“I went to sleep when I came back to the dressing room after being dismissed. I was nudged awake by Ken Barrington, the England manager, who told me that we had won. I said to him that I always knew we’d win.”
– Ajit Wadekar (India’s then Captain)
As India is battling in England for the 5-test series, we turn back the pages of Indian cricket history to know about some of the memorable victories which defined Indian cricket for years to come.
Here, we take a look at the memorable Indian tour of England in 1971 by a team led by Ajit Wadekar which had some world class spinners.
Indian team under Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi was a totally different one in 1968 when he led India to their first ever overseas series win after comfortably defeating New Zealand. But for the 1971 tour of West Indies, Pataudi made way for Ajit Wadekar who was both an aggressive captain and a batsman.
The victory in West Indies was mainly contributed by Dilip Sardesai and the then young Sunil Gavaskar. With Ajit Wadekar in prime form, the Indian batting line up was all set to fire in the England tour.
On the other hand, England team was termed as the then best team in test cricket as they went into this series with an unbeaten streak of a whooping 24 matches. Clearly, it was needed something special from India to defeat England in their background.
Ajit Wadekar had a bunch of effective spinners in Bishen Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkatraghavan who with Erapalli Prasanna (Prasanna retired in 1968) were called as the great Indian Spin Quartet.
The Oval Test
Indians were successful in drawing the 1st two tests as it all came down to the 3rd and the last test at the Oval.
England scored a well compiled 355 runs in the 1st innings riding on Allan Knott’s 90, John Jameson’s 82 and Richard Hutton’s 81. Wadekar was banking on his spinners who bowled together 80 overs, sharing 6 wickets.
Rain played spoilsport on the 2nd day due to which it became a difficult task for batting. Indians were in the spot of bother hadn’t the last five added over 150 runs. Indians were dismissed for 254 thus trailing England by 71.
Chandra- The Spin Wizard!
The 2nd innings of England was all about Chandrasekhar as he preyed on the English batsman at will and ripped through the batting order in two and a half hours. His extra pace coupled with accurate bowling and disintegrated oval pitch, wreaked havoc in the batting line up.
Chandrasekhar took 6 wickets, and also inflicted a run out of Jameson, as this bowling performance has gone down in history as one of the remarkable feats achieved by an Indian bowler overseas.
Ajit Wadekar’s aggressive captaincy was also instrumental in England being able to pile just 101 runs.
Allan Knott’s wicket was very important as he was the best batsman in the 1st innings. His dismissal was well planned by another great spinner Venkatraghavan and Eknath Solkar, who was the then best fielder for India. Knott went for a bend around the leg side to which Solkar anticipated early. He went for the dive and plunged on the red cherry to complete one of the remarkable catches in cricket history. This catch has been lying in Wisden’s top 10 catches of all time and tales about it has been passed on to successive generations. Till date, Eknath Solkar is considered to be one of the best close in fielders, not only from India, but from the world. His reflexes and instincts were legendary. People have been taking inspiration from him from times immemorial.
24th August, 1971
And it was on this day, Day5 of that test, that Abid Ali scored the winning runs and brought delirium among the Indian contingent present at the Oval Cricket Ground. Indians regularly lost wickets but 174 runs was too comfortable for India to seal the fate.
Indians had won their 1st test match and series in England which also brought an end to England’s 26 run unbeaten streak. That match proved that Indians had the power to do well anywhere in the world which gave them and the future Indian players confidence to do better.