PARTAB RAMCHAND | 20 APRIL, 2018
Blood and Gore At Sabina Park
“Kill him Maan”
Forty two years have gone by but even today I venture to guess that the Indian batsmen who came up against the West Indian bowling in the fourth and final Test of the series at Sabina Park, Kingston in April 1976 will not forget the terrifying experience – even if they want to!
Perhaps next only to Bodyline it must rank as the most frightening outing international batsmen have gone through. It had nothing to do with the batsmen’s lack of skill or experience or technique in standing up to the bowling.
It was intimidatory bowling, pure and simple that forced the Indians into submission despite the batsmen putting up a brave fight. The Test was lost by ten wickets and with it the four-match series 2-1. It was sad that a well fought out contest ended on such an unsavoury note.
In a way the Indians were indirectly responsible for the unhappy events at Kingston. For, in the previous Test at Port of Spain the visitors had pulled off one of the most remarkable victories in the history of Test cricket. Set 403 for a win India reached 406 for four to notch up the highest fourth innings victory chase ever.
The series was now level 1-1 with West Indies having won the first Test at Bridgetown while the second also at Port of Spain had been drawn. But even as the Indians celebrated one of the greatest triumphs ever the knives were out for Clive Lloyd the West Indian captain. He was under tremendous pressure.
First his team had suffered a 5-1 rout in Australia earlier in the season and now they had been defeated by a side which had been rated as no-hopers when the series commenced. Lloyd somehow had to win the final Test to save face and he was determined to to do so by fair means or foul.
First he had the groundsman prepare a new pitch with exaggerated pace and bounce. Then he discarded the spinners who were on duty at Port of Spain and packed the side with pacemen. Armed with Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel, Vanburn Holder and Bernard Julien he proceeded to insert India on winning the toss naturally hoping that the pace quartet would exploit the conditions best on the opening day of the game.
However with batting that was the epitome of courage blending with the proper technique Sunil Gavaskar and Anshuman Gaekwad battled the early thunderbolts in exemplary fashion. The openers came in unbeaten at lunch and continued to bat steadfastly. Midway through the afternoon Holding switched to round the wicket and in his first over sent down three bouncers to Gaekwad.
When Gavaskar faced Holding in his next over he got three bouncers in the over and a beamer which the bowler pretended had slipped from his fingers. With the umpires turning a blind eye these intimidatory tactics continued. The intention was clearly to hit the batsmen who otherwise seemed to be quite immovable. Unperturbed Gavaskar and Gaekwad carrying on batting in a courageous manner until the former was bowled by Holding for 66 in a first wicket partnership of 136.
As if the tactics by Holding and company were not enough the batsmen had to endure a hostile crowd too. As Gavaskar wrote in his autobiography ``Sunny Days’’: ``To call the crowd a crowd in Kingston is a misnomer. It should be called a mob. The way they shrieked and howled every time Holding bowled was positively horrible. They encouraged him with shouts of ``Kill him, Maan’’, ``Hit him, Maan’’, ``Knock his head off Mike’’.
All this proved beyond doubt that these people still belonged to the jungles and forests instead of a civilized country. Their partisan attitude was even more evident when they did not applaud any shots we played. At one stage I even demanded claps for a boundary shot off Daniel. All I got was laughter from the section which certainly hadn’t graduated from the trees where they belonged. The whole thing was just not cricket.’’
Mohinder Amarnath joined Gaekwad and they saw India end the day at 178 for one. On the second morning Holding armed with a new ball had Amarnath caught when the batsman deflected a delivery trying to defend his head getting knocked off. The first ball Gundappa Viswanath faced must have been the most frightening delivery even that most peerless player of fast bowling must have come up against. It almost took his head with it. Soon after a similar delivery crushed Viswanath’s hands as he defended his face and he was caught even as he suffered a dislocated right middle finger in the process.
Almost on the dot of lunch Gaekwad whose batting had been the apotheosis of courage having taken innumerable blows on his hands and body was hit behind the left ear. It was another short ball and it went like a guided missile knocking the batsman’s spectacles off.
And the hostile atmosphere is best caught by Gavaskar again. ``And can one guess the crowd’s reaction? They were stamping their legs, clapping and jumping with joy. The only word I can think of to describe their behavior is barbarian. Here was a man seriously injured and these barbarians were thirsting for more blood instead of expressing sympathy as any civilized and sporting crowd would have done.’’
Even as Viswanath and Gaekwad were taken to hospital there was a further casualty when Brijesh Patel took his eyes off a ball from Holder and had his upper lip cut open. Skipper Bishen Bedi declared the innings closed at 306 for six primarily to protect his bowlers from injury but also as a form of protest against the unfair mode of bowling.
West Indies replied with 391 so the deficit was kept down to 85. But the problem for the Indians was that they had only six fit batsmen. Viswanath, Gaekwad and Patel were not in a position to bat while Bedi and Chandrasekhar had sustained hand injuries while fielding. Without five batsmen the Indians second innings terminated at 97 and the West Indies duly hit off the 13 runs required to win by ten wickets with a day to spare. Such was the plight of the tourists that all 17 members fielded at some stage or the other during the match. Surinder Amarnath who fielded as substitute for much of the first innings was operated upon for appendicitis on the fourth day.
Bedi and the manager Polly Umrigar called a press conference to explain their stand on the unfair mode of bowling and the surfeit of short pitched deliveries. The West Indian authorities countered the charges and denied that the bowling was dangerous. The end was a pity for the series had been well fought out till the final Test.