Book Excerpt — 1971: The Beginning of India’s Cricketing Greatness by Boria Majumdar and Gautam Bhattacharya

by Jeremy

Captain Ajit Wadekar received the winners’ cheque after the series win at The Oval Image courtesy: Boria Majumdar Never before had India won a Test match against the West Indies. And in what was a fateful tour to the Caribbean in 1962, India almost lost its captain, Nari Contractor, forever to a vicious Charlie Griffith bouncer. While the Contractor survived the threat, his cricket career was over. Shaken by the incident, a 0-5 defeat against the likes of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith wasn’t a surprise. With the new captain, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, forced to take charge and no one wanting to open the batting in the aftermath of what had happened to the Contractor, the tour ended up being a poor misadventure for the Indian team.

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Given the reputation of lethal fast bowlers operating on surfaces conducive to pace with no limit on the number of bouncers coupled with the, relentless earfuls doled out by the hostile crowds, touring the West Indies was considered the ultimate test for a cricketer in the 1960s and 1970s. While it is true that the 1971 team that faced India did not have fast bowlers of the quality of Hall and Griffith, it was still a West Indies team led by Sir Garfield Sobers and included batsmen like Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai, Roy Fredericks, and Sobers himself.

To even suggest that it was a series win of modest significance is to miss the point altogether. To the Indians, it did not matter. For them, what mattered was the series win. The embarrassment of 1962 had been avenged, and they had taken giant strides in establishing themselves as an evolving power in world cricket. Sunil Gavaskar was hailed the world over as a new phenomenon, and captain Ajit Wadekar’s support for Dilip Sardesai stood vindicated. Sardesai, who had made it to the team because of Wadekar’s confidence in his abilities, played the best he ever had in his career.

This victory had struck a chord with fans back home was evident when thousands turned up at the Santacruz airport in Bombay (as Mumbai was known at the time) to welcome the players back. This was also a sign of things to come—television had not yet become a mass medium of communication in India. The fans had to rely on radio commentary and newspaper reports that were a day old because of the time difference.

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