Ajit Wadekar is hailed as the first Indian captain to win a Test series in West Indies. A little over 35 years ago, the left-handed Mumbaikar led India to a 1-0 series win over Gary Sobers’ West Indians, the win coming in the second Test at Queen’s Park Oval (Port of Spain, Trinidad) by seven wickets.
In the wee hours of Monday (IST), when most of India was asleep, Rahul Dravid had pulled off a remarkable win (by 49 runs) in Jamaica to emulate Wadekar’s feat for only the second series triumph in the Islands and the first win outside the sub-continent in two decades (if the 2-0 drubbing against an incompetent Zimbabwe side in the two-Test series is not taken into account, that is).
Wadekar had quietly been following Dravid and his team’s accomplishments in the four-Test series. “I knew India would win the moment they had set a target in excess of 250,” Wadekar told Hindustan Times.
“And once Lara got out, the writing was on the wall. His was a vital wicket. If he had stayed on, the picture might have been different.” Wadekar went to sleep after the fall of Lara’s wicket, being pretty sure of waking up to the happy news of an Indian win on Monday morning.
Wadekar was never short of words in lauding Dravid’s and his team’s latest effort. “This win will be a confidence-booster for Dravid and his men. They lost the ODIs prior to the Tests (4-1). They came close to winning in the first three Tests. India will look very positive from this win onwards and with the captain leading from the front. This is a great victory and will stand India in good stead.”
He did not prefer to compare the latest win with that three and a half decades ago. “A victory is a victory, no matter how it is achieved. We had a damn good opposition — Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Roy Fredericks, Keith Boyce, Vanburn Holder — and we have never won there before. We had to confront with too many top-class batsmen and high quality bowling.
“Our team was not as balanced as the current team is. I did not have medium-pacers and just had three spinners — Bedi, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan. But the spinners stuck to a strategy and that win was something different.
“The current West Indies team lacks experience. Except for Lara, Chanderpaul, Gayle and Sarwan, the others are inexperienced. They do not have the battery of pace bowlers that they used to.”
Wadekar had a challenging task of clinging to the 1-0 lead for the next three Tests in 1971. “It was quite tough. We played the fifth and final Test for six days after the Indian board acceded to West Indies’ request. That was to ensure that West Indies won the Test and drew the series.
Thanks to Sunil Gavaskar’s double century (220) in the 2nd innings, we denied them the win. It was tough hanging on to the lead with the limited resources. The spinners bowled their heart out.” For the record, West Indies needed 262 to win and managed only 165 for eight. Gavaskar’s 220, following his first innings 124, helped India reach 427 after faced with a 166-run first innings deficit.
The former skipper praised Dravid’s leadership skills to the skies. “Dravid looked very firm and positive. He was taking decisions on the field. As captain, you generally go by the team meetings and try to implement them on the ground. Sometimes, it would be stupid on the bowlers if done mechanically. The opposition also have their way of tackling and upsetting your plans. Dravid had to make the changes and he showed by example. ‘If you want to stay, you can’ seemed to be his message. This victory will mark Dravid as a legend of the game, not only for his leadership qualities but also for his batting.”