On April 12, 1976, India completed one of their most memorable Test wins. Against the mighty West Indies, Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath played the starring roles as the Indian team created history in Port of Spain.
It was the third Test of the four-match series and the hosts were leading 1-0. Set a target of 403, the visitors put in a stunning performance with the bat on the final day of the match to win by six wickets and square the series.
The fact that only Don Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ (in 1948 against England) had chased over 400 to win a Test before this match lends perspective to the magnitude of this achievement. At that point, India’s score of 406 was the highest total by a team to win a Test.
At stumps after fourth day’s play, India were 134/1, still needing another 269 to win the game. Gavaskar was on 86, in line for his mandatory ton at the ground.
The crowds poured in for the final day but India were trying not to look too far ahead.
In his autobiography Sunny Days, Gavaskar wrote: “I was confident that we could save the game, because the wicket was still good, but the thought of winning never entered my mind.”
Gavaskar duly reached his fourth century in five innings on the ground. However, India had a lot to do even after he was dismissed for 102 off 245, and that’s when Viswanath came to the party.
“Vishwanath looked a complete batsman with an exciting array of shots which he was never afraid to unleash. It was Vishwanath, who was unrelentingly severe on Holding and Julien,” wrote Tony Cozier in Sportsweek’s World of Cricket.
The stylish right-hander didn’t get bogged down and stroked his way to 112 off 220. It was the first time both Gavaskar and Viswanath, two of India’s greatest batsmen, scored hundreds in the same match.
“Sunil and Anshuman put on a useful 69. Then Jimmy and myself had a good partnership (159) which was followed by some good batting by Brijesh Patel (49 not out). We only accelerated once Clive Lloyd took the new ball. That’s when the runs started flowing and that made us fancy our chances. It was a very fine victory,” Vishwanath told Mid-day in 2016.
There were two other key contributions in the chase for India. Mohinder Amarnath held up one end to play an uncharacteristic, yet mightily effective, innings of 85 not out off 440 deliveries. Brijesh Patel, who had scored a century in the previous game, didn’t panic after Viswanath perished and took his team home with an unbeaten 49.
Commentator Jasdev Singh, who was on the air at the time, went hoarse about how this was a victory for Indira Gandhi and her ‘magnificent emergency’ rule.
KN Prabhu, for The Times of India, wrote: “It was a wise move to send Brijesh Patel ahead of Eknath Solkar. Patel, with his bristling moustache looked like a Bombay pirate, and he played the part by plundering runs. Everything was grist to the mill – mishits, byes – and there were also some dazzling strokes as Patel and Amarnath raced each other. When Patel pulled Jumadeen to bring up the victory with six mandatory overs remaining, the crowd came racing to the pavilion, and the cheers of the Indian supporters echoed from the Northern Hills which towered over the skyline.”
There’s one other reason why this match is significant – it was the defeat in this Test that triggered West Indies captain Clive Lloyd to go in with all-out pace attacks in the future. In this Test, the hosts went in with three spinners – left arm orthodox Raphick Jumadeen, off-spinner Albert Padmore (debut) and leg-spinner Imtiaz Ali (debut) – and ended up suffering as the Indians negotiated the attack without much trouble.
The next Test, however, was a different story altogether. Disgusted by his bowling attack’s inability to defend over 400 runs, Lloyd decided there was no place in his team for full-time spinners. He roped in four pacers – Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel, Bernard Julien and Vanburn Holder – who unleashed terror on the Indian batsmen.
The Windies bowled a barrage of bouncers and beamers, from around the wicket as well, to inflict a number of injuries on the Indian team. The hosts won the fourth Test by 10 wickets, with five Indian players – Viswanath, Patel, skipper Bishan Singh Bedi, Anshuman Gaekwad and BS Chandrasekhar – being absent hurt in the second innings after taking heavy blows in the first.
After the match, Dicky Rutnagur wrote this for Wisden: “As...the Indian team trudged along the tarmac towards their home-bound aeroplane at Kingston’s Norman Manley Airport, they resembled Napoleon’s troops on the retreat from Moscow. They were battle-weary and a lot of them were enveloped in plasters and bandages”.
At the end of it all, though, India may have been battered in the final Test of the series but for fans of Indian cricket, the chase at the Queen’s Park Oval will forever remain special for the grit shown by Gavaskar, Viswanath and Co.