On December 31, 1974, Gundappa Viswanath completed a gem of an innings at Kolkata to guide India from the brink of defeat to a memorable victory.Arunabha Sengupta recalls the fantastic innings that laid the platform for Bishan Bedi and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar to weave their magic.
By the third morning, India seemed down and out – on the verge of surrendering the series. Down 0-2 after losses in Bangalore and Delhi, they were staring at defeat for the third time in succession as the second wicket went down at 46.
They had managed to partially withstand an Andy Roberts blitz in the first innings, reaching 233 thanks mainly to a sedate and disciplined 200 minute half century by Gundappa Viswanath.
Unusually, India had been brought back into the match by a seamer, instead of the spin trio of Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna. Madan Lal, bowling his heart out, had captured four for 22 as the West Indians had managed a slim seven run first innings lead. Dropped at 15, Roy Fredericks had top scored with exactly 100.
With an injury having side-lined Sunil Gavaskar, the Indian top order was dangerously brittle. Viswanath was quickly into action again on the third morning after Sudhir Naik was caught off Roberts and Parthasarthi Sharma was run out.
The gem from Viswanath
The wristy artist from Karnataka carried on his excellent touch from the first innings. However, his efforts might not have borne fruit had Farokh Engineer not shown unusual restraint and patience during a three hour vigil for 61. The two pushed the score past hundred, and the balance was somewhat back in India’s favour. But, at this juncture, Elquemedo Willett, the curiously named left-arm spinner and the first man from Leeward Islands to play Test cricket, snared the Indian wicketkeeper at 120 and soon induced a false stroke from captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.
Soon after that, Lance Gibbs, getting purchase from the wearing track, got debutant Anshuman Gaekwad caught close in. With the score on 152, defeat loomed ominously. Fredericks, Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards, Alvin Kallicharran and Clive Lloyd waited for the tail to be whisked off, eager to rattle off the required runs and have the series in the bag.
For a brief while Madan Lal waged a battled, holding one end firm, while Viswanath conjured up gaps in the field that could not be discerned with naked eye. The two took the score to 192 when Roberts came back to bowl the Delhi all-rounder.
Vishwanath took the battle into the next day, remaining unbeaten on 75 as India finished on 206 for six. Debutant Karsan Ghavri was keeping him company, showing admirable grit and character.
After the rest day, when the teams resumed the contest on the last morning of 1974, Roberts got the ball to swing with the breeze coming in from the Ganges. A huge sigh of relief rippled across the huge Eden crowd when Viswanath edged a lightning fast delivery and it was not held in the slips. Roberts beat the little man’s bat twice more, but he survived. And strangely, after a stinging first spell of three scorching overs, the Antiguan fast bowler was taken off by captain Lloyd.
By the time he was brought back into the attack a session later, Viswanath and Ghavri had settled down and consolidated immensely. The Karnataka maestro had executed delectable strokes around the wicket, cutting, flicking and driving to pass his hundred, one of the shiniest gems of his glittering career. Ghavri had stuck around for two hours and, growing in confidence, had even lofted Willett for a six.
It was 282 for six when Roberts returned to charge in and a run later uprooted Ghavri’s stumps for an extremely valuable 27. As Prasanna walked in, Viswanath pierced the field with some crisp hits all around the wicket before Vanburn Holder got one to swing in and beat his defence. The maestro had scored 139 in over six hours with 23 hits to the fence.
The knock ranks perhaps as one of the greatest played by an Indian batsman on a difficult wicket against top class bowling, with odds stacked against the side. He was the eighth out with the total at 301, having almost doubled the score after losing his last recognised partner. Indian innings folded for 316, but by now, the three spinners had enough runs on the board to make a match of it.
What happened next
Ghavri swung one in to trap Greenidge leg before early in the innings. With the pitch offering variable bounce and lots of spin, settling down was always going to be difficult. Bedi turned one to castle Fredericks at 41, but Richards launched into a brilliant counter attack. While the classy Kallicharran batted steadily at the other end, the Antiguan blaster thrashed nine fours and by the fourth afternoon had almost taken the match away from India.
At 125 for two, however, Madan Lal bowled the great man with a ball that kept low. West Indies finished the day with a moderate advantage at 146 for three.
The next morning witnessed a thrilling battle of wits. Clive Lloyd launched into Chandrasekhar, belting him for three boundaries, almost forcing him to be taken off. But, his counterpart, Pataudi, did not panic. He persisted with the leg-spinner and Chandra produced a gem that bowled Lloyd off his pads.
It was now the turn of the other left hander, Kallicharran, to try and unsettle the threatening Chandra. He took a couple of boundaries off him, but in an over-adventurous bid, he slashed at one that went the other way and was well held in the slips by Viswanath.
Chandra proceeded to trap Bernard Julien leg before to make it 176 for six, and the West Indians collapsed. Bedi made short work of the tail, and India triumphed by 85 runs in a memorable victory.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix