Last week, a text message to a fairly known figure in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) went unanswered. The message was about the 40th anniversary of one of India’s finest Test wins in history – the one at Port of Spain, Trinidad, where India chased down 403 to beat Clive Lloyd’s West Indies.
It would have been a surprise had the BCCI organised a reunion or felicitation of sorts. It’s just not their style to honour past heroes and decorate feats of yesteryear.
The BCCI has not failed to look after past and present players’ financial needs and health benefits are welcomingly forthcoming. However, do respect and appreciation stop at a pension cheque or a one-time payment dispersion? I think not.
India captain Bishan Singh Bedi embraces Gundappa Vishwanath as S Madan Lal and team manager late Polly Umrigar look on. All four were on India’s 1976 tour of the West Indies. PIC/mid-day archives
Forty years is not as significant a milestone as 50, but one must be practical. Five from that 19-man touring party are no more (P Krishnamurthy, Parthasarathy Sharma, Eknath Solkar, manager Polly Umrigar and assistant manager Balu Alaganan) and hopefully there are no additions to the deceased list in 10 years’ time.
As Gundappa Vishwanath rightly pointed out in these columns on Tuesday, the April 12 Port of Spain win was not only a great moment in Indian cricket. The win also meant a lot to world cricket because it showed that with ability and a chunk of grit thrown in, a Himalaya of a run-chase is possible. Indeed, India’s win set the benchmark for chasing fourth innings targets. Every time a team is set a huge target to win a Test, Port of Spain 1976 has to be mentioned.
The amazing win in Port of Spain put India in a position to win their second consecutive series against the West Indies, but the visitors took a beating… literally on a lightning quick pitch in the next Test at Kingston, Jamaica and against the fearsome Michael Holding. Vishwanath’s finger was crushed as he covered his face to fend off Holding. Anshuman Gaekwad, after taking several blows on his body, was hit behind his left ear as his spectacles were knocked off.
It was clear that the West Indies wanted to win the series through their newly-formed pace force. Bedi’s Indians were the target; a response to what the West Indies suffered in Australia where they got a 1-5 shellacking.
The story of India’s 1976 tour of the West Indies is not only about success in the third Test. It is also about courage and fortitude shown from a generation which did not have helmets for protection.
Not much of what happened in that April 21-25, 1976 Test at Kingston would have been known to Indian cricket followers from a player’s point of view had it not been for Sunil Gavaskar’s Sunny Days. Gavaskar was more than just forthright, one of the many reasons why his literary effort is the still the finest autobiography written in Indian cricket.
Gaekwad recounted his on-field and off-field ordeals in Jamaica to me yesterday. The ball before he got hit by Holding on the ear, he was hit on his middle finger. He headed in the direction of square leg to deal with his pain. Wicketkeeper Deryck Murray and another West Indian player’s concern was given a ‘leave-me-alone’ signal by the injured Gaekwad as Holding was ready to bowl the next ball which would send Gaekwad’s spectacles flying and his left ear damaged. “All I wanted to do at that time was to ensure I was conscious. I remembered Nari Contractor’s injury 1962 and I didn’t want it to be as bad as his. I finally ended up in hospital but I was not exactly rushed there. An Indian doctor friend of the team and a West Indian doctor had two opinions about my injury. Our friend believed it was an internal injury and he was right,” said Gaekwad, who, also recalled a roar while on a stretcher in hospital. It was not because another wicket had fallen, but another Indian batsman was hurt - Brijesh Patel, hit on the face while trying to tackle Vanburn Holder, landed up in hospital as well.
The late cricket writer Dicky Rutnagur’s opening paragraphs in his tour summary for the 1977 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack were profound: “As at the end of the tour, the Indian team trudged along the tarmac towards their home-bound aeroplane at Kingston’s Norman Manley Airport, they resembled Napoleon’s troops on the retreat from Moscow. They were battle-weary and a lot of them were enveloped in plasters and bandages.
“The bandages were the campaign ribbons of a controversial and somewhat violent final Test which the West Indies won to prevail 2-1 in a four-Test series.
It’s not too late for the BCCI to organise a soulful felicitation for a highly skilled and courageous 1976 Indian team. So what if it is that time of the year when cricket fans are intoxicated with another brand of cricket?
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello
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