For a team which had not won a single international match on the four-month long tour which started before the 1979 Prudential World Cup, the Indians were not expected to do much in the fourth Test at the Oval. And when the Englishmen set the visitors an improbable target of 438 runs, even the staunchest Indian supporter would have switched off the radio. But as they say, cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties. Although, the Indians did not win the Test, but what they achieved was nothing short of a victory.
Video courtesy: Star Sports
“When we reached the Oval, we were all quite happy to just finish the Test and go back home”
41 years since that match, former Indian cricketer Yajurvindra Singh who was India’s second-highest scorer in the first innings walked us through history. “When we reached Oval, we were all quite happy to just finish the Test and go back home”, he summed up the overall mood in the team.
As far as Yajurvindra was concerned, with limited opportunities even in the tour games, he had been virtually made a tourist. About this he said, “That was one thing about Venkat (S Venkataraghavan who was the captain of the Indian team) that he never believed in changing too many people.” In fact, it was only an injury to Mohinder Amarnath that had got him in to the team after a gap of more than two years.
The match seemed to be going on expected lines for the visitors as they were reeling at 91 for four in response to England’s total of 305. Despite the team being in dire straits, the incoming batsman Yajurvindra Singh wasn’t too nervous. “I was just delighted to be finally playing. Having been kept out of the team for so long, I thought what more could happen. There was nothing to lose," was the state of his mind.
Along with Gundappa Viswanath (who top-scored with 62), he put together 39 runs for the fifth wicket. Clearly this wasn’t enough and the team was bowled out for 202 and Yajurvindra remained unbeaten on 43. In their second innings, the English side aided by a century from Geoffrey Boycott (125) took the match beyond the reach of the Indians. That’s what it seemed like when they declared their innings at 334 for eight.
Now although, the Indians had chased a target in excess of 400 against the West Indies three years back, it was too much to hope for a repeat. According to Yajurvindra, victory wasn’t on anyone’s mind and it was just a question of whether the Indians would be able to survive with some help from the English weather. Thankfully, the chase began well and at the end of day four the Indian openers – Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan had put on 76 runs.
“When we found ourselves in a good position is when chaos took place in the dressing room”
Yajurvindra who was Gavaskar’s room-mate remembers the illustrious opener telling him (although Gavaskar himself doesn’t recall it now) that he could get a double hundred if he concentrated well. On the next day, both the openers carried on their job and had a 213-run partnership. The foundation had been laid and Dilip Vengsarkar (52) who came at the fall of Chauhan’s wicket for 80, also gave good support to Gavaskar.
At tea, with the score at 304 for one, the tables seemed to have turned in India’s favour. But unfortunately for them, the last scene was still to be enacted. “When we found ourselves in a good position is when chaos took place in the dressing room. Venkat suddenly asked me to pad up. Viswanath was already padded up, so were Kapil Dev and Yashpal Sharma. None of us knew who would be going in next”, Yajurvindra picturised the scene in the dressing room.
Post-tea, the Englishmen retorted to the tactic of slowing the over-rate and very few overs were bowled till the beginning of the mandatory 20 overs. At this stage the Indians needed 110 runs with nine wickets in hand, which was tough but didn’t seem impossible especially with the kind of form that Gavaskar was in.
“It was a Rolls Royce type of innings”
In the next few overs, he brought up quick runs in the company of first Vengsarkar and then Yashpal before falling for 221 to Ian Botham. About that innings, Yajurvindra said, “Technically it was the most skilful knocks that I have seen. The way he played the right shots to each delivery was simply amazing. It was like a musician playing to precision, pressing the right note all throughout. There was hardly any blemish. It was a Rolls Royce type of innings.”
Even with Gavaskar’s dismissal and the tinkering of the batting order, when Yajurvindra walked in at 410 for five, victory was still on the cards. Sadly, he was soon adjudged leg-before off Botham’s bowling which he thought wasn’t a fair call. “As a matter of fact, when I was passing through, Botham said bad luck”, he added. This wasn’t the only decision that went against the Indians. As per him, the catch to dismiss Viswanath and Venkat’s run-out were also questionable.
Thinking about the phase of play, even today he sounded angry and said, “Umpires started playing a part in our chase. It was an organized mistake. My decision was a pathetic one. I couldn’t believe it.” With those wickets, pretty soon the Indians were 423 for eight and Venkat told the batsmen in the middle (Bharath Reddy and Karsan Ghavri) to bring the shutters down to avoid another defeat. India didn’t lose any further wickets but fell short of the target by nine runs.
While the team definitely felt good with what had been achieved, but the disappointment of getting so close to a record chase was also there. Nevertheless, the team returned back as heroes which was surprising for Yajurvindra as they had not won anything on the tour. But with the fightback in the Oval Test, no one looked upon the Indian team as losers. The efforts were applauded no end. Funnily, Yajurvindra recalled an incident when the custom officials mistook Brijesh Patel for him (due to the moustache) which helped the latter get an easy clearance.
So, while the scorecard will tell a drawn match and a lost series, the Indians had not returned back empty-handed. The match and Gavaskar’s knock is something that people recall fondly even today.