Watching Sachin Tendulkar and Co effortlessly guide India home against England in the first Test at Chennai on Monday brought back memories of a similar feat 32 years ago.
If in 2008 the victory was achieved with the nation still in shock after the Mumbai terrorist outrage, in 1976 the team chased down a world record target (since beaten) at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad, with India under the dark cloud of Emergency rule. And both matches ended with India winning by six wickets.
West Indies cricket was in the throes of a crisis when the Indians landed there in 1976. Clive Lloyd’s team had just returned from Australia. They were smarting under a 5-1 thrashing and the India series was looming as a make-or-break one for the captain.
The home side easily won the first Test at Bridgetown, Barbados, before surviving a close call in the second Test at Port of Spain, which ended in a draw.
The third Test to be played at Georgetown, Guyana, was a washout and the Indians were back in the Trinidad capital where the third Test match had been shifted.
In 1971, India had recorded their first win on West Indian soil at the Queen’s Park Oval where the wicket traditionally assisted spinners. Besides, the large number of Indian settlers on the island always backed teams from their original homeland.
There was little indication that history was in the making over the first four days as the home side took a first innings lead of 131 runs and then confidently declared their second innings closed at 271 for 6 on the fourth afternoon.
In Chennai, too, England captain Kevin Pietersen had declared his second innings for 311 — though by then England had lost nine wickets — after taking a lead of 75 runs. The target in Chennai was 387 runs, something that had never been achieved on Indian soil. The target Lloyd had set India back in 1976 was a massive 403. Only once before in Test cricket had a team scored over 400 to win. That had been achieved by Don Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ in England in 1948.
Keeping the wicket in mind, West Indies had done the unprecedented by fielding three spinners in their playing XI. But two of them were playing their maiden Test and were exposed on the final day.
India ended the fourth day at Chennai at 131 for one. At Port of Spain 32 years earlier, the score stood at 134 for one. With Sunil Gavaskar and brother-in-law GR Viswanath both reaching centuries on the final day and Mohinder Amarnath scoring a rock-like 85 (the same as Yuvraj Singh), the Indians made it with time to spare.
One of the AIR commentators — no live telecast back then — broke down and wept when the target was reached even as he exclaimed that Indira Gandhi’s 21 Point Economic Programme had played a part in the victory! Back home in India, some of the gloom that hung over the nation during the dark days of the Emergency was lifted and there were celebrations across the country.
Tendulkar’s joy at hitting the winning runs at Chennai and his dedication of his century and the victory to those who had lost their lives and fought courageously in Mumbai, too, brought the smiles back to our faces, if only briefly.
Both Test matches showcased cricket’s healing touch. And England, too, deserve our gratitude for coming back and giving a resounding response to the scourge of terrorism.
Gulu Ezekiel is a sports journalist and author