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Last Updated Monday December 11 2017 02:14 PM IST

The bloody battle at Kingston

Dr KN Raghavan
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The bloody battle at Kingston Opening the West Indian attack was Michael Holding, who was fast emerging into one of the best pace bowlers in the world and Wayne Daniel, a debutant. Photo: Getty Images

My article on stories of blood, guts and courage on cricketing field brought forth references from many readers that I had ignored the incidents that took place during the Test match between India and the West Indies at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, in April, 1976. This was the infamous Test match wherein the West Indies fast bowlers used intimidatory tactics to such an extent that the Indian second innings closed after the fall of five wickets as the remaining batsmen were injured and hence not fit enough to come out and bat. The happenings during this Test were such that they cannot be compressed as part of an article and merits to be recounted separately in detail, which I shall attempt.

India toured the West Indies for a four-Test series in March-April, 1976, flying in directly from New Zealand where they had drawn the three-match series 1-1 . West Indies, on the other hand had returned home after a 5-1 drubbing in Australia, following a series that had promised to be a closely-fought one. The visitors, after a good start to the tour that saw them winning the second Test in Perth in style, succumbed meekly when confronted with the firepower thrown at them by Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson and went down without a fight in the subsequent matches. Skipper Clive Lloyd would have been looking forward to an easy series against India, which would act as a balm to relieve the pain caused by the battering in Australia and help to lay the ideal ground for the tour to England that was to follow.

When the West Indies won the first Test at Barbados by a huge margin it appeared that the wishes of Lloyd for a morale-boosting series victory would be on the cards. However, India came back strongly in the second Test at Port of Spain, Trinidad, and would have won that but for a couple of dropped catches at critical stages in the game. The third Test was to be played at Guyana, but heavy showers there forced the West Indies Cricket Board to shift the venue to Trinidad. India took full advantage of this decision to have the match played at their favorite venue and clinched a surprise victory chasing a target of 403 runs, only the second time in the history of Test cricket that a 400-plus target had been achieved. With the series squared, both sides headed towards Kingston, where the last Test was to be played, with different mindsets. While Indians had a spring in their step after the victory at Trinidad, West Indies side was approaching panic mode, desperate not to lose a home series.

Courageous opening stand

India won the toss and batted first on a pitch known to favor fast bowlers. Opening the West Indian attack was Michael Holding, who was fast emerging into one of the best pace bowlers in the world and Wayne Daniel, a debutant. However, Indian opening batsmen Sunil Gavaskar and Anshuman Gaekwad successfully tackled the West Indian pace battery and batted dourly to remain unseparated at lunch. Further worries were created for West Indies as their left-arm spinner Raphick Jumadeen was able to extract some turn during the couple of overs that he bowled; Indian spinners could be expected to use this to their advantage while bowling last on this wicket. Things certainly looked ominous for the home side as they trooped to the pavilion for lunch.

When the sides took the field after lunch, West Indies fast bowlers adopted a new strategy. Holding and Daniel started bowling on an average three bouncers per over, making the batsmen duck or weave their body out of harm’s way. In those days when abdominal guard, thigh pad and batting gloves used to be the only form of protection against a cricket ball hurled at them at speeds in the range of 140-150 kilometers per hour, it required not just technical skills of the highest order, but also physical courage and mental strength to stand up and face fast bowling without flinching. Egged on by a partisan crowd, Holding and Daniel went full blast at the batsmen who, managed to survive despite taking the occasional blow on their body. Finally, with the score at 136 Holding clean bowled Gavaskar with a yorker that slipped in through the tight defense of the Indian maestro. However, Mohinder Amarnath, who came in at one down and Gaekwad took the score to 178, when stumps were drawn for the day.

Barrage of bouncers

Lloyd took the new ball when play started on day two. Off his fifth delivery with the new ball, Holding removed Amarnath who fended off a bouncer to the fielder at short leg. Gundappa Viswanath, who replaced Amarnath, was greeted by a vicious bouncer which almost beheaded him. The ball grazed the glove of the batsman as he took a hasty evasive action and crashed one bounce into the fence behind wicket keeper Deryck Murray! Holding bowled a barrage of bouncers and finally got one to rear up from just short of good length. The ball hit Viswanath on his glove, fracturing a finger, and lobbed to the fielder at short leg for a simple catch.

Gaekwad was batting through all this displaying a zen like concentration. He had been hit on the body and also taken blows on his fingers, but he did not show any sign of fear or pain. He had demonstrated his guts and poise on his Test debut itself. In that match, played at Kolkata in 1974-75, India had lost three wickets quickly after winning the toss and opting to bat. To make matters worse, skipper M A K Pataudi was struck on his jaw by a bouncer from Andy Roberts and was forced to retire hurt when Gaekwad went in to bat. But he did not show any signs of nerves when he took guard against the fastest bowler in the world, on the batting crease, where blood spilt from the chin of his captain had not even dried, in front of 80,000 spectators. He calmly got behind the line of another bouncer from Roberts and went onto play a compact innings of 36 which set the foundation for an Indian recovery.

Coming back to the Kingston Test, Gaekwad suffered a nasty injury when he ducked into a bouncer from Holding that did not rise as much as he expected. He was struck behind his left ear and collapsed on the pitch. He lay writhing in pain even as the Indian supporting staff rushed to the field to assist him on to a stretcher and take him to a hospital. It was a sad end to one of the bravest innings played in the history of Indian cricket.

Brijesh Patel soon joined the list of those injured when he edged a bouncer from Vanburn Holder on to his lips, causing damage to his teeth, in addition to splitting his lips open. But Dilip Vengsarkar, then aged only 19 and playing in his fourth Test match, showed admirable composure and assurance in tackling West Indian quicks and the intimidatory stuff hurled at him. He kept his eyes on the ball, swung his way out of the path of bouncers and drove with grace whenever a ball was pitched up to him. His valiant innings of 39 ensured that Indian total crossed the 300-run mark. Captain Bishan Singh Bedi declared the innings closed after the fall of sixth wicket, not wishing to expose himself and B S Chandrasekhar, known rabbits with the bat, to the fury of West Indian bowlers and face threat of injury.

In reply, the West Indies started out well with Roy Fredricks and Lawrence Rowe sharing a century stand for the first wicket, following which Viv Richards scored a quick 64. However, they suffered a collapse when Indian spinners got the better of their middle order sending back Alvin Kallicharan, Lloyd and Bernard Julien in quick succession to have them on the mat at 217 for six. It was left to Holding and Murray to prop up the lower order to ensure that the hosts gained a first innings lead of 85 runs. India suffered another setback when both Bedi and Chandrasekhar suffered injuries while fielding.

Only six fit batsmen!

When India batted second time, there were only six players fit enough to bat as five were on the injured list! While Gaekwad, Viswanath and Patel had been put out of action due to injuries suffered while batting, Bedi and Chandrasekhar were rendered hors de combat while bowling. Holding dismissed Gavaskar early, after which Amarnath and Vengsarkar counter-attacked and took the score to 68. After Vengsarkar was dismissed, Amarnath took the score to 97, in the company of Madan Lal. However, at this score, India lost Madan Lal, Amarnath and S Venkataraghavan, signalling the end of their innings as there was no other batsman fit enough to come out and bat! West Indies scored the 13 runs required for winning the match without losing any wicket.

After the match, Indian manager Polly Umrigar called a press conference to protest against the intimidatory tactics adopted by West Indies. However, Lloyd was unrepentant saying that he had not complained when his side faced similar bowling in Australia. Tony Cozier, a respected writer and commentator from the West Indies, praised the Indians for showing greater determination and courage than many other touring sides, but still criticised Bedi for his action in calling it quits.

Gavaskar, then vice-captain of India, came down heavily not only on the West indian cricketers for their unfair tactics but also the spectators at Sabina Park for supporting such intimidatory bowling, and baying for the blood of the batsmen. He devoted an entire chapter in his autobiography “Sunny Days” to this Test match and had it titled : "Barbarism at Kingston”. The words he used were harsh and would have brought at least a severe reprimand, if not outright disciplinary action, if published during present times, when sensitivity over such issues are much higher.

The winning formula

Kingston Test would remain a watershed in the history on Test cricket for another reason. It was the success of his tactics in this Test that convinced Lloyd about going into matches with four fast bowlers and no spinners. He was to adopt this strategy successfully during the next decade when he led the West Indies and they emerged as the uncrowned champions of the game. No side could come anywhere near their class on any wicket, whether at home or abroad, and the few defeats that they suffered were the exceptions that took place on rare off days. The supremacy that the West Indies enjoyed over other sides started declining only after the supply of fast bowlers started drying up.

One scribe remarked that the Indian squad looked not like a team of sportsmen, but like a bunch of soldiers returning from the war front when they landed at Mumbai from Kingston. I salute these valiant warriors who held aloft the flag of Indian cricket and refused to buckle down even in the face of the most fearsome and intimidatory bowling seen on a cricket field.

(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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