They say the best things in life come in twos – Eyes, ears, hands, legs, wine and food, the animals that boarded Noah’s ark……
In cricket, this truism often goes back to the beginnings of journeys that were destined to start together and carry the two individuals to the pinnacle of their sport along vastly different paths and often on varied timelines. It is a phenomenon that repeats itself time and again over the course of history and yet remains a story largely untold. This is the tale of two captains who made their debut together and would go down in history for the remarkable path to success that each would tread.
The Day It All Started: Mumbai – December 1966
The West Indies team that visited India in the winter of 1966-67 was purportedly weaker than it had been just a few years before, but then that description was purely relative as far as the giants from the Caribbean were concerned. In reality, they were the undisputed World Champions of the time.
It was true that Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith, the most terrifying pair of fast bowlers in the world, were winding down their careers, and there was no immediate succession plan in place. On the other hand, Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Lance Gibbs were at the peak of their prowess. Conrad Hunte was a rock at the top of the order, but sadly the search for a suitable partner for him had not yielded the desired results. All-rounder David Holford, a few months earlier at Lord’s had added 274 for the sixth wicket with Garry Sobers, his cousin. Much was expected of him, but in 1968 he was struck down with pleurisy and would never again be quite the same player. For the moment he was still a formidable batsman.
Waiting in the wings was a tall studious looking bespectacled young man. Left-handed and possessed of brute understated strength like Sobers, elegant like Kanhai, moving with feline grace, Clive Lloyd would be thrust upon an unsuspecting world at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta. It would be the first step on a journey that would eventually take the West Indies to the top of the cricketing firmament and keep them there for almost two decades.
The India that the Caribbean team would face in the series was relatively young and in its building phase. The 25-year old captain, Tiger Pataudi, was already one of the veterans of the side along with Dilip Sardesai, Abbas Ali Baig, ML Jaisimha, Chandu Borde and Bapu Nadkarni. While the genius of Erapalli Prasanna had briefly appeared and then disappeared into the classrooms of his engineering college, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Bishan Singh Bedi who had just made his debut in the series were on the way to becoming the spearhead of India’s young bowling attack.
Drafted into the batting line up was a young man who had already built himself an enviable reputation on the domestic circuit for his machine like run making capability accompanied by the natural lazy elegance of the left handed batsman. When Ajit Wadekar walked out to bat at No.3 for the first time in a Test match with his natural swagger, collar upturned, the left shoulder drooping, it was India’s understated announcement to cricket that a new world order was coming and this man would have a significant role to play.
Wearing shoes gifted by Garry Sobers (he had seen the young man wearing shoes with holes in them at the practice session and gone across to deliver a pair to his house), Wadekar had a less than memorable beginning to his career, falling to a Sobers delivery for 8 in the first innings and caught by Sobers off Holford for 4 in the second. The two would joke with each other for the rest of their lives – Wadekar maintaining that the shoes had been responsible for the poor start, and Sobers maintaining the only reason Wadekar had followed up with a big knock in his second Test was that of those shoes.
Lloyd, on the other hand, had a debut that he could scarcely have dreamt about, scoring 82 in the first innings and a 72 not out in the second. He was the highest scorer for West Indies in both innings, helping his side to victory by 6 wickets.
Over the next five years the two debutants, Clive Lloyd and Ajit Wadekar, would follow different paths to success before they were fated to meet again, this time under vastly different circumstances.
1966 – 1970: The Building Phase of Two Careers
Despite his two relatively unsuccessful outings in the first two Tests, when the Indian team was announced for the tour of England in 1967, Pataudi reposed faith in his new No.3.
After the first innings of the Test series at Headingley, it looked like Wadekar’s international career was going to be shorter than expected. He was out for a duck, this time the victim of a runout. India folded for just 164 in reply to England’s mammoth 550 for 4 and were asked to follow on.
In the second innings, Wadekar came in to bat with the score at 5/1 joining Farokh Engineer, and the duo stitched together a stand of 168, then India’s highest for the second wicket against England. He handled the pace of John Snow and the off-spin of Ray Illingworth with equal adeptness, striking 16 glorious fours before falling for 91 early on the fourth day. Captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi built on this platform, scoring a magnificent 148 to take the total to 510. Despite these efforts, India lost by six wickets. Wadekar finished the series with a batting average above 40, not to be scoffed at in English conditions.
After two disappointing dismissals in the 90’s in the series in Australia that winter (Australian summer), Wadekar finally breached the three figure mark in the last Test of the New Zealand series that followed.
New Zealand had succumbed to the wiles of off-spinner Erapalli Prasanna (5/32) to be bundled out for 186, giving India a great opportunity to dictate terms. Wadekar walked to the middle at the fall of the first wicket, and embarked upon a series-changing innings. He was the eighth man out for a brilliant 143 – his only Test century – that took six and a quarter hours and featured 12 fours.
India ultimately gained a sizeable first-innings lead of 141, and thanks to a haul of 6/43 from left-arm spinner Bapu Nadkarni, were left with a target of just 59, which they overhauled for the loss of two wickets. A memorable 3-1 series victory was completed with a comprehensive 272-run win in the final Test at Auckland. Wadekar’s contribution was certainly one of the catalysts for this success – he finished as India’s highest run-getter, with 328 runs at an average of 46.85.
A year later both Australia and New Zealand returned the favour by touring India. In the series of 8 Test matches, while Wadekar did not set the world on fire, he managed an average of 33.53 with an unbeaten 91 as his highlight innings of the winter.
Having had moderate success as a top order Test batsman, Wadekar was a bit apprehensive about his place in the team when the team was chosen for the tour to West Indies in 1970-71. As it turned out, not only was he in the team but thanks to a casting vote from Chairman of Selectors and former Bombay and India batsman Vijay Merchant, he was leading the side in place of deposed captain Tiger Pataudi. It would turn out to be a historic decision that would firmly put Wadekar among the pantheon of Indian cricketing Gods.
Unlike Wadekar, battling his demons on the other side of the world, the Test hundreds for Clive Lloyd did not take a long time in coming. The first one was at Port of Spain against England in 1968. In the third Test of the series at Barbados he scored another century in just 157 minutes with 14 fours and a six. Brian Close would write: “This Lloyd is going to be a power to come in the West Indies batting when he matures.”
When West Indies travelled to Australia, Lloyd was one of the architects behind the victory in the opening Test at Brisbane. He hit 18 fours and a towering six almost out of the ground in a match-turning innings of 129. But West Indies went on to lose the series.
Lloyd was to learn some early lessons on this trip. The laid-back approach, the absence of scheduled training and disciplined team meetings were anathema to the seriousness and dedication with which he himself approached the game, and appeared to the young man from Guyana as the reasons why his team was not on top. He didn’t know it then, but these were things he would be able to address in the not too distant future.
Lloyd now joined Lancashire as their overseas player and enjoyed significant success, but could not replicate the same form when he played for the West Indies. It did not help that he was at the cusp of a generational change in West Indies cricket with Sobers and Kanhai past their prime, and the bowling in disarray.
1971 – The Debut Twins Meet Again in the Caribbean
The careers of Ajit Wadekar and Clive Lloyd that had begun on the same day, had followed vastly different paths in the ensuing five years. While to Lloyd had belonged the initial successes and early fulfilment of his batting potential, Wadekar’s had been the faster ascent after a relatively sedate start.
When the Indian team arrived on the Caribbean shores in 1970-71, Lloyd was a part of a declining champion team while Wadekar led a young side that was looking to unleash upon the world the now maturing Spin Strategy. While Tiger Pataudi had visualized and nurtured it, the responsibility of elevating it to its deadly potential was now Wadekar’s.
Over the course of a few weeks early in 1971, the fortunes of the two men would dramatically diverge. Clive Lloyd scored 295 runs in the series of 5 Test matches, Wadekar only 151. But Wadekar was the man who would be remembered forever whenever there was a discussion of this series.
Wadekar’s tactical acumen asserted itself right at the start of the series. In the first Test match at Kingston, Jamaica, India got a lead of 170 runs in the first innings. The West Indies were getting ready to field when Wadekar walked into the opposition dressing room and in his quiet, effective manner, told a stunned and confused Sobers that he would be enforcing the follow-on. Due to rain on the first day, the match had become a four-day affair. The rules in cricket clearly stated that with a lead of more than 150 runs, an opposing team can enforce a follow-on. India, through this manoeuvre, had managed to get the initial psychological advantage. It didn’t matter that the match ended in a draw.
In the second Test at Port of Spain, Wadekar, in what some say was an inspired move, and other maintain was merely on the urging of his players, threw the ball to a mercurial and much under-appreciated spinner Salim Durani. Durani dismissed the great Garry Sobers and the in-form Clive Lloyd in successive balls just as the West Indies were taking the game away, breaking the back of the batting. India won the Test match and with it, the series, both for the first time in the West Indies. It also discovered its greatest opening batsman of all time, Sunil Gavaskar, who stamped his class on his debut series in no uncertain manner, scoring 774 runs.
With this series victory, in the course of two months, Ajit Wadekar had gone from worrying about his place in the side to national hero. Lloyd, on the other hand, would suffer the double ignominy of a loss to unfancied New Zealand, everyone’s whipping boy of the time, in a series that followed the defeat to India.
Follow the journey of the Debut Twins in Part 2 of the story as Wadekar enters the next phase of his career and Lloyd’s time in the sun begins.