Part 1 of the Lloyd-Wadekar story traced the early parts of their careers from their debut to the famous 1971 series which saw India triumphing over the mighty West Indies for the first time. We join the story again with Wadekar at the top of the world and Lloyd struggling to fulfil his early promise.
First the Fairy Tale, Then the Nightmare – The Wadekar Story
A few months after the triumph in the Caribbean, Wadekar led a confident side to England where India had not won a Test match since CK Nayudu led the first Indian team out to Lord’s in 1932. Wadekar’s team was the strongest side India had sent on tour in many years. With the return of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar to the side after a hiatus of 5-years, the Spin Quartet was once again complete, and this time at the peak of their prowess. It was another matter that much like in the West Indies, the presence of Erapalli Prasanna would be ignored by the captain in favour of the more restrictive Venkataraghavan.
After drawing the first two Tests when the teams came to The Oval, Chandra almost did not make the team, and it was only at the insistence of manager Hemu Adhikari that he was included. He would send down what Wisden would later rank the bowling performance of the century, and the 6 for 38 would win India their first ever Test match and series in England.
Wadekar’s return to India would be celebrated by a Roman Triumph that Julius Caesar would have been proud of. Undoubtedly, the twin victories marked the greatest moment in India’s four decades of Test cricket.
Former Indian cricketer Yajurvindra Singh recalls the reception: “A red carpet was laid out at the airport. The team was taken in an open-top motorcade. Ajit in a silver Impala leading the pack, with garlands of marigold around his neck and waving to the crowd, was an image that one can conjure as one of the most significant moments in the annals of Indian cricket.”
It was a year and a half later that India would play its next Test series, this time against Tony Lewis’ English side in the winter of 1972-73. Wadekar’s boys beat the Englishmen 2-1 in a 5-Test series.
The scoreline was narrower than it should have been. Lewis would recall: “The side involved several experiments because the selectors were building up to the next Australian tour in 1974. That left some older players back home. The selectors choose an embryo team.” No one in the England squad had played in India. Only Alan Knott and Derek Underwood had played more than 20 Test matches. Only Knott had made a Test century. Wadekar admitted later: “Not just confident, we were a little bit over-confident.”
Nonetheless, the Wadekar juggernaut looked unstoppable when in 1974 India again went to England. Unfortunately, the tour went belly up for the Indians very quickly. It would be unfortunately labelled the Summer of 42 to mark the occasion when India were dismissed for 42 at Lord’s. Wadekar’s boys lost the series accompanied by the ignominy of not being allowed inside the Indian High Commission and a player pleading guilty to shoplifting at Marks & Spencer’s.
”To Indians in India it must seem like the end of the Golden Age,” wrote John Woodcock in The Times. In Sunny Days Gavaskar fumed: “It was a totally disastrous series and the tour was one of the worst I had made.” The late Gopal Bose, who was on the tour but did not play called it “a nightmare of a tour when whatever could go wrong, did, and it culminated in the 42. After that, the heart of the team was not there. ”The 3-0 score-line, in the end, was not surprising.
Back in India, Wadekar was deposed as captain of the team and found himself out of the XI. In a decision that stunned Indian cricket, Ajit Wadekar announced his retirement and decided to go back to his career in banking at the State Bank of India, where he rose through the ranks to the top of his profession and continued to work until his retirement.
In his short but significant captaincy career, Wadekar not only won some remarkable victories but notched up the enviable record of remaining undefeated 75% of the time that he stepped on to the ground as captain in a Test match. Among all Indian captains to have led in more than 15 Test matches, only Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Rahul Dravid and Virat Kohli, have a better record.
As Wadekar Fades, Lloyd Blooms
It is often the case for biological twins that they traverse part of their life’s journey together and then the roads diverge. Both may well reign at the top of their professions, but not necessarily at the same time. Such was the case with Wadekar and Lloyd, joined by their debut and separated by cricketing fortunes.
If the selectors had waited a few months before replacing Wadekar, the two men would have faced up to each other at the toss in Bangalore when the West Indies came to India in the winter of 1974 led by their new captain, Clive Lloyd. It would be the start of a new epoch that would take West Indies cricket to the top of the world, and keep them there for a decade and a half.
In India, Lloyd’s team won the first two Tests, then with a remarkable comeback win at Calcutta, India went to level the series 2-2 at Madras. West Indies won the final Test to earn a 3-2 series victory. It would go down as one of the most close-fought series ever played. Importantly for the future of Lloyd and the West Indies, two of the men who would form the core of West Indies domination in the years to come, Antiguans Andy Roberts and Vivian Richards would make their mark during this series. Before them, no Antiguan had ever played for the West Indies. They would open the floodgates.
The next summer the West Indies won the inaugural Cricket World Cup in England beating the Australians, and against all odds, Clive Lloyd in his fledgeling captaincy career had already earned his team the label of ‘World Champions’, albeit in the shorter format.
Lloyd’s captaincy career was however not destined to continue as smoothly as it had started. A year later when he led the team to Australia, it would turn out to be a boom for Australia in terms of ground, television and advertising revenue as the official ‘World Champions’ came to town. But facing up to the fierce attack of Thomson and Lillee who took 56 wickets between them and intimated every man who faced up to them, the West Indies would wilt under the relentless pressure. Clive Lloyd’s young captaincy would immediately be questioned. Bill O’Reilly, never one to mince his words, called Lloyd “clueless”.
Young Michael Holding playing his first series under hostile conditions on the field and unrelenting racial abuse from the crowd ended up in tears on the ground between deliveries. Talking about the abuse, Richards would later say: “Half of Australians are as wonderful as you could get, down to earth, and then there is that other side. People get angry and call you a black bastard” Battling alone with the ball, Andy Roberts was not as effective as he was expected to be.
Roy Fredericks, Alvin Kallicharran and Richards did what they could, but it wasn’t enough. The West Indies lost 1-5. By the time the final Test ended, Lloyd was battling it out in the middle and the rest of his boys were engaged in a game with ping pong paddles at the back of the dressing room, not remotely interested in the game. Very quickly it had all gone downhill for Lloyd.
Back in the West Indies, Bishan Bedi’s India arrived for a visit that winter. It was time for Lloyd to redeem himself and get his team back to its winning ways that had started against this very team. They had four Tests to do it.
Part 3 of the series will look at the how Lloyd’s cricketing journey panned out and the surprising thread that was to link the final part of Wadekar and Lloyd’s association with the game they loved and excelled in.