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- By Devendra Prabhudesai

'Team India' certainly disappointed its fans by losing the BCCI Platinum Jubilee game to Pakistan on the 13th of November 2004. Incidentally, it was not the first time India had failed to prevail in a game of cricket that commemorated a historic occasion in their Board's history.

Close to 25 years ago, in February 1980 to be precise, the English cricket team stopped over in Mumbai on their way home from a disastrous tour of Australia, for a one-off Test match, organized to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the BCCI. Those were the days when Test cricket reigned supreme in Indian hearts and the one-day game was an alien commodity. The Indians were the overwhelming favourites, having just beaten Australia and Pakistan in consecutive six-Test series at home. Of the four Tests they had won from the twelve against the two sides, two had been played at Mumbai on a brown, spin-oriented track. England on the other hand had been steamrolled 3-0 by a rejuvenated Australian team comprising the Chappell brothers, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh and other Packer rebels who had returned to traditional cricket after the rapprochement between the 'Cricket Establishment' and Kerry Packer signalled the end of the World Series Cricket revolution. Confidence in the English camp was low and Mike Brearley and his teammates were clearly the underdogs.

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Ian Botham.

There was an element of tumult in the Indian camp as well. The home team was to be captained by the little genius Gundappa Vishwanath, who had been elevated to the top job after Sunil Gavaskar, his long-time teammate and brother-in-law, stepped down at the end of the fifth Test against Pakistan at Chennai, which India won to take the series 2-0. Gavaskar had requested the Board President to delay the team's departure for the forthcoming tour of the West Indies by a few days, to enable the players to relax after seven months of non-stop cricket. But what he got was a snub, and he responded by declaring himself unavailable for the tour and abdicating from the captaincy. Vishwanath was appointed for the final Test against Pakistan and the Jubilee Test against England.

Ultimately, the tour of the Caribbean was cancelled as the West Indies Board was not sure about the commercial viability of an Indian team sans Gavaskar.

The BCCI had left no stone unturned to make the Jubilee Test one to remember. Invitations had been sent out to all the living Indian Test cricketers, and a bevy of former captains graced the turf of the Wankhede stadium on the first morning - from Lala Amarnath, independent India's first cricket captain, to the incumbent Vishwanath, they were all there with a couple of exceptions. There were plenty of delighted faces all around, but the members of the Indian team were certainly not among those. They were shocked to see a wicket that was as similar to the bare strip on which they had thrashed Australia and Pakistan earlier in the season, as Chennai was to the North Pole. It was green, and seemed to have plenty of juice in it for the pacers. It was not the first time the Wankhede wicket was the target of a cricket team's wrath, and it certainly wasn't the last!

Vishwanath, in a bold move, won the toss and elected to bat. The start of the Indian innings was even more bold, as Vishwanath's predecessor, a man known for his technique and discipline, left his peers and seniors gaping by driving John Lever for a straight six in the third over of the match. Gavaskar's 49 turned out to the highest score of the innings, as Ian Botham exploited the wicket brilliantly to take 6-58. Some impatient batting aided him. Seven of the top eight batsmen entered double figures, but not one was able to consolidate.

Those were the days when most Test matches had a 'rest' day, usually after the third day of the game. But in this case, the 'rest' day was scheduled after the very first day's play, on account of a total solar eclipse in which it was not advisable to play cricket.

India came back on day two, with Kapil Dev and Karsan Ghavri, the best new-ball combination in their spin-dominated history, leading the way. England were a perilous 58-5 when wicketkeeper Bob Taylor came out to join Botham. The pair dug themselves in and guided their team past the triple-figure mark. At 143-5, Indian supporters were cursing their team for taking their feet off the accelerator for the umpteenth time when Taylor played forward to Kapil. The ball entered Syed Kirmani's gloves and bowler and wicketkeeper appealed instinctively. The umpire raised his index finger and the spectators went wild. But Vishwanath, a gentleman of a cricketer, would have none of it. He walked across to Kapil and asked him whether he thought it was really out. Kapil was unsure, but Vishwanath wasn't. He informed the umpire Hanumantha Rao that he was withdrawing the appeal, and recalled Taylor to the wicket!

Taylor shook hands with the Indian captain and carried on. He proceeded to add a further 86 with Botham, who was in imperial form. The stand of 171 for the sixth wicket took England to a position from where they could dictate terms on a dicey wicket. Botham contributed 114 of England's final total of 296.

The English all-rounder was in no mood to give the Indians any respite. After he was through with the bat, he set out to wreck havoc with the ball, and the Indian batsmen floundered, to say the least. The wickets tumbled one after the other and at the end of the third day, the hosts were a hopeless 148-8. Botham hastened their demise with a wicket off the first ball of the fourth day and the Indians finished their second innings only 95 ahead. England won by ten wickets.

Whoever coined the appellation 'Botham v/s India' to summarize the game had hit the nail on the head. Botham's match-winning 13-106 (6-58 and 7-48) with the ball and 114 with the bat, made it the greatest all-round performance in a Test match. He became the first cricketer to score a century and take ten wickets in the same Test. There was an even greater honour in store, as he was appointed captain of England after Brearley 'stepped down', only to return to the captaincy a year later in that unforgettable Summer of '81.

Brearley's counterpart in the Jubilee Test was condemned and villified for his noble gesture. Vishwanath's magnanimity cost him the captaincy of the Indian team, with Gavaskar being reinstated for the next season. 22 years later, Vishwanath received the 'Spirit of Cricket Award' at the WISDEN Indian Cricketer of the Century Celebrations in London. A familiar figure presented him the award - Bob Taylor. A lot of good things were said about Vishwanath at the function, as they have been over the years, but he could have done with some praise in February 1980, when all he got was brickbats.

That Golden Jubilee Test in 1979-80, as sad for India as the Platinum Jubilee game in 2004-05, had a couple of interesting sidelights. It was Geoffrey Boycott's first Test on Indian soil. England had undertaken two full tours of India since he had made his Test debut in 1964, but he had not come on either of those, like most other frontline English cricketers of his time, who regarded India as an 'unhealthy' country. By February 1980, he had become 'broadminded' enough to 'consider' playing in a one-off Test in India. He liked Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel so much that he returned to Mumbai and India with the English team for a six-Test series in 1981-82. In the third Test of that series at Delhi, he became the highest scorer in Test cricket. In the next, at Kolkata, he played a round of golf while his team was out on the field. That was the end of his Test career. Over two decades later, he is virtually a demi-god in India. How times and people change!

That Jubilee Test was watched by a special duo, Greg Chappell and Dennis Lillee, both of whom had an enormous fan-following in India, and yet never played a Test on Indian soil for the simple reason that a full-strength Australian team did not tour India for the entire duration of their international careers. They were present at the ground, albeit not in their flannels.

- By Devendra Prabhudesai

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