New Delhi:- Exactly 50 years to this day, India recorded a historic win in the third and final Test at The Oval against England to seal their first-ever Test series win in the Blighty. It capped off a brilliant season overseas, one that saw India winning their first Test series in the Caribbean between February and April followed by the triumph in England in July-August.
India won the five-Test series in the West Indies and the three-Test series in England by similar 1-0 margins.
The two series also saw the birth of an Indian cricket legend, who strode over nation’s cricketing landscape and to this day remains one of the most respected voices of Indian cricket.
Sunil Gavaskar scored a record 774 runs in the five-Test series in the Caribbean and although he couldn’t quite light up England in the subsequent away series, the year marked the rise of a young star.
Gavaskar, now 72, recalled how he had prepared to face the fiery West Indian pacers for his debut Test series.
“Sometimes I wonder myself (how I managed that performance in the West Indies),” said Gavaskar at a public conversation with Ashis Ray organised by The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE) London.
“I guess, the fact that I was vertically challenged, I still am, meant that whenever I opened the batting at club level or schools level, guys tried to bowl quick at me, had that extra yard or two of pace, sort of energy and tried to bounce me out. So, while you would think that it would have around 130 kmph as we say 130-135 kmph mark, it at least got you thinking about how to deal with that kind of delivery. [And] What your attitude should be about the bouncer for example,” added Gavaskar.
The little master felt that practice against short-pitched deliveries in the formative years groomed him early to face bouncers.
“Having, at that age, [learnt] how to deal with the short ball was a big help when you went into international cricket. Also before that [1971 tour of the West Indies] happened, what I used to do was have Mumbai Ranji Trophy bowlers bowl from 20 to 18 yards instead of the regulation 22 yards,” he explained about his preparations.
“But when I went to the West Indies, the difference was stark. Because despite the fact that Mumbai bowlers were bowling from 18 yards, the ball would still be around the midriff where the wicketkeeper collected it. When you went to the West Indies, suddenly the wicketkeeper was collecting the ball with the fingers pointing up not pointing down. That meant that you were now contending with something different,” he said further.
“How to deal with this? The bouncer would come at around this height (pointing his forehead). You could control most of them, either leave them or control them. But in the West Indies they were going to be that much higher and also coming from a much nearer length and not short length. The West Indian bowlers were pitching 2-3 yards up and still getting the ball to bounce. What do you do, you hook or sway away from it, so those are the things you had to adjust to. And luckily I managed to do that. And also very simply that I had a lot of luck going in that first series (referring to dropped catches),” he added further.