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Sunil Gavaskar makes a grand Test debut in India’s epic win over the West Indies in 1971

Sunil Gavaskar’s makes a grand Test debut in India’s epic win over the West Indies

Sunil Gavaskar, all of 21-years-old, scored 65 and 67 not out on his Test debut at Port-of-Spain against the West Indies in 1971 — a Test which India won. The triumph subsequently helped the team clinch the series 1-0. It was a historic first-ever series for India in the West Indies © Getty Images

On March 10, 1971 India won their first-ever Test against West Indies. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a Test that triggered off a historic season for India.

Before the West Indies tour of 1971, India had drawn 11 Tests with them and had lost 12. Worse, India never even managed to take the first-innings lead against the West Indies. So, when India managed to make West Indies follow-on in the first Test at Kingston, thanks to Dilip Sardesai’s 212 and the spinners, it was already a watershed moment for the Indians.

India reached Port-of-Spain for the second Test on a high. India had a debutant in the form of a 21-year-old called Sunil Gavaskar, who would go on to dominate Indian cricket for over a decade and a half. The wicket seemed to be a turning one, and West Indies included the off-spinner Jack Noreiga and the leg-spinner Arthur Barrett in their side to assist Garry Sobers.
Day One: Indian spinners strike

Sobers won what looked like a good toss to win. It did not take long for the players to discover the nature of the pitch. Abid Ali bowled a ball that almost rolled on the ground, hit Roy Fredericks’ pad, and then the stumps. It was evident that batting last would not be the easiest thing to do on the track.

After three overs from Eknath Solkar and one from Gavaskar with the new ball, the spinners took over. They found turn and bounce from the very beginning, and made the West Indian batsmen struggle for runs. But to their credit, Steve Camacho and Rohan Kanhai managed to hang around.

Bishan Bedi finally had Camacho caught by Solkar at short-leg. Kanhai soon followed suit, again caught by Solkar, this time off Erapalli Prasanna, and Abid Ali came back to run through Clive Lloyd’s defense. Suddenly West Indies were 62 for four, and in serious trouble, when Sobers joined Charlie Davis.

After lunch, though, the pitch had eased down, and Sobers slowly took control of the situation. It was then that Srinivas Venkataraghavan bowled an outstanding spell. He pitched the ball on a good-length on the off-stump, and beat Sobers’s bat several times. Sobers hit him back a few times, but Venkataraghavan finally managed to bowl him.

The spinners kept on pegging away at the wickets, and things looked a little awkward at 162 for eight. Davis then added 52 with Grayson Shillingford, and eventually West Indies were bowled out for 214; Davis remained unbeaten on 71. Prasanna took four wickets, while Bedi took three.

India had to bat about 30 minutes. The debutant was a bit nervous, and a Vanburn Holder delivery hit his pads and ran towards deep fine-leg. The batsmen ran a couple, and the umpire signalled them as runs instead of leg-byes. That was how Gavaskar managed to get off the mark in Test cricket. India ended the day on 22 without loss.

Day Two: Gavaskar and Sardesai consolidate

The second morning began dramatically, as Gavaskar was dropped by Sobers in the slips off Holder. Mankad did the bulk of the scoring, and was first out when Shillingford clean bowled him. Noreiga removed Durani cheaply, and Sardesai — the hero of the previous Test —walked out to join Gavaskar.

The West Indians clearly missed a genuine fast bowler. Holder and Shillingford were not exactly world-conquering fast bowlers, and Sobers wasn’t the same bowler he once used to be. Sardesai soon settled down, and Gavaskar reached his fifty just after lunch, and Kanhai congratulated him with the words, “Well played, son”. In a few years’ time Gavaskar would name his son after Kanhai.

On reaching 65, Gavaskar pulled one off Noreiga to Lloyd at square-leg. West Indies saw a chance when Ajit Wadekar, the Indian captain, perished first ball. Solkar walked out, and Sardesai and Solkar showed ominous signs of an encore of their partnership in the Kingston Test after Solkar was dropped twice off Sobers, then bowling his chinaman. India ended the day on 247 for four, 33 runs ahead, with Sardesai on 83 and Solkar on 24.

Day Three: Noreiga takes nine, India leads

Sardesai batted brilliantly early on day three, using sublime footwork to thwart the spin of Noreiga and Sobers. Solkar, too, hung around, and the score began to accumulate. Sobers got desperate in search of wickets, tried out everyone including Davis and Lloyd, but Sardesai and Solkar could not be separated. In Sardesai’s words, “a time comes when you feel nobody can get you out, and I had that feeling all through that Caribbean tour”.

Then, with the score on 300, Sardesai finally fell for 112, caught off Noreiga. The pair had added 114 crucial runs; Abid Ali hit a few lusty blows, Solkar was ninth out for 55, and India finally ended on 352. However, the hero of the day was undoubtedly Noreiga, who picked up nine for 95 — still the best bowling performance by any West Indian bowler. Had he received support at the other end, he might have made a match of the situation.

West Indies got off to a solid start; Fredericks was in his elements, and Kanhai, opening batting instead of Camacho (who was injured while fielding), supported him well before he fell to Bedi for 27. Davis, the hero of the first innings, walked out with the team score on 73 for one. They ended the day at 150 for one, 12 runs ahead, with Fredericks on a dominating 80, and Davis supporting him with 33. It looked a 50-50 Test from there.

Day Four: India tastes elusive victory

The next morning, when Fredericks and Davis were practicing in the nets, Fredericks hit one that tore through the nets, and hit Davis, splitting his right eyebrow. Davis had to be rushed to the hospital, and Lloyd came out with Fredericks instead. Additionally, Fredericks was run out before a run was added, and West Indies were suddenly 150 for two with Davis in the hospital.

Sobers walked out to join Lloyd. It was then that Wadekar displayed his brought on Salim Durani, who bowled a fastish one that spun sharply and bowled Sobers through the gate. It was a rare, amazing spectacle to see the 36-year old Durani jump in the air and punch it in elation.

Wadekar also noticed that when Durani spun the ball into him, Lloyd had a tendency to turn it towards mid-wicket, often uppishly. Wadekar placed himself at short mid-wicket; Lloyd immediately hit one to Wadekar, who managed to catch it off his fingertips. Venkataraghavan ran through Camacho’s defense the very next over, and West Indies were 169 for five, just 31 runs ahead.

David walked out to join Barrett. Unlike some of his illustrious teammates, Davis put a formidable price-tag on his wicket, and together with Barrett, tried to get West Indies out of the hole they were in. Venkataraghavan eventually bowled Barrett after a 49-run partnership. Four runs later he had Mike Frindlay caught by Solkar at short-leg. Holder put up some fight, but both he and Shillingford perished to Venkataraghavan, to give him his fourth and fifth wickets respectively. Bedi finished off things by removing Noreiga, leaving Davis stranded on 74 after his unbeaten 71 in the first innings. West Indies had scored 261, and India now needed 124 to win.

Gavaskar and Mankad walked out once again. Once again they had a solid start, putting up 74 before Mankad was snared by Barrett for 29. However, Barrett struck twice more in quick succession, removing Durani for a duck and Sardesai for three, and India were suddenly 84 for three.

Wadekar promoted Abid Ali, possibly the fastest runner of the side, above himself and Solkar. It turned out to be another master move, as both Gavaskar and Abid Ali ran furiously as the target came closer and closer. Gavaskar, by his admission, did not even realise that he had passed the fifty-mark. The West Indian fielders panicked under pressure, and eventually India romped home by seven wickets, Gavaskar remaining unbeaten on 67.

The reactions

The Indians were jubilant. The West Indians went up to their dressing-room and congratulated them, and the party went deep into the night. A well-established Indian at Port-of-Spain threw a champagne party in honour of the victors. On the other hand, the general West Indian mood was so sore that foul play was suspected when Davis, the local, invited the Indian team for a dinner.

The rest of the series

India drew the three remaining Tests, claiming the series 1-0. Gavaskar had a phenomenal debut series with 774 runs at 154.80 with four hundreds — still the best debut series numbers by anyone; Sardesai, though pale in comparison, piled up 642 at 80.25 with three hundreds. The other batsmen contributed as well. The spinners, Venkataraghavan and Bedi, took 22 and 15 wickets respectively, while Prasanna took 11 from three Tests. The series triggered off a magic season for Indian fans, eventually culminating in another historic series win in England later that summer.

Brief scores:

West Indies 214 (Charlie Davis 71 not out; Erapalli Prasanna 4 for 54, Bishan Bedi 3 for 46) and 261 (Roy Fredericks 80, Charlie Davis 74; Srinivas Venkataraghavan 5 for 95) lost to India 352 (Dilip Sardesai 112, Sunil Gavaskar 65, Eknath Solkar 55, Ashok Mankad 44; Jack Noreiga 9 for 95) and 125 for 3 (Sunil Gavaskar 67 not out; Arthur Barrett 3 for 43) by 7 wickets.

(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/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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