On February 20, 1971 Dilip Sardesai scored a 212 to pull India out of a hopeless situation. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at an innings that went on to set the tone of a historic series win for India.
Probably the weirdest bit of the story was the fact that India had originally decided to leave out Dilip Sardesai for the West Indies tour. The selectors had not even considered him initially —even though he was only 30 — following a brief period of failures. It was Ajit Wadekar, the new Indian captain, who insisted on Sardesai’s inclusion.
Even after his inclusion, he would probably not have played the first Test, had either Sunil Gavaskar or Gundappa Viswanath been fit. However, the incidents turned out to be such that Sardesai was included after both youngsters were declared unfit at the eleventh hour.
Day One: Abandoned
It was the first Test of the series — at Kingston. India had never won a series against West Indies, and no one gave them a chance. The first day was washed out.
Day Two: Sardesai and Solkar resurrect
Garry Sobers won the toss and put India in. Soon after the Test began, debutant Kenia Jayantilal edged one off Grayson Shillingford that flew between the second and third slips; Sobers caught the difficult chance easily and laughed. An excited Gavaskar in the dressing-room exclaimed “now all I want to see is Rohan Kanhai’s falling sweep shot, and my tour is made”.
The West Indian seamers, Vanburn Holder and Shillingford, bowled consistently, picking up wickets at regular intervals. India were soon reeling at 75 for five, and one of the radio commentators called India a ‘club side’. Memories of the 0-5 drubbing on the 1962 loomed on the horizon as Eknath Solkar, playing his first overseas Test, walked out. Sardesai met Solkar halfway on his path, and had a discussion all the way to the pitch.
Sardesai kept on advising Solkar right through the innings. The two of them combated against the West Indian attack. Sardesai’s innings is still considered one of the best innings by an Indian against fast bowling. They pulled the Indian batting out of dire straits, and India had reached a relatively safe 183 for five, with Sardesai on 81 and Solkar on 50.
Day Three: Sardesai carries on
Though Sardesai opened up early on the next day, Solkar did not last long. Sobers ran through his defense to end Solkar’s fighting innings of 61. Sardesai and Solkar had added 137 runs in 198 minutes, and at 212 for six, India were in a somewhat safe position.
Sardesai batted with authority and soon reached his hundred to announce his international comeback. Though Srinivas Venkataraghavan fell early, Pochiah Krishnamurthy hung around for a while. And when Krishnamurthy fell, India were reduced to 260 for eight. The end was seemingly near.
Erapalli Prasanna walked out with no pretensions of being a batsman. To Prasanna’s credit, he held on as Sardesai began to play his strokes. He went on to reach his 150, and did not seem to tire.
Sardesai went past Polly Umrigar’s 172 — the highest score by an Indian against West Indies. The next record to fall was Vinoo Mankad’s 184 — the highest overseas score by an Indian. When Sobers was forced to take the third new ball, Sardesai square-cut Vanburn Holder ferociously to the boundary.
Then, when Mankad’s 231 (the highest score by an Indian, home or overseas) came under threat, Holder came back to induce Sardesai’s edge. The great man fell for 212, and had added 122 in 137 minutes for the ninth wicket with Prasanna. Sardesai’s 212 had come in 470 minutes. He had hit 17 fours and a six. India were bowled out for 387 — a remarkable improvement on 75 for 5.
West Indies ended the day at 36 without loss.
Day Four: Wadekar enforces follow-on
The West Indians were cruising along at 184 for three, and an inevitable draw seemed on the cards once they had gone past the follow-on mark of 188. However, the spinners, Prasanna, Venkataraghavan and Bishan Bedi, soon ran through the West Indians, and West Indies were bowled out for 217. It was the first time in 24 Tests that India had managed to acquire a first-innings lead.
With his team ahead by 170 runs, Wadekar asked Sobers to follow-on. Sobers argued that the designated minimum lead should be 200 to enforce follow-on. Wadekar told him that since the Day One had been washed out, the minimum lead for a follow-on had been reduced to 150, as per Law 13.3. The umpires agreed.
Following on, West Indies lost both openers, and finished with 72 for two, still 98 runs in arrears.
Day Five: West Indies save the Test
Kanhai scored a dogged 158, Lloyd got 57, and Sobers entertained all and sundry with 93. West Indies finished with 385 for five, and the Test was drawn.
What happened next?
Sardesai carried on his form throughout the series, scoring 642 runs at 80.25 with three hundreds. Unfortunately, he was overshadowed by the supreme performance by one Sunil Gavaskar, who amassed 774 runs from four Tests. However, Sardesai’s double century in the first Test set the tone for the season, where India won their first series in both West Indies and England.
The West Indian spectators began to address him ‘Sardee Maan’ out of affection. Vijay Merchant called him ‘The Renaissance Man of India’. However, the final word was Gavaskar’s: “He showed us how to play fast bowling, and in doing so gave us the confidence we needed to beat the West Indies.”
I doubt whether there has been a better compliment than that. Especially from a legend, known for exactly the same qualities.
Brief scores: India 387 (Dilip Sardesai 212, Eknath Solkar 61; Vanburn Holder 4 for 60) drew with West Indies 217 (Rohan Kanhai 56; Erapalli Prasanna 4 for 65, Srinivas Venkataraghavan 3 for 46) and 385 for 5 (Rohan Kanhai 158 not out, Garry Sobers 93, Clive Lloyd 57).
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/