Published on April 12th, 2018 | by Anindya Dutta0
CS Flashback: Port of Spain 1976 – The Indian victory that impacted Test cricket for the next two decades
India scripted one of finest and memorable chase in the history of Test cricket on this day at Port of Spain….
When Bishan Bedi’s India landed in the Caribbean in 1976 they did not know that they were fated to be a part of a major inflexion point in the history of cricket, no less impactful than the first Ashes Test, the Bodyline series or the first tied Test.
In fact, when the team was embarrassed in the first Test and folded up in a territory match in two and a half days right after, fans back in India had already written off the series. Memories of Oval and Port of Spain 1971 and the motorcades into the city for the victorious team, seemed like a fanciful dream.
To be fair to Bedi and his team, the West Indies team they were facing was the strongest in many years, certainly stronger than the 1971 team and arguably the strongest since the 3W’s had laid down their bats and Wes Hall had unlaced his boots for the final time. Roy Fredericks, Lawrence Rowe, Vivian Richards, Alvin Kallicharran, Clive Lloyd, Deryck Murray, Brendan Julien, and Michael Holding would walk into most teams in the world of their day. So losing to such a team was not a matter of shame, but it hurt nonetheless, not least because the Windies themselves had just been humiliated 1 – 5 by the Australians down under and battered by Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee.
The second Test at Queen’s Park Oval was drawn and then the teams came to Port of Spain, India’s happy hunting ground, for the third Test.
Lloyd makes a sensible declaration
Tiger Pataudi’s Spin Quartet strategy was still paying dividends even if he had been replaced as captain by first Wadekar and then Bedi. This fact is starkly evident from a viewing of the match scorecard. The medium pacers, Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath and Eknath Solkar would bowl 20 overs combined while Bedi, Chandra and Venkat would send down 90. Chandra would pick up six wickets and Bedi four. Venkat would be ineffective on this occasion.
On winning the toss the West Indies chose to bat but was soon reeling at 52 for 3, the batsmen unable to cope with Chandrasekhar having one those days when he was virtually unplayable, all that is with the notable exception of Vivian Issac Richards.
Richards could be observed in action on another galaxy in a parallel universe where unplayable Indian spinners seemingly didn’t exist. He would score a magnificent 177. With 23 fours and 2 sixes, Richards accounted for nearly half the West Indies total while five West Indies batsmen together managed an aggregate of two runs.
West Indies would end the day at 320 for 5, Chandra picking up all the wickets to fall. The next morning Bedi would wrap up the rest to bowl the West Indies out for 359.
Much to Lloyd’s surprise, it would not be his three spinners – off-spinner Albert Padmore, leg-spinner Imtiaz Ali, or left-arm spinner Raphick Jumadeen but speedster Michael Holding who would run through the Indian batting. Curiously, Andy Roberts, the most experienced of Lloyd’s fast bowlers was missing from the line-up.
After 5 consecutive fifties (and 3 consecutive hundreds), Sunil Gavaskar finally failed at Port-of-Spain, scoring only 26. Though eight Indians went into double figures, none of them made it to fifty, and Michael Holding notched up figures of 6 for 65, bowling India out for 228, in deficit by 131 runs.
The West Indies second innings started much like the first, with 3 batsmen back in the hut pretty quickly. Kallicharran scored a brilliant century and West Indies reached 271 for 6, a lead of 403.
At that stage, having seen Holding’s performance and with three spinners on a Day 4 and 5 surface Lloyd felt confident declaring the innings closed. His confidence was not misplaced. After all, India had never chased more than 256 in the fourth innings in 44-years of Test cricket and no team since Bradman’s Invincible in 1948 had chased a total of 400 or more to win a Test match.
The greatest chase
Notwithstanding the first innings debacle, the reality was that India had a long batting line up, and saving the Test for most teams would have appeared the only choice at this stage given that history was firmly against them. Sunil Gavaskar, Anshuman Gaekwad, Mohinder Amarnath, Gundappa Viswanath, Brijesh Patel, Eknath Solkar, Madan Lal and Syed Kirmani together made up a long batting line-up. In fact, Sunil Gavaskar would write later: “I was confident that we could save the game because the wicket was still good; but the thought of winning never entered my mind.”
Gavaskar was in magnificent touch when the chase started. His first innings debacle an aberration, he played like he had been playing all his innings at the ground, confidently, treating the bowlers, including Holding with undisguised disdain while attacking relentlessly. Giving him company after Gaekwad fell was Mohinder Amarnath, solid in impeccable defence, imperious in his hooks and drives through covers. India finished Day 4 at 134 for 1. Clive Lloyd was concerned, but not worried.
On Day 5, Gavaskar was less confident but scraped through to a century. Then while attempting to drive Jumadeen he missed the line, and was stumped by Murray. Though he had not edged it, he was declared out caught behind. It didn’t matter, since he was out stumped anyway, having scored 102 in 245 minutes with 13 fours. India was 177 for 2, still 236 away from the target.
Brother-in-law Gundappa Vishwanath replaced Gavaskar. Much to the chagrin of the West Indians, he appeared in sublime touch as well. Mohinder rotated the strike while Viswanath attacked with authority. Lloyd tried everything including the part-time chinaman bowling of Roy Fredericks, but nothing seemed to work. Viswanath reached his first overseas hundred with an exquisite cover-drive just after tea, and India looked well on track for a miraculous victory.
And then it happened.
Viswanath was run out for 112 from 220 minutes with 15 fours, and India were 336 for 3, still requiring 67. India reached the final hour with 65 to score from the mandatory overs. Amarnath now went on the offensive and with Brijesh Patel took India within 11 runs of the target when he was run-out, having scored 86 in 440 minutes. Truly, this was an innings that defined Mohinder Amarnath, the quintessential team man, and a batsman who you would pick every time in a crisis.
Brijesh Patel brought up the winning runs pulling Jumadeen for a four. India had pulled off the greatest chase.
Clive Lloyd walked back to the pavilion with his team, head down, shaking it from time to time in sheer disbelief. He had just been put down in the history books for a declaration that precipitated an unlikely opposition victory. Lloyd’s speech in the dressing room afterwards would be remembered by his team for a long time, particularly when he said: “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 you get the wickets?”
For India, it was a huge moment. Journalist Mudar Patherya would say, “This was the moment that India grew up.” Gavaskar who had been a part of both 1971 West Indies and the Oval 1971 would call it “India’s greatest Test victory”.
The Aftermath – A two-decade West Indian dominance of world cricket
The consequences of this victory were unexpected, to say the least.
The West Indians had been battered by Dennis Lille and Jeff Thomson in the previous series. The Indian spin quartet (or triumvirate in this case) had the measure of them in this Test and had been an effective strategy for a decade at that point. These two facts together made Clive Lloyd decide that he needed to do something different to change the trajectory of West Indian cricket. The results would be dramatic.
When the West Indies fielded their team in the fourth Test at Sabina Park, Wayne Daniel and Vanburn Holder were drafted in to join Holding and Julien. The Indians were battered with bouncers and beamers from the foursome, Bodyline was invoked and Bedi had to declare both innings closed, at 306 for 6 and at 97 for 5. West Indies ran away with a 10 wicket victory.
This then was the inflexion point. The Spin Quartet strategy would be adapted to a Pace Quartet strategy by Clive Lloyd and for the next two decades, injury, destruction and devastation would be wrought upon hapless batsmen the world over by a pace foursome whose members would change but whose intent and execution would be unrelenting. Hospitals would be on standby when the West Indies played a Test match.
Facing up to a West Indian fast bowler would be no less dangerous to body and life than falling off a speeding motorcycle. The helmet would be invented. Test cricket would change forever.
And it all started that 12th day of April 1976 when Bishan Bedi’s India executed the greatest chase since Bradman’s Invincibles.