tour was played to distraction by the large posse of fans of Indian descent unabashedly cheering the country of their roots. Dancing down the wicket to Jumadeen soon after he was adjudged caught at the wicket although Murray whipped off the bails to make doubly sure. It was the only wicket accruing to the bowlers in the whole day.

At the other end, Mohinder Amarnath was making excruciatingly slow progress, quite unlike his usual impetuous self, but it served the purpose under the circumstances. Now he played second fiddle to Viswanath who took charge with a mix of deft footwork and stylish strokeplay. Lloyd bowled his spinners into the ground, taking the second new ball 29 overs after it was due, when it was too late. Runs came fast and thick although five minutes before the 20 mandatory overs in the last hour began, Vishy was run out.

There were 67 still needed but Brijesh Patel, fresh from a century in the previous Test on the same ground, carried on the baton, treating the spinners with disdain. Amarnath, whose 85 came out of 323 runs made while he was at the wicket, was also run out on the doorstep of victory before Patel nonchalantly stroked Jumadeen for a boundary to close out the game with seven overs to spare.

That was the moment when Clive Lloyd lost all respect for spin bowling. His biographer, Trevor McDonald recalls that Lloyd summoned his three spinners in the dressing room and inquired: "Gentlemen, I gave you 400 runs to bowl at and you failed to bowl out the opposition. How many runs must I give you in future to make sure that you get the wickets?" The mental scars of the 5-1 thrashing in Australia were fresh in Lloyd's mind and for the final Test at Sabina Park, Lloyd fielded an all out pace assault consisting of Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel, Bernard Julien and Vanburn Holder. Thus was born the four pronged West Indies pace battery fielded by Lloyd in 26 of 27 consecutive Tests, including 18 in a row, from 1980-83.

The immediate outcome of that victory was anything but pleasant for the tourists. Bowling from around the wicket to target the body, Holding and co. let loose a barrage of bouncers and beamers at Kingston. Two men retired hurt in India's first innings; five were absent hurt in the second. All 17 members of the touring party were called in to field at various stages of the match. Wrote Dicky Rutnagur in Wisden, "As...the Indian team trudged along the tarmac towards their home-bound aeroplane at Kingston's Norman Manley Airport, they resembled Napoleon's troops on the retreat from Moscow. They were battle-weary and a lot of them were enveloped in plasters and bandages".

But that one victory also gave them a sense of self-belief, hitherto lacking, that was to become evident over the next few years. Borne out of the Port of Spain inspiration, India implausibly gave pursuit to two other 400 plus targets at Adelaide and the Oval within the next four years, although both were doomed to end in heroic failure.

Moreover it came flush in the middle of Indian cricket's glory days when the team won consistently abroad. Nine away wins in 10 years from 1968-78 was a staggering achievement. Not the contrived sequence of wins in the early 90s on designer wickets at home. Much has been made of the recent triumph over Australia and deservingly so. But deprecatory murmurs will continue to float unless the pathetic away record since 1986 can be straightened out. The current Indian team may have more superstars, but the spirit of teamwork was never expressed to better effect than by the class of the 70s.