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When Gundappa Viswanath’s virtuoso solo act mastered the might of the West Indies attack at Madras

When Gundappa Viswanath's virtuoso solo act mastered the might of the West Indies attack at Madras

Gundappa Viswanath could create works of art in ruins. The 97 not out against the West Indies at Madras was one such innings. File photo © Getty Images

The 97 not out GR Viswanath scored against crushing odds and the fury of Andy Roberts at Madras on January 11, 1975, is considered among the rare gems of Test cricket. H Natarajan explains why this innings is rated among the great epics of the game.

Give our lads a paint brush and they will go to work on the back fence. Give one to a Brazilian and he will make Leonardo da Vinci – Scottish manager Andy Roxburgh after his team lost to Brazil in the 1982 World Cup soccer.

In many ways, Gundappa Viswanath was the Leonardo da Vinci. He painted masterpieces when his team-mates were drawing street wall graffiti. Right from scoring 137 on debut in 1969, Vishwanath performed when others failed. He raised his degree of batting excellence on pitches others found a nightmare; his match-winning 124 out of 255 on another fiery, bouncy Madras wicket against West Indies in 1978-79, and innings of 83 and 79 against New Zealand on a Christchurch green-top in 1975-76 being a few such instances.

But if there is one innings that defined his granite resolve in crisis situation, it was his 97 not out against the rampaging Andy Roberts at Chennai in 1975. West Indies arrived at Madras with a 2-1 lead in the five-match Test series, winning at Bangalore and Delhi. Viv Richards, who made his Test debut alongside Gordon Greenidge at Bangalore, had signaled his arrival on the world stage with an unbeaten 192 at Delhi.

India won the toss and opted to bat, but lost six wickets for 55 runs as Roberts blew the Indians apart with sustained hostility. Even though there were four days to go, the 1-2 series deficit and the shambles at Madras left even the most optimistic of Indian cricket fans to believe that India would lose the Test and the series at Chennai to this increasingly powerful West Indian unit under Clive Lloyd.

But there was one steely customer the West Indians had to deal with – a man who was short in height but not in stature. He single-handedly took control of the situation and shepherded the Indian tail to show why he would be acknowledged as the guru of crisis management.

The degree of difficulty was best summed up by Sunil Gavaskar. “His 97 not out is the finest Test match innings I was privileged to see,” Gavaskar wrote in his book, Idols, published in 1983. “That attack is the best form of defence was amply proved in this innings. From 91 for seven, Vishy helped in carrying the score to 191, and in the end missed his hundred by three runs when the last man in, BS Chandrasekhar, who had defended dourly, surrendered his wicket to Roberts. Vishy’s strokes in that innings were unbelievable. His square-cutting meant that Clive Lloyd had to keep two fielders on the third man boundary, and the way Roberts was bowling that day, it is a tribute to the quality of batsmanship. The moment Roberts bowled on the leg side, Vishy flicked him past square-leg and past mid-wicket. And the moment there was an over-pitched delivery, he drove it through the covers with elegance.”

The last four Indian wickets added 114 runs – Viswanath’s contribution being a whopping 80. He added 21 of those runs with last man Chandrasekhar, who was the worst No 11 in the world. The second highest scorer  in the Indian innings was Ashok Mankad with 19. Viswanath had scored 51.05% of India’s runs and single-handedly defied the fire and fury of Roberts who finished the innings with seven wickets for 64 runs. Roberts followed up with five for 57 in the Indian second innings. It was an innings in which Vishwanth yet again rose to the occasion by emerging as the second highest scorer (46), which was good enough for India to win the Test.

It was a brilliant performance by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi-led Indian side which fought back from losing the first two Tests to now draw level in the series. As in Chennai, it was Viswanath who ruled supreme with the bat in the third Test at Calcutta, top scoring in both innings with scores of 52 and 139. Viswanath’s century at Eden Gardens came at a time when (barring Farokh Engineer) the rest of the batsmen failed to get into the thirties – most falling to single digit scores.

The Indian batting of that time relied heavily on the genius of Gavaskar and Viswanath. Gavaskar missed the third and fourth Tests because of an injury, which places Viswanath’s match-winning knocks at Calcutta and Chennai in proper perspective.

Gavaskar returned to the side for the final Test at Bombay – the first ever at Wankhede Stadium – to score 86. And Viswanath continued to torment the West Indian pacers by falling five short of a third century in successive Tests. However, West Indies won the match and with it the series. 

Indian cricket is all about romanticism. Though the team lost the series, the memories of Viswanath’s back-to-back hundreds and the brilliance of the Indian spinners in helping India fightback will forever be talked about. 

(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at twitter/hnatarajan

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