A brief announcement by the BCCI to felicitate the 1971 Ajit Wadekar-led teams in the best possible way would make each and every player involved in those victories feel good
India’s Abid Ali is carried by joyous fans after he scored the winning run against England at the Oval in 1971. Pic/Getty Images
The year 2021 provides the BCCI a golden opportunity to celebrate 50 years of the 1971 Test series victories over West Indies and England in their respective dens.
As of now, we haven’t heard of any plans but I can hear the Board supporters chanting, “don’t jump the gun. The BCCI will not be so insensitive not to mark the occasion.” Point taken, but the track record of the cricket establishment is a poor one when it comes to celebrating landmark anniversaries.
Nothing was done to mark 50 years of India’s first-ever overseas series win — in New Zealand in 1968 when India won 3-1. Only Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s 2008-09 outfit have been able to win a Test series in New Zealand apart from MAK Pataudi’s team. And if that was no good reason to classify that triumph as special, the fact that it came close on the heels of a 0-4 thrashing in the Australia summer of 1967-68 should have counted for something.
The birth centenary of Vinoo Mankad in 2017 too did not move the Board to do anything to honour the man. The men in power cannot say that they were not informed about the anniversary of India’s finest spin bowling all-rounder.
They were. Ramachandra Guha, who was part of the Committee of Administrators (CoA), wrote to BCCI CEO Rahul Johri on receiving a text message from fellow cricket lover Makarand Waingankar about Mankad’s approaching birth centenary.
Before ending the email (which is reproduced in Guha’s The Commonwealth of Cricket) with the words, “I strongly urge the BCCI to commemorate his [Mankad] centenary in some proper and fitting way,” Guha stressed on Mankad’s achievements. And in profound fashion, he added: “Without Mankad there would have been no Gavaskar or Kapil Dev, no Kohli or Ashwin either. He showed the way to them.”
Back to the 1971 heroes. Probably, some influential administrators may have discussed a celebration. But a brief announcement of plans to felicitate the teams in the best possible way would make each and every player involved in those victories, feel good.
In these COVID-19 times it is hard to imagine a grand felicitation with all the players and the family members of the departed ones in attendance. But a lot can be done online and virtually with the respective state associations getting involved.
The BCCI could even commission a documentary on the two wins. Indeed, there is no shortage of information and stories. Kolkata-based writers Boria Majumdar and Gautam Bhattacharya have got together to write a book on the wins while Mumbai-based cricket enthusiast Sachin Bajaj and writer-presenter Nishad Pai Vaidya are working on an anecdotal book, which covers both the triumphant tours.
I’m pretty sure these two publications will complement the two books deceased sports journalist Sunder Rajan wrote for Jaico Books following the triumphs and My Cricketing Years by Ajit Wadekar. The most enjoyable rewarding material on the 1971 tours emerged from Sunil Gavaskar’s Sunny Days, which had tales of adventure, grit and even humour.
My friend Kenia Jayantilal, who played the first Test at Jamaica in 1971, remembers how opposition great Rohan Kanhai ensured vegetarians like Jayantilal received lunch and dinner to their liking and not only just in Kanhai’s home country of Guyana. The food boxes included puranpolis too!
If a draw in the first Test at Jamaica provided Ajit Wadekar’s men the belief that the West Indies could be dominated, the seven-wicket victory at Trinidad in the following Test, achieved on March 10, 1971, was just the push the team needed to be on their way to be rated as one of the top sides in the world. By August of that year, England were conquered at The Oval. It was the same England team that took the Ashes away from Australia at the start of the year.
The more I think of India’s 1971 battles, the ring of incredibility gets thicker. Dilip Sardesai for example, came into the series averaging 16.9 in five Tests against the West Indies. He gets a double hundred in the opening Test and carves a vital hundred in the next Test at Trinidad. From an aggregate of 169 runs against the West Indies at the start of the series, his tally shoots up to 496 in the space of two Tests. And just when the opposition thought his luck would run out, he comes up with 150 in a Test, which was probably the most difficult of all five Tests for the visitors.
And what does one say of Gavaskar? Let’s project his contribution through his sequence of scores: 65, 67 not out, 116, 64 not out, 1, 117 not out, 124 and 220.
Sardesai’s comeback series turned out to be more than just memorable.
In England, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, returning to the Indian team after three and a half years, spun out the Englishmen at the Oval for India to achieve their first Test win on English soil. This was a country in which India were whitewashed in the last two Test series (0-5 in 1959, 0-3 in 1967).
Farokh Engineer another comeback man, after his issues with the Board, brought all his English county experience to bear. And S Abid Ali, who let Gavaskar hit the winning run at Trinidad, ensured it was his stroke that got India victory at The Oval.
There were other heroes too across both tours — EAS Prasanna, S Venkataraghavan, Eknath Solkar and Salim Durani (for claiming Sobers and Clive Lloyd in quick succession in the second Test at Trinidad).
Bishan Singh Bedi as well; not only for his 26 wickets but for also fostering a winning attitude in the team as revealed the other day by Jayantilal. Thanks to Sunny Days, we learnt about how Ashok Mankad batted for nearly an hour despite a fractured right wrist in the Barbados Test.
Wadekar may have not been the most demonstrative of captains but his cool-as-a-cucumber temperament and guile helped in so small measure.
Our 1971 heroes cannot be passed over for honours. If not now, when? Over to BCCI.
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.