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Ajit Wadekar: Top 5 moments from career of the leader who taught India to win overseas

Wadekar led India to success in West Indies and England and his team was hailed as ‘world champions’.

cricket Updated: Aug 16, 2018 10:45 IST
Manish K Pathak
Manish K Pathak
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
ajit wadekar,indian cricket,england
24th August 1971: Indian skipper Ajit Wadekar and teammate B S Chandraserhar wave to cheering crowds at the Oval after India won the Test Series against England. (Getty Images)

Efficient, elegant, aggressive, Ajit Wadekar led India with passion, he wanted success, drilled home the killer instinct and his players followed him. He scored runs with the bat, he took catches in the slip cordon, and he spoke with eloquence... he was the leader who took India overseas and won series.

Ajit Wadekar belted the ball hard, make no mistake about it, with his stance which was an open one, he took guard, surveyed the field and gave the ball a thwack. The southpaw was a giant in the domestic circuit, he went on to have a decent Test career, but India remembers him as the captain who won the first Test series in England and West Indies, as the captain who not only identified the potential of a certain Sunil Gavaskar but also extracted the best out of the little genius.

As India pays tribute to one of its best leaders to have ever walked on to a cricket field, we take a look at 5 poignant moments from his career.

ALSO READ: Team India’s top 5 Test victories on English soil

A domestic cricket giant

Bowlers feared the lanky left-hander, he walked out and refused to leave the crease. Wadekar would not only dominate the bowling attacks, he would accumulate runs. He was the reason why Mumbai shunted away teams from Ranji Trophy.

A Test call-up was not very far away, and a bag filled with mixed fortunes awaited him.

The Test introduction

He was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 1967, making him the fifth cricketer to be awarded the prestigious award.

West Indies came visiting and Wadekar was handed his Test debut. Well, after leathering domestic attacks, Wadekar had to now deal with Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs. It was a significant leap and the Mumbaikar could only manage 8 and 4 in the two innings. He was axed for the next Test and then recalled for the third Test at Madras. and was dropped for the next Test. He was brought back for the third Test at Madras where he was sent back for a duck. Tongues started wagging and Wadekar was left fumbling.

India skipper Ajit Wadekar batting during the 1971 Test at The Oval. (Getty)

Makes his mark

After the first innings failure, Wadekar silenced his critics with a breezy 67 in 98 minutes. He had finally arrived and he finally believed.

He was back dominating domestic attacks and plundered a First-Class career-best 323 in the Ranji Trophy semi-final against Mysore. Bombay walked all over them and almost sauntered to a Ranji win.

He then followed it up with a middling tour of England and a miserable tour of Australia. However, he was not dropped and when India toured New Zealand, Wadekar’s career was on the line. He responded with 80 in the first innings at Dunedin, and then followed it up with 71 in the second innings as India chased down 200 to register their first overseas Test victory.

India went down in the second Test, but Wadekar stood firm in the third Test and played possibly his finest Test innings. He batted New Zealand out of the game with a defiant 143. Bapu Nadkarni dismantled the Kiwis with the ball. Riding on this momentum, the visitors won the fourth Test as well and India walked away with the series 3-1, their first overseas win. The man scored 328 runs, at an average of 46.85 in the series.

ALSO READ: Twitter pays tribute to former Indian captain Ajit Wadekar

The West Indies tour

Ajit Wadekar and Tiger Pataudi were tied on votes when the selectors met to decide the captain for this tour. However, Vijay Merchant, who was the then chairman of selectors, used his casting vote and Ajit Wadekar was the new captain of India.

India then landed in West Indies, the mighty side led by the charismatic Garry Sobers. They were not overawed, they played cricket, good gutsy cricket and West Indies were forced to chase the game. The first day of the first Test in Jamaica was washed out due to rain. India batted, and posted 387. Dilip Sardesai slammed 212. West Indies were bundled out for 217 and Wadekar asked them to follow on. It was not a usual occurrence and the hosts were shocked. The tone of the series was set right there.

India then moved up to Trinidad and Wadekar handed Sunil Gavaskar a debut. The plucky Mumbaikar scored 2 half-centuries — 65 and a match-winning 67 not out. Sardesai scored 112 and then Wadekar used his spinners with astute precision. The West Indian batting was bundled out and Gavaskar anchored the chase. India had upstaged West Indies in West Indies.

The visitors managed to hold on to this lead, and India had won their first-ever series on West Indies soil.

Conquering England

India then moved across to England. Was the West Indies triumph a flash in the pan?

Wadekar’s India won the hearts of the English press with their dominance in the warm-up matches. The spinners bowled beautifully and the famed quartet was spinning webs around the county batsmen.

However, Wadekar picked Chandra instead of Prasanna in the first Test at Lord’s and now the three spinners were riveting to watch. When the match ended, India needed 38 runs with 2 wickets in hand.

A humdinger of a series was on the cards!

The second Test was washed out due to rain and when India arrived for the third Test. Chandra had dominated Nottinghamshire in the warm-up game by picking up six wickets and was in irresistible form.

England led by 71 when they faced him in the second innings. Chandra took 6 for 38 — a spell which many still believe to be the best ever bowled by an Indian bowler.

India needed 173 runs to win the match. Gavaskar was dismissed for a duck, Wadekar himself scored 45 before being out. Famously he slept in the dressing room and when he has woken up by his teammates, he realised that they had clinched the match.

The side never relaxed, they won the series, dominated the tour (6 wins, with only a single defeat against Essex ), and were hailed as ‘world champions’ when they returned home.

Ajit Wadekar had left an indelible imprint on Indian cricket!

First Published: Aug 16, 2018 09:31 IST