How Gavaskar’s Round 4 genius brought India closer to victory in England

IIndia’s tour of England in 1979 was difficult even before the first ball was played. The team’s famous spin quartet hadn’t fared well on the previous tour to Pakistan in 1978/79.

Slow bowling, which had been India’s main weapon throughout the 1970s decade, failed to live up to its usual potential in the series against Pakistan. EAS Prasanna, Bishan Bedi and BS Chandrasekhar had a poor outing with Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad scoring big points. EAS great Prasanna never played a Test match after this series.

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Pointless bowling

Indian bowling lacked confidence when they arrived in Birmingham for the series opener against England and failed to recover during the game. England won the match by one inning and 83 runs. Indian bowling was so lackluster that only Kapil Dev managed to take wickets in the first innings – all 5. Both Venkat and Chandra went wicketless and gave away over a hundred runs each.

For India, the two little masters struck superbly. Sunil Gavaskar looked well prepared for a ton before he was exhausted and his brother-in-law Gundappa Viswanath also felt just short of their hundreds. Thereafter, it was the same story, with the duo again scoring half centuries and the rest of the Indian batting doing little.

In the second Test at Lords, India were grouped for 96 with only Gavaskar standing firm, scoring half his side’s tally. He scored a half century again in the second inning, making it three straight half centuries in the series.

The third test was at Leeds and again Sunil Gavaskar scored 78 to record his 4th straight half century in the 1979 series. ended in a draw.

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The genius of Gavaskar

In the 4th and final Test of the series, it was Gavaskar alone who could bring India back into the series. The English bowling was terrific with two great rapids Ian Botham and Bob Willis and the skilful slow bowler Phil Edmonds. Ian Botham showed his class and had Gavaskar taken behind for an unlucky 13 to give the Indian fly-half their first miss of the 1979 tour. This meant India could not put a big first innings tally and had to chasing 438 points on Days 4 and 5 in an attempt to win the test and square the streak.

Gavaskar struck cautiously with fellow flyhalf Chetan Chauhan and India went to the stumps on day 4 without losing a wicket. When Gavaskar came out at bat on the final day, the task ahead of him was daunting to say the least. India needed around 360 – almost one run per minute – which may seem ordinary in today’s cricket but was unimaginable in the 1970s. During this test, Gavaskar shared the dressing room with Yajurvindra Singh, the former prince of Bilkha, in Junagadh. Singh later recalled how Gavaskar told him that because the wicket was excellent to beat, India had an outside chance. This tells us the level of confidence Gavaskar had as a cricketer. It was far from being a chauvinistic comment because he knew that, as always, it was he who had to lay the groundwork for the chase.

There were hardly any crowds to start the 5th day. Locals thought the outcome of the game was a foregone conclusion as it would be next to impossible for a tour team to score more than 350 points on Day 5. But the Indian openers had other ideas.

India didn’t lose a wicket until lunch and came in at 169. He totaled 213 in the post-lunch drinks session. By the time the tea arrived India had scored over 300 and the crowds were starting to return. Sensing Gavaskar was on course to deliver a sensational victory for his side, England captain Mike Brearley slowed the pace. This caused mockery from the English crowd. It was a rare occasion when the home crowd mocked their own captain for using negative tactics to curb Gavaskar’s genius. Of course, Brearley was completely within the rules of the game.

Gavaskar was brilliantly helped by his Mumbai batsman Dilip Vengsarkar who added over 150 runs with him. However, when Vengsarkar came out, something weird happened. Instead of sending out Vishwanath, who was a free batter, India captain Srinivas Venkataraghavan decided to change the batting order. There has been delay and confusion in the Indian dressing room – on who to send next. This gave England time to collect their thoughts as there was a slight delay in the game. Gavaskar asked for a drink and may have lost his concentration. When play resumed, Gavaskar kicked a half-volley to the side of the leg and was caught midway by Ian Botham. His runs had lasted around 480 minutes and Gavaskar had faced 450 deliveries for his 221 race marathon.

The great English cricket writer John Woodcock was of the opinion that had Gavaskar not asked for drinks and the Indian dressing room had not tinkered with the batting order, the ace fly-half would have secured victory. The fall of Gavaskar’s wicket caused panic in the Indian batting order. Vishwanath’s late entry made matters worse. The final nail in the coffin was skipper Venkat promoting himself to Karsan Ghavri who was a better batsman.

It’s been 43 years to the day since that one-inning gem came from Gavaskar’s bat. The brilliance of Gavaskar’s innings was such that even the English spectators wished for an Indian victory. Woodcock had later described Gavaskar’s double ton at the Oval as the best run he had ever seen.

Kush Singh @singhkb is the founder of The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.

(Editing by Anurag Chaubey)

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