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The 1970-71 tour of the West Indies was, till then, India's most successful cricket venture abroad. West Indies, the only country they had not so far beaten, were mastered in the second Test. This win decided the series in India's favour. Only once before had they won a rubber away from home, 3-1 against New Zealand, in 1968.
Outside the Tests, India played seven first-class matches. They lost to Barbados and, with all their front-line batsmen resting, they experienced something of a struggle against Guyana. They had very much the better of the drawn games against two of the other major territories, Jamaica and Trinidad, the Shell Shield Champions, as also the one against the Board President's XI, a strong combination of Test probables.
There were separate matches, each of three days, against the Leeward and Windward Islands. The Leewards were beaten in a splendid finish and the Windwards forced a most honourable draw in Dominica, where an official touring side had never played before.
Test cricket was played for the first time on Sundays in the West Indies. The one exception, however, was the first Test, at Kingston. The Indians' overall record of two wins, one defeat and nine draws could well have read six wins, one defeat and five draws had Wadekar, their new captain, adopted a more positive approach. His bowlers always looked match-winners, but the batsmen were not encouraged to give them the opportunity to go for the kill. Little consideration was given to the entertainment of the crowds which, at all centres, were big enough for the tour to yield an appreciable profit.
While victory in the series opened a new chapter in the history of Indian cricket, West Indies suffered the disappointment of losing their fourth successive rubber and their second at home. It was ironic that West Indies should have failed to win even a single match in a series which saw Sobers bat in supreme form for 597 runs (av. 74.62). Charlie Davis, of Trinidad, playing one Test and two innings less, also totalled over 500 runs and finished at the top of the averages (132.25).
The consistency of Sobers, who failed only in the second Test, and Davis was more than matched by Gavaskar and Sardesai. Gavaskar's arrival on the Test scene, at 21, was near phenomenal. Despite missing the first Test through a finger injury, which he aggravated by nail-biting, Gavaskar amassed 774 runs at an average of 154.80. He had to sit out all three first-class games in Jamaica and yet he finished with 1,169 runs (av. 97.41). Only Hendren and Sandham have scored more runs in a West Indian season.
Gavaskar's achievements equalled, surpassed or approached several important records. No Indian batsman had hitherto made 700 runs or more in a single series. Only K. D. Walters before him had scored a century and a double-century in the same Test. Gavaskar fell only five runs short of E. D. Weekes' aggregate of 779, the highest in a series between the West Indies and India. Gavaskar also established a new record for the highest aggregate in a maiden Test series (703 by G. A. Headley in 1929-30 was the previous highest). Only one other batsman can pride himself on a higher average for a series than Gavaskar - Sir Donald Bradman (201.50 v. South Africa, in 1931-32 and 178.75 v. India, in 1947-48).
Sardesai, far from assured of a regular Test place at the start of the tour, also performed admirably in scoring 642 runs. He held the batting together and gave it all its personality till Gavaskar recovered from his injury. Sardesai came to India's rescue in every crisis they faced and it was significant that the only game they lost was one in which he was rested.
Both Viswanath, who went on the tour with a high reputation, and Wadekar batted well below their best, but in the left-handed Solkar India discovered a batsman not likely to stumble in the dark alleys of adversity. But for his partnerships with Sardesai, India could well have lost the first, second and fourth Tests. Still young and inexperienced, Solkar betrayed one or two palpable deficiencies in technique, but his resources of courage and determination were endless. As an all-round fieldsman, Solkar was invaluable and as a bowler in two styles he always tried hard.
Considering the quality of the bowling they faced, India did not realise the full potential of their batting strength. India led on the first innings in three of the five Tests, but actually batting success was more evenly spread by the West Indies than the Indians.
Lewis, the Jamaica wicket-keeper, who came in after the first two Tests and opened the innings in the fourth and fifth, proved an obdurate customer, averaging 86.33 over five innings. Kanhai made 433 runs in the series, his match-saving 158 not out in the first Test being his outstanding effort. Foster's 177 runs in the last two Test s and the manner in which he made them suggested that he should have won a place earlier in the series.
The Indian tactics of attacking their leg stump made life difficult for the left-handers. Only Sobers flourished. Carew, troubled by recurring muscle injuries, and Fredericks were severely restricted. By his own standards, Lloyd had an indifferent series but he was very unlucky in that in his ten innings, together worth 295 runs, he was three times run out and once was bowled by a cruel shooter. He passed fifty three times and on each occasion he looked more than formidable.
The oft-repeated criticism that West Indies would be better off with Sobers batting higher up the order was again applicable. It did not help the West Indies that, generally speaking, their pitches had lost their former pace. The pitches for the two Tests in Trinidad were certainly sub-standard. The new one at Sabina Park, Kingston was also appreciably slower than on the last Indian tour. It took spin quite early and put the gifted Indian bowlers in their element.
The West Indies tried various combinations of bowlers, of whom Sobers, when roused, looked the most dangerous. For one who had always to be prepared to play a long innings, Sobers did a considerable amount of bowling. His quicker style left its mark on more than one Indian innings and he also bowled a couple of dangerous spells of wrist spin. Perhaps he should have bowled more of this variety, particularly at Solkar.
There were times when Holder and Dowe, a new fast-bowling recruit from Jamaica, looked menacing, but neither was capable of more than one truly hostile spell in any innings. The one chance that Boyce was given was in Guyana, where the wicket offered him little scope. Obviously doubtful of the effectiveness of his type of bowling, the selectors did not play Shepherd till he helped Barbados beat the Indians before the fourth Test.
West Indies' leading wicket-taker was Jack Noreiga, a 35-year-old off-spinner from Trinidad who, when he began the season, had not played first-class cricket for eight years. He captured 17 wickets (av. 29.00) in the series but to put his performance in proper perspective it must be mentioned that 15 of them were obtained in the two Tests played on the dubious pitches at the Queen's Park Oval, Trinidad. Nine of them were claimed in the first innings of the second Test, this being the first instance of a West Indies bowler taking more than eight wickets in one innings of a Test match.
Although Chandrasekhar, later the scourge of England, was left at home, the Indian bowlers excelled themselves, the three main spinners, Prasanna, Bedi and Venkataraghavan, between them taking 48 of the 68 Test wickets that fell to the bowlers. All of them were remarkably accurate and even if the pitches tended to aid them, there is no doubt that their mastery in flighting the ball gave them a great advantage.
Prasanna, one of the world's leading off-spinners, missed two Tests through finger injuries, but the rapid advance of Venkataraghavan during the tour enabled India to make light of Prasanna's absence. Venkataraghavan captured 22 Test wickets and 41 on the whole tour. Using his height, he got a surprising amount of bounce from even the slower pitches. Only S. P. Gupte, who took 50 wickets in 1952-53, has taken more wickets on an Indian tour of the West Indies.
The Indian close fieldsmen took some spectacular catches, yet a lot of simpler ones did not stick. However, the percentage of catches dropped by the West Indies was higher and this factor, more than any other, tipped the scales in India"s favour. Gavaskar, often early in his innings, and Solkar were major beneficiaries of West Indies' fielding errors. Most of these dropped catches went down in the slips and even Sobers, on occasions, was found wanting.
India' s first-string wicket-keeper, Krishnamurthy, improved as the tour progressed, but earlier did not quite look ready for Test cricket. Both as wicket-keeper and as batsman, Engineer was sorely missed. He was left out because of the Indian Board's policy not to consider cricketers who had not made themselves available for the preceding domestic season.
The inclusion of Lewis solved part of West Indies' batting problems, but one felt that Findlay was unlucky to be dropped after his patchy performance in Trinidad, for the pitch was not exactly the easiest one to keep wicket on.
Their long-awaited win over the West Indies will prove a source of inspiration and confidence to the Indians in future engagements. Although rudely shocked by the result, West Indies are not likely to be dispirited, because enthusiasm for the game has never been higher in any of the West Indies territories. Its development is receiving much dedication from administrators and ex-cricketers, and there is ample promise of West Indies cricket coming back to the forefront in the near future.
Test Matches-Played 5, Won 1, Drawn 4.
First-class Matches-Played 12, Won 2, Lost 1, Drawn 9.
All Matches-Played 13, Won 3, Lost 1, Drawn 9.
Wins- West Indies, Leeward Islands, University of the West Indies.
Draws- West Indies (4), Jamaica, West Indies Board President"s XI, Trinidad, Guyana, Windward Islands.