India's tour of the West Indies in early 1971 was a
watershed. Ajit Wadekar's touring side did what no
Indian team had done before; beat the West Indies
in a Test match and subsequently, Test series.
India won the second Test played at Port of Spain,
Trinidad, and the other four Tests were drawn.
The Indian team arrived in Trinidad after an
impressive display in the first Test of the series
at Kingston, Jamaica. Dilip Sardesai had rescued
them from a perilous 75-5 with a splendid double
hundred. Crucial contributions by Eknath Solkar and
Erapalli Prasanna helped India reach a score of
387. The spin trio of Bishan Bedi, Erapalli
Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghvan then bowled
superbly to dismiss the West Indies for 217.
Wadekar then asked the West Indies to follow-on.
Rain had washed out the entire first day and thus
made the game a four-day affair, and the
corresponding rules stated that a lead of 150 or
more was adequate to enable the side batting first
to impose the follow-on. Although the West Indies
batted well in the second innings and drew the
match comfortably, they were a wary lot on the eve
of the second Test. West Indian skipper Garry
Sobers and his senior teammates like the batting
maestro Rohan Kanhai had an enormous task on hand,
having to inspire their colleagues to contend with
the Indian spinners and a hungry cordon of close-in
fielders who did not seem to miss anything.
The West Indian batsmen failed to click against the
Indian spinners on the first day of the second
Test. They were bowled out for a paltry 214.
India's reply was commenced by Ashok Mankad and his
fellow 'Mumbaiite', a diminutive opening batsman
who had accumulated 'tons' of runs at the
University level and Ranji Trophy. His name was
Sunil Gavaskar. He had missed the first Test due to
a finger injury, and was awarded his Test cap on
the morning of the second Test.
Mankad and Gavaskar gave India a good start with a
stand of 68. Gavaskar's eventual dismissal when his
individual score was 65 delighted his skipper Ajit
Wadekar. At that stage, no Indian batsman who had
scored a century on Test debut had scored another
Test hundred. Wadekar quite obviously didn't want
his young opener to succumb to the jinx. Little did
he know that the opener would go on to establish a
world record for the highest number of Test
Dilip Sardesai, clearly in the form of his life,
scored 112, his second three-figure knock of the
series. Solkar scored a fighting 55 and India
reached 352. Off-spinner Jack Noreiga took nine
Indian wickets, a creditable performance by all
means, but not one that particularly worried the
Indians. In fact, Noreiga owed his presence in the
West Indian team to the benevolence of his
opponents! The Indian think-tank, comprising
skipper Ajit Wadekar, vice-captain S.
Venkataraghvan and senior pros Sardesai and M.L.
Jaisimha had concluded at one of their initial
meetings that they ought to ensure that off-spinner
Lance Gibbs, a quality bowler who went on to become
the first spinner to take 300 Test wickets, wasn't
picked for the Tests. They knew that he could be a
handful at Port of Spain, where two Tests (the
second and fifth) were scheduled to be played.
Accordingly, India adopted a bizarre but effective
strategy in the three-day game that preceded the
first Test. The batsmen scored runs, but took
particular care to get out to Noreiga. The bagful
of wickets that Noreiga got as a result left the
West Indian selectors with no option but to pick
him for the Test matches! While Noreiga was a good
bowler, he wasn't in the same class as Gibbs.
The West Indies knew that they were up against it
when they began their second innings 138 runs in
arrears. Their mood didn't improve when they beheld
the support the Indians were getting from the Port
of Spain spectators, many of whom were of Indian
origin. Opener Roy Fredericks got into a groove, as
did middle-order bat Charlie Davis. At 169-3,
Sobers was entitled to believe that his team had
saved the game. Enter Salim Durani.
Wadekar tossed the ball to the charismatic
all-rounder, a great favourite with the crowds for
his belligerent batting. Several cricket-lovers had
all but forgotten that he was also a competent
left-arm spinner. In fact, his bowling had played a
decisive role in India's first-ever series win
against England in 1961-62. But that was a decade
ago. What would he do now?
Durani's answer to this question could not have
been more emphatic. He had Clive Lloyd caught by
Wadekar at mid-wicket, and he proceeded to bowl
Sobers with a beauty of a delivery. Two formidable
batsmen had fallen off consecutive deliveries, and
the Indian players sensed that they had a real
chance to make history.
The West Indian innings eventually ended at 261,
which left the Indians with only 124 to win.
Gavaskar and Mankad gave them another sound start.
Mankad's dismissal at 74 triggered off a hiccup, as
Durani and Sardesai followed him to the pavilion in
quick succession. Wadekar responded to the
mini-collapse by promoting Abid Ali, a handy player
in tense situations. Abid Ali and Gavaskar then put
together the match-winning stand. Gavaskar remained
unbeaten with 67 to make it a Test baptism to