In 1971, the newly-appointed Indian captain Ajit Wadekar took his team to the West Indies and England. While India had won their maiden series overseas in 1968 in New Zealand, not many expected them to do well on those two challenging sojourns in 1971. However, the Indians shattered all preconceived notions to record the series wins – breaking mental barriers to usher in a new era for the sport in the country. It is 50 years since those momentous victories and to mark the occasion Mumbai-based sports anchor and writer Nishad Pai Vaidya and businessman Sachin Bajaj have co-authored a book Twice upon a Time: India’s Fairytale Cricket Victories of 1971.
The book is a collection of 71 anecdotes from those two tours. The foreword to the book is written by the former West Indies captain Sir Clive Lloyd. “Having watched Indian cricket for decades, I can say that their performances in 1971 marked their ascendancy in Test cricket. Their Test series wins in the Caribbean and England lifted them and gave them the belief that they could beat the best at the highest level,” Sir Clive wrote in his foreword.
Here is a sneak peek into the book.
Excerpts produced with permission:
WADEKAR BACKS SARDESAI AT SELECTION MEETING
Up until then, the 30-year-old Sardesai had played 21 Tests for India but hadn’t been a breakout star. In those 21 Tests, he had scored 1,190 runs at an average of 33.05 with two centuries and seven fifties. The two centuries, one of them being a double, had come in back-to-back matches against New Zealand in 1965. In six Test appearances thereafter, he had failed to cross 30 in any innings. During the home season in 1969-70, he played the lone Test against Australia at his home ground, Brabourne Stadium. While he was fairly consistent in domestic cricket, his returns during the 1970-71 season weren’t very promising.
Despite that, Wadekar had great faith in Sardesai and backed his case in front of the selectors. The Merchant-led committee gave in to the new captain’s suggestions to include Sardesai on the flight to the Caribbean.
Sardesai was destined to be a catalyst for India (he scored 642 runs in the five Tests) on the tour to West Indies, setting the wheels rolling towards history.
WADEKAR KEEPS DOWE AT BAY DESPITE AN INJURED HAND
Back in 1962, India were blown away by the West Indies 5-0 in the Test series. The enduring memories of the tour included facing the likes of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. Though Griffith did not feature in the Tests, he left a scar on the Indian mindset when he felled the captain Nari Contractor with a blow to the head during a tour game. The impact of that tour lived on in the Indian psyche as they landed in the Caribbean nine years later. The new captain, Ajit Wadekar was determined to bury the psychological scars of the past and decided to lead by example.
India’s first fixture of the tour was against Jamaica at Kingston and they were up against Uton Dowe, a young fast bowler who was tipped to carry forward the West Indian legacy. Early in his innings, Wadekar was hit on the hand by Dowe, which tore a blood vessel. Instead of walking back to the dressing room, it was time to show courage and make a statement. Wadekar wanted his batsmen to believe that they had the goods to not only face the fastest bowlers but also score runs off them.
The doughty Indian captain did not flinch and carried on batting for nearly four hours to stitch together a fighting 70, setting the tone for the rest of the tour.
GAVASKAR CURRY, CHANDRASEKHAR SOUP ET AL
The euphoria of the Indian win at The Oval was unparalleled. Up until then, it was arguably India’s finest moment in the sport. The outpour of emotion and celebration at The Oval reflected the magnitude of the event. For a country that was ruled by the United Kingdom for many years, sporting success against them, that too in their own backyard, was a momentous occasion. Not only was it huge for the millions back home in India but also those who had settled in the UK and were earning their bread.
Although India were slated to play a First-Class game the day after the third and final Test, the players did manage to let their hair down. The disciplinarian, Col Hemu Adhikari, did not enforce his usual regimes and let the team soak in the moment. The team celebrated the occasion at an Indian restaurant, which had hilariously rebranded its menu to include items such as Gavaskar Curry, Wadekar Cutlet, Chandrasekhar Soup and Bedi Pulao117. Following the celebrations, India made it to Brighton late in the night and took the field to face Sussex the next day. Farokh Engineer drove down to Manchester to turn up for Lancashire against Derbyshire.