There was little love lost between the West Indies team led by Clive Lloyd (seen leading the team) and Bishan Singh Bedi's Indians, as the bloodbath came to an end. West Indies had triumphed by picking up just 11 legitimate wickets in the match; the rest of their victims dispatched to the infirmary. The fast bowling machine of the West Indies had been launched. This Test marked the start of the West Indies pace era that went on to rule the world for 19 years © Getty Images
There was little love lost between the West Indies team led by Clive Lloyd (seen leading the team) and Bishan Bedi’s Indians, as the bloodbath came to an end. West Indies had triumphed by picking up just 11 legitimate wickets in the match; the rest of their victims dispatched to the infirmary. The fast bowling machine of the West Indies had been launched. This Test marked the start of the West Indies pace era that went on to rule the world for 19 years © Getty Images

April 25, 1976. The end of the bloodbath in Jamaica, which gave West Indies victory in the series by a slim 2-1 margin. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at some of the most hostile bowling ever seen in Test cricket.

As the demoralised Indian contingent disembarked from their flight at Bombay’s Santacruz Airport, not too many fans were waiting to welcome them back. One wonders whether even the biggest diehard follower of Indian cricket could have recognised them. Battered, bruised and beleaguered, the men could have easily been taken for a troop on the way back from Ha Noi. Life and limb had been at peril, and yards of gauze and bandages spoke about the ghastly travails.

Gundappa Viswanath had a plaster cast running from his forearm to fingers. Anshuman Gaekwad was barely recognisable; his features wrapped from chin to crown in white dressing. Brijesh Patel had three stitches on his upper lip.

Slightly less alarming, but nevertheless claimed as serious enough to prevent them from batting, were the injured fingers of skipper Bishan Bedi and his spin bowling partner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.

Indeed, it had been as close to bombardment as it gets on the cricket field. Of the most gruesome kind. “The West Indian tactics in this Sabina Park Test were not part of the game. They were a deliberate effort to subdue us,” lamented Bedi.

Clyde Walcott, the Caribbean team manager, however, waved the incident away by saying, “India were ill-equipped to play fast bowling.” And captain Clive Lloyd was even more dismissive: “This is cricket — if you get hit you have to take it!”

The backdrop of violence

The ruthlessness of Lloyd’s comment was forged by the scorching Australian heat. The West Indian team, bustling with talent and greatness, had landed Down Under to engage in what promised to be the battle for the Test crown. A confident Lloyd had voiced, “There is basically not much between the two teams where talents and skills are concerned, and you don’t need a crystal ball to predict the outcome could hang on a slender thread.”

The West Indians had gone on to lose 1-5. Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson had pulverised the tourists with fast bowling of hostility they had never witnessed before. According to the documentary Fire in Babylon, the tour had made Lloyd declare, “Never again.”

And then, after having routed the Indians at Bridgetown, Lloyd had declared at 271 for 6 in the third Test at Port-of-Spain. The Indians had overhauled the 400-plus target to draw level in the series. Some locals in Trinidad had demanded Lloyd’s head.

Lloyd was desperate for a win as the teams had travelled to Jamaica for the final Test. So was the entire West Indies.

The simmering unrest could be sensed during the tour match against Jamaica. With Bedi sitting out, Sunil Gavaskar captained the side against the island team. He pushed for a positive result, batting at number nine, throwing his bat around, and declaring with India only 7 runs ahead. The Jamaican captain, Maurice Foster, did not reciprocate. The team batted without urgency for 92 overs, and left India 266 to win in 2 hours. This, in spite of Gavaskar showing his disgust by bowling full-tosses. According to the Little Master, this was a sign of growing desperation to win in West Indies cricket.

Bouncer and beamer barrage

On a lively Sabina Park wicket, Lloyd won the toss and put India in. The strip was new, untested, with an uneven wavy undulation at the very length preferred by fast bowlers. Michael Holding charged in from one end, and debutant Wayne Daniel from the other.

Openers Gavaskar and Gaekwad saw India through to lunch without the loss of any wicket. It prompted Lloyd to unleash the tactics that would bear the Caribbean signature for the next two decades. However, in its early form, the methods were extraordinarily crude.

Holding started off with three bouncers to Gaekwad in an over. This was followed by four bouncers and a beamer to Gavaskar. The Indian dressing room shuddered. The crowd loved it. And, with a mix of fortune and pluck, the openers continued to bat.

In Sunny Days, Gavaskar devotes an entire chapter on the Test, under the rather graphic title Barbarism in Kingston.  Some of the sections may be rather difficult to swallow with modern age sensibilities moulded under the weight of political correctness, but they demonstrate exactly how the opening batsman felt while being singed by the fire. Holding and Daniel peppered the two men with their lethal deliveries, and the crowd bayed for their blood.

“To call the crowd a ‘crowd’ in Jamaica is a misnomer. It should be called a ‘mob’. The way they shrieked and howled every time Holding bowled was positively horrible. They encouraged him with shouts of ‘Kill him, maan!’, ‘Hit him, maan!’, ‘Knock his head off, Mike!’ All this proved beyond a shadow of doubt that these people still belonged to the jungles and forests, instead of a civilised country.”

As umpires Ralph Gosein and Douglas Sang Hue made no effort to rein in the bowlers, Gavaskar tried to coax support out of the crowd. He failed.

“Their partisan attitude was even more evident when they did not applaud any shots we played. At one stage I even ‘demanded’ claps for a boundary shot off Daniel. All I got was laughter from the section, which certainly hadn’t graduated from the trees where they belonged … They were stamping their legs, clapping and jumping with joy. The only word I can think of to describe the behaviour of the crowd is ‘barbarian’. Here was a man seriously injured, and these barbarians were thirsting for more blood, instead of expressing sympathy, as any civilised and sporting crowd would have done…. The whole thing was sickening. Never have I seen such cold-blooded and positively indifferent behaviour from cricket officials. And the spectators, to put it mildly, were positively inhuman.”

After 3 hours 40 minutes of battle and missed at 24 and 36, Gavaskar had his stumps rattled by a Holding yorker for 66.  But Mohinder Amarnath came in and put his head down. Gaekwad, at the other end, batted through the day. He was often hit on his body and arms by the pacemen bowling round the wicket. When bad light stopped play, India were on 178 for 1. Gaekwad was unbeaten a valiant 58. Some of the balls from Raphick Jumadeen had turned, and the visitors had reasons to be happy with the day’s returns if not the events.

Hors de combat

Trouble started early on Day Two when Lloyd opted for the new ball. Michael Holding generated scorching speed with considerable inconsistent bounce. With the fifth delivery of the new ball, he made one fly from no more than three yards in front of Amarnath; the ball rearing for the throat. The batsman raised the bat as a desperate means of self-protection. The resulting fend was taken by Bernard Julien at backward short-leg.

The new man, Viswanath, was greeted by a ball that Tony Cozier termed “one of the wickedest bouncers of the series”. It rose almost at right angles in a streak of red, brushed the hasty glove raised in front of the face, and crashed into the boundary behind ’keeper Deryck Murray.

By now, having tasted blood, Holding kept pitching short. The batsmen divided their time between ducking, weaving and somehow keeping them down. Soon, Holding hit the suspect region in the middle of the pitch. The ball reared up and Vishwanath was struck on the glove. Julien held again. The impact of the ball had broken Viswanath’s finger.

Gaekwad, meanwhile, had been struck three times on the fingers. On a few occasions, the ball had passed tantalisingly close to his face. Now, he ducked into a ball that did not rise and it crashed into his left ear. An inch to the right and it could have been fatal. There was finally blood on the pitch.

Strangely, the local authorities showed little urgency in arranging for treatment. Gaekwad finally received medical attention only after the team treasurer Balu Alaganan had been sent to persuade Jamaican cricket officials to rush the him to the hospital.

Soon after that, Brijesh Patel took his eye off a lifter from Vanburn Holder and edged it straight on to his mouth. The man who had applied the finishing touches when India had pulled off that miraculous win in the previous Test now walked back with his lip split open. The scoreboard read a fairly good-looking 273 for 3. But in reality things were looking ominous for India, with their dressing room resembling a sick bay.

In no uncertain terms Bedi let the umpires know what he thought about the bowling, but it fell on deaf ears. The fast men continued to charge in and pitch them halfway down the track.

Dilip Vengsarkar was only 19, and had been rushed into the deep end without even a full First-Class season behind him. He hardly had the experience to weigh in and make a difference, but the class was evident as he fought hard for more than a couple of hours. He evaded the bouncers with ease, and remained unperturbed through the spate of injuries. And when once in a rare while the ball was pitched up, he drove with guts and grace. When he fell after a brave innings of 39 and Srinivas Venkataraghavan was dismissed soon after that, Bedi chose to declare the innings at 306 for 6.

“There is a limit to courage when you are facing bowling at 90 miles per hour. A lot of human beings would have conked out. I gave the umpires a piece of my mind. It became so painful to watch that I had to make the disgusting gesture of declaring in a six-day Test,” the Indian captain remarked.

The fight back

Roy Fredericks and Lawrence Rowe started strongly in response, progressing to 82 for no loss by end of Day Two. However, on the third day, the wicket produced turn. Bedi and Chandra bowled beautifully. West Indies were reduced to 217 for 6. The match was still evenly poised.

The injuries had dogged India even while fielding. Bedi had injured a finger trying to grab a return catch off Viv Richards. Chandra had also damaged his finger, although his attempt to catch Lloyd had been successful. But, Venkat maintained a steady line, and the fight was on.

Murray batted stubbornly. And Holding, having tormented the batsmen with his short-pitched stuff, now hounded the Indians with the bat and clubbed a couple of sixes. By the end of Day Three, both had posted half centuries and West Indies had taken the lead.

Some solid contributions down the order ensured a lead of 84. The injury-ravaged Indians were out to bat the second time, already three down with Viswanath, Gaekwad and Patel unable to bat. It hardly mattered to the batting line up, but the team’s owes were piled on when 12th man Surinder Amarnath had to be rushed to the hospital with appendicitis. Vengsarkar walked out to open the innings with Gavaskar.

97 for five — innings closed

In the third over, Holding got Gavaskar caught at short-leg. The last remnant of hope was now lost. Mohinder Amarnath launched a belligerent counterattack, and Vengsarkar essayed a few fine strokes, but the writing was clearly on the wall. It was the spin of Jumadeen which accounted for Vengsarkar after the fast bowlers had been successfully resisted. Madan Lal came in at No. 4 for the only time in his life in Test matches. And back came Holding to bowl him and make it 97 for 3.

India did not score any more. Amarnath stepped out to Jumadeen to be stumped. Venkat, the farcical No. 5, was bowled by Holding for a duck. No one else was fit enough to bat. The innings ended at 97 for 5.

Bedi did not take field as West Indies came out to knock off the 13 runs. The home team assumed that the second declaration was a sign of protest. The belief reigns even today in some quarters. In Fire in Babylon one can see Murray saying: “The Indians thought we were overdoing the fast-bowling, surrendered the Test match to the West Indies almost as a show of protest.”

Tony Cozier, too, was rather uncharitable when he summed up: “Bedi’s action was plain and simple. The Indians had had enough and were calling it quits. Bedi was conspicuous by his absence when the Indians took the field. All this did little to improve India’s image which had certainly got tarnished. It was a pity the series had to end like this because Bedi and his men had shown greater courage and determination than many other teams which have toured the Caribbean.”

After the defeat, the Indian captain issued a statement that the second innings had not been declared as originally assumed, but should be considered completed.

Indian team manager Polly Umrigar called a press conference to protest against Lloyd’s  tactics. And the West Indian captain retorted that he had not complained about the punishment his team had received in Australia.

There was little love lost between the two sides as the bloodbath came to an end. West Indies had triumphed by picking up just 11 legitimate wickets in the match; the rest of their victims dispatched to the infirmary.

During the miniscule highlights provided during the Doordarshan Samachar  those days, cricket writer Raju Bharatan had caught a glimpse of a vicious beamer  rearing for the head of Gavaskar.  Years later he wrote in Sportstar, “I asked Sunil once he was back in India, ‘That head-hunting beamer we saw you barely manage to evade at Sabina Park … how did it feel to measure up to it from Holding?’

“‘Which beamer?’ Sunil slyly sought to know… ‘There were so many of them bowled at us. Both — Holding and Daniel — bowled them regularly. Their technique was simple — mix a beamer with two-three bouncers in an over. Then, having shaken the batsman’s confidence, produce a fast straight yorker to go through his defence. I did ask wicket-keeper Deryck Murray why they were still after me when they had virtually won that Sabina Park decider with three of our key men injured. Deryck said he had spoken to Clive about it, but they had simply been asked to turn their eyes away if they did not want to look!”

The fast bowling machine of the West Indies had been launched. It went on to rule the world for 19 years.

Brief scores:

India 306 for 6 decl. (Sunil Gavaskar 66, Anshuman Gaekwad 81 retired hurt; Michael Holding 4 for 82) and 97 (Mohinder Amarnath 60; Michael Holding 3 for 35) lost to West Indies 391 (Roy Fredericks 82, Lawrence Rowe 47, Viv Richards 64, Deryck Murray 71, Michael Holding 55; Bhagwat Chandrasekhar 5 for 153) and 13 for no loss by 10 wickets.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)