And when the team returned home, the red carpet welcome, the ride in plus, open cars, the accolades was something one had to witness to believe © Getty Images
And when the team returned home, the red carpet welcome, the ride in plus, open cars, the accolades was something one had to witness to believe © Getty Images

 

With a nine-and-a half-hour time difference and no TV – forget Internet, the transistor radio was the link to history being made by the Indian cricket team. I was all of 12 years old and for me it was another world in which the Indian cricket team was playing a 5-Test series in the West Indies, preceded by nine first-class matches of four days or 3 days duration. It was long tour – Feb–April.

 

Setting the transistor or sometimes the valve-based radio to get a fairly decent reception and listen to the commentary was a task in itself. And one was huddled with friends. No way could we listen to the exploits alone. A boundary was greeted with loud cheers; a six saw the reception go berserk! It was as if the air waves were celebrating the shot!

 

The spoils in the preliminary matches were even. One win each. Then the Test matches started. Those were times when there was a Rest Day – after the 3rd days play. The public debating, discussing, arguing what went wrong, or how this batsman was not out and the umpires were biased etc. Remember this was all based on radio commentary and press reports! It was magical.

 

And in all this hoopla, a small-built player was making his mark – quite emphatically. Sunil Manohar Gavaskar occupied centrestage like no other debutant before. He aggregated 774 runs at an average of 154.80 which remains the most runs scored in a debut series by any batsman in the history of Test cricket.

 

Gavaskar missed the first Test, but was there to make his debut in the second Test at Port of Spain which India won. They hung to the 1-0 lead to win a historic first-ever series victory in the West Indies.

 

Gavaskar was in magical touch and ended the series with a century and a double century in the 5th Test, despite battling a bad toothache. It was the dawn of the Sunny era.

 

The Windies pace attack was nowhere near the class, hostility and pace of some the great names that followed in the years to come, but few batsmen in Indian cricket history – barring Dilip Sardesai in the same series – batted with the authority, courage and consistency Gavaskar showed in that series. And what was especially commendable was that he was only 21.

 

And when the team returned home, the red carpet welcome, the ride in plus, open cars, the accolades was something one had to witness to believe. The next time this was to happen was in 1983 when Kapil Dev returned home with the World Cup.

 

The 1971 team to the West Indies comprised some outstanding players…Ashok Mankad (later regarded as one of the sharpest brains in Indian cricket), captain Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai (one of the heroes of the series), the genius of Gundappa Viswanath, Eknath Solkar (the man for crisis situations), Salim Durani (whose wickets of Clive Lloyd and Gary Sobers was largely instrumental in Indian winning the 2nd Test and later the series), the gutsy Abid Ali and  the spin trio of Bishan Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan and last, but not the least, the flamboyant ML Jaisimha.

 

But if there was one man who left an indelible stamp in the Caribbean Islands, it was Gavaskar. In honour of the Little Master’s stupendous performances, Lord Relator (Willard Harris) wrote a calypso song.

 

The first-ever series victory in England was the icing on what was, and still is, an unforgettable year for Indian cricket.

 

(Kandarp Baxi, a hard core Gemini, can play pace as good as he can play spin! Loves the game, especially the days when he played tennis cricket and got Rs. 11 plus the ball for winning the match! Broke countless window panes in the building, playing cricket in his youth. Loved smearing linseed oil on the bat and then leaving pockmarks on the surface with the compass point to see the oil seep in and season the bat!)