When the West Indies were a dominant force under Clive Lloyd, winning a Test match against them was akin to snatching a meal from a hungry lion’s mouth! Those were the days when survival was a huge ask and coming out with a draw against the mighty force of the West Indies in a Test match looked creditable.
The turning point of the West Indies came after it had suffered a defeat against India in the most unimaginable manner. This was at Trinidad in 1976. The Indian batting line-up managed to do something that was only done just once before in a Test match - successfully chasing a 400 plus target in the fourth innings, a feat achieved by Bradman’s Invincibles way back in 1948.
India were touring the West Indies for the first time since their historic series win in 1971. But unlike 1971, the West Indies were a much stronger unit with a fantastic batting line-up comprising Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Alvin Kallicharran, Roy Fredericks and Lawrence Rowe. Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Bernard Julien formed a formidable pace attack which was helped by the spinner Raphick Jumadeen. The Indian batting included the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath, Gundappa Viswanath, Anshuman Gaekwad, Brijesh Patel, Eknath Solkar and Syed Kirmani while the bowling was powered by the spin quartet comprising captain Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan.
India went into the third Test 0-1 down, having lost the first Test by an innings and 97 runs. They managed to draw the second Test at Trinidad, thanks to hundreds from Gavaskar and Patel and a good performance by the spinners Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Venkatraghavan. The third Test was to be played at Georgetown, Guyana, but heavy rains meant that it was shifted back to India’s favorite ground in the Caribbean, Trinidad. Queen’s Park Oval had happy memories for India as it was the very venue where they had recorded their famous win of 1971 and had also drawn the previous Test.
West Indies made a few changes to the West Indies bowling line-up, keeping in mind the performance of the Indian spinners in the previous Test on the very ground. They dropped Roberts and David Holford to give Test debuts to two spinners, Imtiaz Ali and Albert Padmore. The West Indies played three spinners (the two debutants and Jumadeen) and two pacers (Holding and Julien). India, on the other hand, made two changes to their batting line-up. They dropped Dilip Vengsarkar and Surinder Amarnath and replaced them with Gaekwad and Solkar.
West Indies won the toss and chose to bat. Viv Richards scored 177 runs against a world class spin attack. Lloyd (68) and Julien (47) were the other major contributors as West Indies put up 359. Chandrasekhar picked up five of the top six West Indian batsmen and ended up with figures of six for 120. Bedi picked up the rest of the wickets, including Richards.
In reply, India scored just 228 as most of their batsmen who got decent starts could not convert them into big scores. This was mainly due to a fiery spell by Michael Holding as he picked up six Indian wicket, including Sunil Gavaskar for 26 - his lowest score at Trinidad till then.
Having conceded a lead of 131, the pressure was certainly on India. The West Indies declared their second innings at 271 for six with Kallicharran unbeaten on 103.
The declaration came just after lunch on the fourth day which meant that India had the time to chase 403. But the question was: “Could they do it?” Gavaskar took control at his favorite venue as he gave India a solid start. At the end of Day Four, India were 134 for one with Gavaskar 86 not out and Mohinder Amarnath 14 not out. Even though India had got off to a good solid start, the target of 403 was still a considerable distance away.
The next morning, Gavaskar got his hundred but was caught behind by Deryck Murray off the bowling of Jumadeen. In came Viswanath and he got into the act by displaying his class to construct a partnership of 159 with Amarnath to guide India within sight of victory. When he fell for 112, India still needed 67 for victory. In walked Brijesh Patel who scored 49 of the remaining runs, which included the winning hit. Amarnath was run out within touching distance of victory, but he had essayed one of the greatest innings ever played by an Indian batsman.
It was a fantastic achievement considering that it away on foreign soil against a famed West Indies team. It remained the highest run chase in the fourth innings till the year 2003 when West Indies chased down 418 against Australia at Antigua.
Most people may look at the scorecard and think that it was Gavaskar and Viswanath who were the main heroes in this victory as they got hundreds but it was Amarnath’s 85 which was the most crucial knock. He walked in at the loss of the first wicket at 69 and was only dismissed when the scoreboard read 392. While he was at the wicket, India scored 323 runs, which is almost 80 per cent of the runs they had to chase. This, in effect, allowed Viswanath to play their shots as he held one end.
West Indies could not digest the loss. They were blood-thirsty in the fourth Test at Jamaica. Clive Lloyd was visibly upset with his spinners and decided to play four fast bowlers - Holding, Wayne Daniel, Julien and Vanburn Holder. Jumadeen was the lone spinner in the team as Ali and Padmore were dropped. Poor Imtiaz Ali never played Test cricket again and Padmore added just one more to his career. It marked the start of the great West Indies pace era as they looked to play four fast bowlers in their line-up after the shock of Trinidad. Lloyd famously told his spinners, “Gentlemen I gave you 400 runs to bowl at and you failed to bowl out the opposition. How many runs must I give you in future to make sure that you get the wickets?”
In the fourth Test, the fast bowlers intimidated the Indian batting and as a result three batsmen were left injured in the first innings itself. Bedi declared the first innings at 306 for six, mainly to protect his bowlers from the intimidating bowling. He declared at 97 for five in the second innings with just a lead of 12 runs as the three injured batsmen were not in a position to bat and he also had to protect himself and Chandrasekhar. The joy of the Trinidad victory was temporarily forgotten mainly due to this performance by the West Indies fast men.
The run-chase at Trinidad will be long remembered as it is still amongst the top run chases in the fourth innings of a Test match. What adds to its beauty is that it was just the second run chase over 400 since 1948 and that it remained a record for around 27 years.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")