Memories of two great cricket matches

Memories of two great  cricket matches

During my college days in the 1960s, we had an inspiring lecturer in English, TG Vaidyanathan, who used to teach us not only English but also other...

During my college days in the 1960s, we had an inspiring lecturer in English, TG Vaidyanathan, who used to teach us not only English but also other topics of general interest. He used to write articles on cricket, on films, on English books, etc. He was a celebrity in his own right, 'TGV' to many of his students. He was a great admirer of cricket. When he discussed with us about a cricket match between India and Australia which had just ended, I asked him: "Why are you so terribly interested in cricket which, according to Bernard Shaw, is a game where 22 fools will be fooling 22 thousand fools?" His response was a hearty laugh. He said: "Shaw's view of cricket need not be taken seriously. I love cricket because it just happens there. I love its glorious uncertainties". Convinced about the greatness of cricket, I too became a great enthusiast. Yes, "it just happens there". That's the beauty of it. (For that matter, any game like football or volleyball or lawn tennis or hockey just happens there).

But when we hear of match-fixing which has now become the topic for our media, we wonder whether it is really happening there. It is no longer happening there, but it is being made to happen now. What a fall for a game which was called a "gentleman's game"!

This fall of cricket started when the game was reduced to a 20-over one and when Indian Premier League started these 20-20 championship matches with great fanfare and razzmatazz. I was shocked to learn that cricketers were being purchased in auctions like commodities and animals in the market by so-called franchisees. How can these cricketers put themselves in the market and agree to be sold? Is it not against human dignity?

For the sake of a few crores of rupees, they can stoop to any level. As though this is not enough, they are in touch with "bookies" who encourage betting and swindle crores of rupees from a cricket-crazy public. Cricketers receive crores of rupees when they are purchased. Still they are not satisfied. To earn some more crores, they indulge in match-fixing. I am reminded of the good old days of cricket. I used to follow every cricket match (there used to be only five-day Test matches those days) during 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. I remember even today some of the great Test matches of those days. I remember vividly two great Test matches which were played outside India in 1971. They proved to be turning points in the history of Indian Test cricket. During those days, cricket enthusiasts like me were always disappointed as India never won a Test match outside India. But this trend was reversed in 1971 when India won a Test against the redoubtable West Indies team in West Indies. The Indian team under the captaincy of Ajit Wadekar went to West Indies to play five Tests. The Indian team was considered underdogs. Even Indians were under no illusion that they would win even a single match.

The West Indies team had great players like Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Canrad Hunt, Fredericks and Lance Gibbs. Their captain was Gary Sobers who was called the complete cricketer, as he was a great all-rounder; he was such an all-rounder that nobody else could be compared with him. Under the captaincy of such a great all-rounder, the West Indies team was at its best.

Could India, a team without a single genuine fast bowler and without a genuine all-rounder, dream of beating West Indies in West Indies? But the dream came true in West Indies in 1971 and the underdogs defeated mighty West Indies in West Indies; moreover, they won the series. About this historic win, Tony Cozier, the great West Indian commentator, says: "India at last broke the long jinx not only by winning their first Test ever against their old adversaries, but also by securing the rubber on the 1971 tour. It was a highly deserved triumph. The team under a new captain, Wadekar, arrived in the Caribbean underestimated by the public and possibly by the opposition as well".

This first historical overseas win was possible because of Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Sardesai who performed exceedingly well with the bat, while EAS Prasanna, Bishen Singh Bedi, Venkataraghavan, Salim Durrani and Solkar performed well with the ball. For Sunil Gavaskar, it was baptism by fire as he withstood the barrage of fast bowling by West Indian fast bowlers and scored the highest number of runs (more than 800 in five Tests) in the series. Gavaskar became the cornerstone of Indian batting from then onwards. This win was achieved in Port of Spain where a large number of Indian supporters were present and Port of Spain in Trinidad always proved to be a lucky ground for Indians. (The remaining four Tests were drawn and India won the rubber).

The second great Test that I remember was played in England, again in 1971. Immediately after the Indian team returned from West Indies, it went to England to play three Tests against England. Wadekar was again the captain. Until then, India had never won a Test match against England in England. So, 1971 was a turning-point in the history of Indian cricket. It was at London's Oval Cricket Stadium that India won the first-ever match against England. Viswanath, Wadekar, Gavaskar, Solkar and B Chandra Shekhar were responsible for it. It was Chandrashekar's match all the way; his six-wickets haul in the second innings paved the way for India's win. The glorious uncertainties of cricket were clearly evident.

For the first three days, England had the upper hand. It had taken a more than 150-run lead in the first innings. In the second innings, too, England was scoring runs at a fast pace. But the run out of Jameson, England's opener, changed the course of the match. Thereafter, Chandrasekhar, with his leg spin, mesmerized England's batsmen. It was an extraordinary display of leg spin bowling. Googlies and leg breaks were his main weapons and he could dismiss six England batsmen by conceding only 36 runs. England was bowled out for a paltry score of 100-odd runs. India had to make 240 runs for a win and they made it without any hiccups, and won the series too as the other two matches were drawn. With these two overseas wins, India proved that it was not an eternal loser. People started taking Indian cricket seriously only after these two overseas wins. The problem that haunted Indian cricket for a long time was: it never had a genuine fast bowler in its ranks until Kapil Dev arrived on the scene. The spin quartet of Chandrasekhar, EAS Prasanna, Bishen Singh Bedi and Venkataraghavan were the mainstay of Indian bowling.

It was a sheer pleasure to listen to great commentators like Brain Johnston, Christopher Martin Jenkins, John Arlott, and Henry Blowfell. The great Trevor Bailey was the expert commentator and he made some excellent comments on the run of the game. Even now, BBC is maintaining its Test Match special and broadcasting cricket commentary, in spite of TV channels telecasting cricket matches. Henry Blowfel is still there though Brain Johnston and Christopher Martin Jenkins are no more. Even now, listening to Test match special is a sheer pleasure. If cricket has to regain its cleanliness, respectability and live true to its tag of gentlemen's game, the terrible fraud called IPL should end. Another suggestion that I want to make is: let betting be legalized.

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