PARTAB RAMCHAND | 3 APRIL, 2018
1971 – The India Rubber Year
“For cricket fans of my generation 1971 is the year that we will always have fond memories of.”
For the younger generation of cricket followers 2001 has got to be a significant year. That was the year of Indian cricket’s greatest triumph in a home Test series highlighted by the famous turnabout victory at Eden Gardens. That the opponents were Australia the No 1 team in the game was the icing on the cake. The amazing come from behind triumph after losing the first Test by ten wickets in three days, the Dravid – Laxman partnership, the bowling of Harbhajan Singh and the pulsating culmination which came about with India winning the decider at Chennai by two wickets all made for stuff straight out of the fiction books. Thereafter India won not only at home – where they have always had a formidable record – but more importantly it gave the team the confidence to win abroad on a more regular basis.
To a slightly older generation 1983 would be a watershed year. The totally unexpected World Cup triumph notched up by ``Kapil’s Devils’’ gave limited overs cricket in the country a tremendous boost. Till then Test cricket had continued to hold the interest of cricket fans particularly with the rather patchy showing of the Indian team in ODIs. From that memorable June day at Lord’s there was no looking back and even as the fortunes of the Indian team surged upwards interest in the shorter version of the game rose sky high.
But for cricket fans of my generation 1971 is the year that we will always have fond memories of. Viewed from any angle it marked a major turning point in Indian cricket. In the fifties the Indian team was considered the ``dull dogs’’ of international cricket even as they hurtled from one disaster to another. In the sixties things improved somewhat. There was only marginal improvement in the results but at least now the players did put up a fight and played brighter cricket even as they went down with their guns blazing.
The India Rubber Year of 1971 changed all that. No more would the Indian team go from one debacle to another guns blazing or not. From that year the Indian team would no more be taken lightly. Greater solidity in the batting, the emergence of a world class spin quartet and vast improvement in the fielding made the Indians opponents to be respected, even feared.
This metamorphosis came about thanks to the twin triumphs notched up in that golden year of 1971 when it was great to be an Indian cricket fan. We all experienced the kind of euphoria that we had never experienced before. For years we had only been witness to defeats and disasters, setbacks and humiliations as the Indian team went down limply both at home and away. Now we became aware that we were finally going to witness an upsurge in the fortunes of Indian cricket.
The prime reason for this renewed confidence was the emergence of a certain Sunil Manohar Gavaskar who set records left, right and centre with his monumental batting feats in the Caribbean in the first half of the year. His scoring of 774 runs in four Tests – still the highest aggregate for a debutant - was something unthinkable not just for an Indian cricket follower but even around the cricketing world. This included four hundreds and a double of 124 and 220 in the final Test at Port of Spain which India drew to clinch the five-match series. With this heady start Gavaskar emerged as a major international figure and helped shape many notable victories in India and abroad till his retirement in 1987. Not only that he provided the inspiration for other batsmen and ere long the Indian batting line-up was among the best in the game.
Not far behind Gavaskar was Dilip Sardesai whose selection in the squad had met with much criticism. But he emerged as the renaissance man of Indian cricket with an innings of 212 in the first Test at Kingston which gave his teammates the confidence of taking on the West Indies on level terms. Going into the series the teams had played 23 Tests and the record was: West Indies won 12, drawn 11. Not once in those games had India even taken the first innings lead. Sardesai’s knock saw India not only take the first innings lead but also enforce the follow on and from then on the visitors went from strength to strength. Sardesai himself scored 642 runs with three hundreds and paved the way for Gavaskar’s greater feats.
There were others too who played a major role notably Eknath Solkar who came up with three invaluable knocks at critical junctures besides excelling with his close-in catching. The spin trio of Bishen Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and S Venkatraghavan too harassed the West Indies batting no end despite the presence of Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd and Roy Fredericks in the line-up.
Winning the series in the Caribbean 1-0 thanks to victory in the second Test at Port of Spain was undoubtedly a great achievement but everyone knew England would be a different matter. Ray Illingworth’s squad was then No 1 in the game having just won back the Ashes in Australia. Moreover India’s record in England was woeful. In 19 Tests dating back to 1932 the record read: England won 15, drawn 4.
However this was a very different team from their predecessors. They took the vastly different wicket and weather conditions in their stride and tackled England on level terms. After an impressive run against the counties which saw them register five wins in eight matches including four in a row leading up to the first Test India’s performances drew praise from even from most acerbic critics. The first Test at Lord’s was drawn with rain preventing play on the final day when India needed 38 runs to win and England two wickets. India were exceptionally lucky to get away with a draw in the second Test at Old Trafford. Needing 420 for victory India were 65 for three when rain washed out the last day’s play. In the third and final Test at the Oval England led off with 355 to which India replied with 284. Now BS Chandrasekhar struck a purple patch taking six for 38 and bowling out England for 101. India requiring 173 runs to take the Test and the series were home by four wickets after encountering some tense moments. The date August 24 became the most famous in the history of Indian cricket and still occupies a special place despite the many memorable triumphs registered since then. And on both occasions the team led by Ajit Wadekar was given a fitting reception when they came back with the players being taken in a motorcade through the streets of Bombay.
Oh yes, just mention the India Rubber Year of 1971 to any cricket follower over 60 and you will see his eyes sparkle with delight.