The Summer of ’71 that scripted a new chapter in Indian cricket

Sunil Gavaskar remembers the famous victory at The Oval that brought India its first series win in England

A glorious chapter in the history of Indian cricket was written on this day 50 years ago when India won its first series in England at The Oval.

After a sensational aggregate of 774 runs in four Tests in the West Indies, Sunil Gavaskar was hailed as one of the premier batsmen in the world.

In this interview, Gavaskar reflects on that landmark England tour. Excerpts:

It was very early in your career, any apprehensions?

After a good tour of the West Indies, I was quietly confident but also aware that English conditions were vastly different from West Indian conditions.

Advice from former cricketers/coaches

I talked to Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Vinoo Mankad (my college coach), Bapu Nadkarni, Nari Contractor, Madhav and Arvind Apte, to name a few.

But above all to the then chairman of selectors, Vijay Merchant, who had had two outstanding tours of England in 1936 and 1946.

Crucial contribution: Eknath Solkar’s catching was one of the highlights of India’s victory. Here he snaps up Alan Knott off Venkatraghavan. 

 

The length of the tour (last week of June to first week of September) must have been demanding

It was something none of us were used to, but being our first trip to England it was quite enjoyable.

Eight tour matches before the first Test. How helpful was that?

We got used to the weather and pitches. Players got the time to get into form.

England recovered from 71 for five in the first innings of the first Test at Lord’s…

Ray Illingworth was out a couple of times (but not given). Throughout the series, he benefited from such decisions. Maybe because he was the England captain.

You rate the 57 in the first innings of the second Test very high

I have always said the 57 at Old Trafford in 1971 is my best Test innings. It was a real green top and there was a drizzle that was freshening up the pitch and the wind was biting cold.

India made history at The Oval, winning by four wickets…

Despite conceding the lead in the first innings we were brought back into the game by Chandra’s bowling and Wadekar’s shrewd captaincy. If you look at the England dismissals, they were all catches in front of the stumps — with Ekki (Solkar) again brilliant — or bowled, so the umpires didn’t come into play at all. The scenes below the balcony are still vivid in memory.

The history makers: The Indian team’s tour of England in 1971 was a memorable one as it clinched the series 1-0. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

 

Your comments on Chandrasekhar and Sardesai’s contributions

Chandra was simply unplayable (two for 76 and six for 38). The Englishmen had no clue. Sardesai played two vital knocks (54 and 40), and it was his partnership with Wadekar that saw us through the danger posed by Snow and Price.

Also, Sardesai, with his good humour and jokes, kept us in high spirits, especially on the long coach rides between the counties.

Ashok Mankad was another, who despite not getting too many runs, was invaluable with his sense of fun.

How did the West Indies tour contribute to your success in England?

Beating the West Indies under Garry Sobers had boosted our morale no end and that could be seen in the way we held our nerve on the final day to triumph at the Oval.

 

The scores:

England 355 in 108.4 overs (John Jameson 82, John Edrich 41, Alan

Knott 90, Richard Hutton 81, Eknath Solkar 3/28) & 101 in 45.1 overs

(Brian Luckhurst 33, B.S. Chandrasekhar 6/38) lost to India 284 in

117.3 overs (Ajit Wadekar 48, Dilip Sardesai 54, Solkar 44, Farokh

Engineer 59, Syed Abid Ali 26, Ray Illingworth 5/70) & 174/6 in 101

overs (Wadekar 45, Sardesai 40, G. Viswanath 33, Engineer 28 n.o.,

Derek Underwood 3/72).

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