Clayton Murzello: Can India unleash their Vishy in SA?
As Virat Kohli & Co look for a sterling revival in SA, they need someone to play like Gundappa Viswanath did for his unbeaten 97 in 1975
Gundappa Viswanath's unbeaten 97 against the West Indies in Chennai in 1975 threw open the series which India eventually lost in the fifth Test at Mumbai. Pic/mid-day archives
Had India batted with more determination and Vernon Philander been less demonic on a pitch that would have tested the best batting arsenals across all eras, the whole of India would've been singing paeans of Hardik Pandya for his dashing 93 off 95 balls in the first innings at Cape Town.
Pandya's knock will be memorable, although it may not be placed on the same shelf as other below-100 knocks like Nari Contractor's 81 at Lord's with a broken rib (against England's Fred Trueman and Brian Statham in 1959), MAK Pataudi's 75 on one foot at Melbourne in 1967-68 and Sunil Gavaskar's 96 on a treacherous Bangalore track against Imran Khan's Pakistanis in 1987. As for Gundappa Viswanath's unbeaten 97 against the West Indies in Chennai in 1975, pundits reckon it is the finest below-100 innings ever played on Indian soil.
It's a good time to remember that 97. Not only does the 43rd anniversary fall today, but it is also an innings that caused an unprecedented series-revival in Indian cricket; the kind of comeback Virat Kohli's Indians need in South Africa.
In the 1974-75 series against West Indies, India lost the first two Tests at Bangalore and Delhi. The innings defeat in the Capital was India's fifth loss on the trot. Kolkata is where the revival came about, but it was not India all the way. India could only total 233 in the first innings, with Viswanath being the only half centurion with 52. The visitors got a seven-run first innings lead and opener Roy Fredericks' 100 was worth its weight in gold - the next best score was Murray's 24. When India batted for the second time, Viswanath starred again - not with airy shots, but with grit and determination - for his six-hour 139.
India's 316 meant West Indies needed 310 to win and that was always going to be near-impossible with spinners like B S Bedi, B S Chandrasekhar and E A S Prasanna. India triumphed by 85 runs - their first-ever win over the men from the Caribbean on home soil.
Great players are ones who can repeat a brilliant performance and Viswanath became a great one in the eyes of his peers in the next Test at Chennai, where he scored 97 out of India's total of 190 on January 11, 1975. He walked in at 24 for two and never looked like getting out despite Roberts' fury and the guile of Bernard Julien and Lance Gibbs.
Viswanath didn't remember the short ball he received from Julien early in his innings, but recalled hitting Gibbs through mid-off for his last boundary of the innings. In between those two deliveries were shots which mesmerised the 55,000 spectators and scribes in the Chepauk press box which included a thrilled Lala Amarnath, and the opposition. Roberts insisted it was a "truly, truly great innings" and no one had killed him so softly with such wristy strokeplay before or since. Viswanath rated the flick through mid-wicket off Roberts after his half century as his most memorable shot in the innings. In his typical modest tone, he said that Roberts did not pitch that one on the leg-side, but on off and middle.
Karsan Ghavri, 12, who put on 41 for the seventh wicket with the batting Mozart, recalled being amazed that a player could combat a Roberts-led attack with such courage. A 52-run stand for the ninth wicket with Bedi (14) provided some flesh to India's skeletal total and the Sardar put his Gray-Nicolls willow to good use. After that came a 21-run last wicket association with Viswanath's Karnataka teammate Chandrasekhar. "I remember taking a single off the sixth ball of every over when Chandra was batting with me and it's amazing how we didn't get run out. The great West Indies fielders missed the stumps on many occasions," revealed Viswanath.
Chandrasekhar eventually fell to Roberts for one, giving the Antiguan his seventh wicket of the innings. Alvin Kallicharran, who had watched Viswanath's brilliance from close range, couldn't help patting the little Indian's shoulders five times as they made their way to the pavilion.
A great innings had been played, but it only dawned on Viswanath when then selector Raj Singh Dungarpur repeatedly told whoever he met that they would never see an innings like this. The fact that he missed his hundred was no sore point for Viswanath. He was mighty chuffed that he stayed unbeaten and of course eventually helped India win the Test. In the second innings, Viswanath scored 46 before West Indies were bowled out for 154 to give India a 100-run win. Prasanna claimed nine in the match and Viswanath almost forgot to claim a stump as a souvenir which was eventually given away to charity.
The accolades flew thick and fast for Viswanath.
Clive Lloyd in Living for Cricket called Viswanath's efforts in the series-reviving Tests "outstanding by any standards" from a batsman who "proved he was a batsman of true world class." West Indies won the series in the fifth Test at Mumbai.
And Vijay Merchant, who picked Viswanath in 1969-70, praised him in a different way: "Of course, he batted extremely well, but then India expects him to bat well because he is our most technically equipped batsman in the side."
Right now, the Indian team in SA need a Viswanath-like batting performance to lift them. Head coach Ravi Shastri is a huge Viswanath fan and is no doubt familiar with the 97 at Chennai. With some luck, Pandya could well be his Vishy!
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to email@example.com