Vijay Hazare, the centurion. Caricature: Austin Gerard Coutinho.
Vijay Hazare, the centurion. Caricature: Austin Gerard Coutinho.

On February 8, 1949, India were set 361 in their fourth innings for what would have been their first Test victory. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a thrilling day’s cricket where Rusi Modi, Vijay Hazare and Dattu Phadkar decided to chase the impossible.

Amarnath decides to go for it

A target of 361 is never easy to chase. It was almost unthinkable in 1948-49, more so because India had never won a Test before that. However, in the third Test at Calcutta, they were set 431 for a victory, and they had responded superbly with 325 for 3 in the fourth innings. Additionally, they had fought bravely after following on to save the first two Tests.

So they had decided to chase. But all went wrong at the very beginning. In the third ball of the second over Gerry Gomez produced an absolute beauty; the inswinging yorker went through KC Ibrahim’s defense and bent his leg-stump. His partner, the cavalier Mushtaq Ali (who almost ran out Rusi Modi) on-drove Prior Jones for four; but in Jones’ very next over, Mushtaq attempted a feeble late cut, and Clyde Walcott took the resultant snick. India were 9 for 2.

Lala Amarnath, the Indian captain, was fuming in the dressing-room. He wanted India to throw a challenge to the West Indian bowlers. When Probir Sen, the Indian wicket-keeper, had dislocated his shoulder on the first day, Amarnath had kept wickets for both West Indian innings: he probably needed some rest before stumps. But such was his fury that he promoted himself in the batting-order and walked out amidst a huge ovation from the Bombay crowd — a city where he had created history about two decades back, albeit on a different ground.

Modi could only be a spectator, mostly providing the strike to his captain on a consistent basis. Amarnath took his anger out on the West Indian attack. His counter-attacking 39 put the Indian chase right back on track. He unsettled the bowlers, and Modi provided him with the necessary support.

Soon, Modi on-drove Gomez for three, and Amarnath followed suit with an all-run four amidst great cheer from the crowd. Modi once again on-drove Gomez for two, and brought up the 50 in 65 minutes. The chase was on. As news got out, the crowd started pouring in, and within no time crossed the 30,000-mark.

The Jones bowled one short and Amarnath upper-cut him over slips — a shot that has later been made famous by Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag — for four. John Trim and Denis Atkinson were brought on. Amarnath responded immediately by a cover-drive that went to the boundary — to borrow a cliché from Ravi Shastri — like a “tracer bullet”. He followed it by an elegant late cut off Trim that rushed to the fence. Then Atkinson produced a beauty that came in to hit his off-stump, and that was that. The partnership had yielded 72 runs in 72 minutes.

Everyone expected a night-watchman to walk out, but Amarnath, having decided on wasting no time, asked Vijay Hazare to join Modi. India were 90 for 3 at stumps, and an exciting day’s cricket was on the cards.

Lala Amarnath could have been the first Indian captain to win a Test that day. Caricature: Austin Gerard Coutinho.
Lala Amarnath could have been the first Indian captain to win a Test that day. Caricature: Austin Gerard Coutinho.

What happened earlier

West Indies had been bowled out for 286 — their first sub-300 score on the tour — thanks to some hostile bowling from Dattu Phadkar and a crafty, miserly spell from Vinoo Mankad. Jeffrey Stollmeyer and Everton Weekes had contributed with fifties. The Indians were then skittled out for 193, all four bowlers sharing the wickets: Modi and Hazare, who added 72 for the third wicket, put up some fight with a 72-run third wicket partnership. Sen did not bat.

Then Shute Banerjee came to the scene, bowling out West Indies for 267, taking 4 wickets on his debut and 5 in the Test; Allan Rae fought with a gallant 97. It turned out to be Banerjee’s only Test. Mankad, once again, played a brilliant supporting act and finished with 3 wickets in each innings. The target was 361.

The final day

Modi and Hazare had already put up three 100-run partnerships in the series: 156 in the second Test at Bombay and 129 and 108 at Calcutta. Additionally, they had added 64 at Madras, and had battled it out in the first innings here. Now they were determined to produce an encore. It did not matter that Modi was running a temperature. They knew they had to do it to level the series.

On the final day, India required 271 in 300 minutes. The duo began in a spectacular fashion. Jones and Gomez were immaculate with their precision, but Modi and Hazare still managed to keep the scoreboard ticking. The first 30 minutes yielded 34, and it was then John Goddard decided to fall back to a defensive field: as he brought on Cameron, he sent nearly everyone to the fence. But Hazare still managed to find the gaps: he first drove Cameron over his head for four, and then, with a packed off-side field, square-cut him for another boundary. They had already gone past 150 in 172 minutes, and Modi had crossed his fifty.

Rusi Modi's 86 was as crucial as Vijay Hazare's hundred. Modi finished with what was then the aggregate series record by an Indian. Caricature: Austin Gerard Coutinho.
Rusi Modi’s 86 was as crucial as Vijay Hazare’s hundred. Modi finished with 586, then the aggregate series record by an Indian. Caricature: Austin Gerard Coutinho.

Goddard brought himself on now. He had a packed off-side field with two slips, a gully, a third man, a deep point, a short cover and an extra-cover, along with a mid-on and a long-on. This meant that there were acres of space in the leg-side, but Goddard was bowling way outside the off-stump, and from the other end Gomez was very difficult to score off.

At this point Ghulam Ahmed ran out with a message from the captain: the batsmen immediately resorted to quick singles that would have put batsmen of later years to envy. The frantic efforts of the athletic West Indian fielders to run them out all went in vain.

The clock still caught up with the score, and now India needed to score 200 from 200 minutes. Gomez, who had bowled unchanged till just before lunch, was relieved after a spell of 17-3-24-0 despite the aggressive intent of the Indians. Hazare then late cut Jones for four to bring up his 50 in 118 minutes: India reached lunch with 175 for 3, Modi on 66 and Hazare on 54. They needed 186 from two sessions.

Hazare’s hundred, and promotion for Phadkar

After lunch Modi and Hazare began attacking yet again. Runs came thick and fast, and Goddard shuffled his bowlers around. Hazare soon became the first Indian to reach 1,000 Test runs. Goddard, not the greatest of brains, was pushed by Gomez and to take to leg-theory, keeping two men behind square on the leg-side, a long-on, a mid-on, a mid-wicket, and one more — six fielders in all. Hazare and Modi tried to counter this by taking guard outside the leg-stump, and finally Modi perished in pursuit of quick runs. He had scored 86, and the pair had put up their fourth 100-partnership of the series — this time 139 from 172 minutes. Hazare was on 78 now.

Mankad walked out. From the very beginning it was obvious he would provide the strike to Hazare, who would keep the onslaught on. Hazare rushed to his 100 in no time (in three-and-a-half hours, with only 10 fours — which probably shows how well he ran with Modi; Modi had hit only 4 boundaries in his 86), and then hit three consecutive boundaries off Trim. The third of these was a fearsome square-cut — and the Bombay crowd rose on its feet. The 250 came up in 295 minutes. Then Jones came back and managed to take Mankad’s edge: Hazare and Mankad had added 55, of which Mankad had scored only 15, including a delicate late cut for four.

At this stage Jones bowled too many bouncers to slow down the Indian scoring rate, and was at the receiving end of some serious barracking from the crowd. The barracking reached a stage where Jones refused to bowl unless the crowd went quiet when he began his run-up; the crowd, realising that invaluable time was being wasted, decided to keep quiet.

Amarnath promoted Phadkar over Hemu Adhikari — a specialist batsman — at this juncture. Phadkar was known for his strokeplay, and Hazare thought India still stood with a chance. Then a good-length ball from Goddard rose sharply and hit Hazare on, in his own words, “the lower part of my anatomy”.

Hazare sought medical help. Five valuable minutes were lost; worse, before Hazare could regain composure, Phadkar called him for a sharp single that brought back the pain. A somewhat unsettled Hazare was bowled by Jones for 122. He had scored 560 in the series — 26 short of Modi’s 586, which now stood as the Indian record. India now needed 76, and when the last hour’s play began, they needed 72.

Known primarily for his bowling, Dattu Phadkar almost sealed the match that day with bat. Caricature: Austin Gerard Coutinho.
Known primarily for his bowling, Dattu Phadkar almost sealed the match that day with bat. Caricature: Austin Gerard Coutinho.

Phadkar takes over

Phadkar, one of the most underrated all-rounders in the history of Indian cricket, took the burden on his broad shoulders. Even a well-spread West Indian field could not contain him. Banerjee, too, was promoted above Adhikari; he hit a six, but was promptly bowled by Jones. Adhikari walked out at 303 for 7.

Adhikari fell in pursuit of quick runs to give Jones his fifth wicket of the innings. The score read 321. When Ghulam Ahmed walked out, India still required 40 to win, and with Sen unlikely to bat, this was their last wicket. However, Goddard, instead of going for the kill, decided to secure his 1-0 lead and contain Phadkar. The Indians, too, being under the impression that losing the series 0-2 hardly made it worse from losing it 0-1, decided to hit out.

As Goddard had spread his field wide, Phadkar could not find the boundaries, but the pair ran hard, converting ones into twos and twos into threes, and suddenly the target seemed achievable. The West Indians panicked. 21 runs were needed from 15 minutes now. With the allowance of one drinks break per session, Goddard called for drinks to kill some time.

Even after the drinks break, Phadkar and Ghulam Ahmed did not stop. When a ball went to deep fine-leg, Walcott himself ran at a leisurely pace with his pads on to collect the ball! A few more minutes were wasted. Even then, Phadkar slashed one off Goddard hard and edged it for four. Ghulam Ahmed then attempted a slog and got four byes. As the clock ticked over, India reached 350 in 361 minutes, and required only 11 — from a maximum of two overs.

Jones and Joshi

Jones ran in now. He knew it was going to be his final over, and he decided to give it all. He bowled one outside leg-stump, and no run could be scored. 11 needed off 11.

Jones bowled a short one — once again on the leg. Phadkar was prepared for it. He quickly moved to the leg and square-cut it hard. The shot sounded like the crack of a whip, and the sparse off-side field could not stop the boundary. 7 needed off 10.

Jones bowled on the pads again. Phadkar decided to risk a single and give the strike to Ghulam. 6 needed off 9.

One stroke could do it now. Ghulam, going for the slog, did not time it, and only managed to push the ball to the leg-side, but the batsmen decided against the single. 6 needed off 8.

Jones steamed in. He let loose a bouncer that soared high over the batsman’s head. 6 needed off 7.

Ghulam now needed to survive one more ball, and with a-minute-and-a-half left, Phadkar should surely pull it off for India in the final over.

Then, suddenly, umpire Bapu Joshi came into play. He had miscounted the number of balls, and had called “over”. And, to make things worse, he was possibly carried away by the excitement and removed the bails to call it stumps! It was an anticlimax of the worst possible sort. A bemused Phadkar walked back with Ghulam Ahmed, and India were deprived of their first-ever Test win, thanks to the negative tactics of the West Indians and an incredible display of irresponsibility by umpire Joshi.

The jubilant West Indians rushed to collect the stumps as souvenirs; it was heartbreak, though, for Amarnath, Modi, Hazare and Phadkar, all of whom had batted brilliantly. West Indies claimed the series with that victory, but the series, without a doubt, marked India’s entry into the world of cricket with outstanding batting efforts in four of the five Tests.

Brief scores:

West Indies 286 (Jeffrey Stollmeyer 85, Everton Weekes 56; Dattu Phadkar 4 for 74) and 267 (Allan Rae 97; Shute Banerjee 4 for 54) drew with India 193 and 355 for 8 (Vijay Hazare 122, Rusi Modi 86; Prior Jones 5 for 85).

(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)