“71 ki tour to hum log jeet ke aye the na (We had returned victorious from the 1971 tour, isn’t it)”, said 86-years old Salim Durani, the heartthrob of yesteryears. Of course, was my reaction and the gentleman that I was speaking with was a star in that historic victory. The series in 1971 was Durani’s second outing to the Caribbean Islands with the Indian team, the first one being in 1961-62. Although India had lost that series in 1961-62 by a margin of 0-5, but personally it had been a good one for Durani. With 17 wickets, he was the highest wicket-taker for the Indians and was also the second highest run scorer for the team.
While this experience would have come in handy in 1971, but he had been away from the Test arena for more than four years. Well, those who saw him bowl in that famous second Test at Port of Spain would not have believed this for sure.
Before getting into the details of Durani’s heroics with the ball, lets rewind to the match and series. India’s performance in the first Test at Kingston had been very good. Though the match ended in a draw, they had made the West Indies follow-on after Dilip Sardesai scored a double century (212).
When the Indian team reached Port of Spain, their confidence was high. This was despite the fact that they had never defeated the West Indies in the previous two dozen encounters. That record was to change soon.
“Ajit bade ache captain the. Woh jaante the kya karna tha.”
Garry Sobers won the toss and decided to bat. But the home side could manage only 214. India’s response was solid as they scored 352 courtesy a century by Sardesai (112) and half-centuries by debutant Sunil Gavaskar (65) and Eknath Solkar (55). With this big deficit of 138, the home side began their second innings well and at 150 for one at the end of the third day, seemed to be well in control.
The slide began on the next day. Opener Roy Fredericks was run out for 80 and Ajit Wadekar tossed the ball to Durani. Legend has it that Durani had told Wadekar on the previous night that he would get the wickets of Sobers and Clive Llyod. Downplaying this, Durani told me, “Ajit bade ache captain the. Woh jaante the kya karna tha. Unhone socha ki main wicket dila sakta hoon (Ajit was a good captain. He knew what had to be done. He thought that I could get the wicket).”
“Sir Gary Sobers ko clean bowled kiya tha aur Clive Llyod ko bhi out kiya tha”
And as promised Salim bhai (as his colleagues fondly call him) came in taking both the wickets. Mind you he had not bowled in the first innings, but then that was the brilliance of the man. “Maine bahut achhi bowling ki thi. Sir Gary Sobers ko clean bowled kiya tha aur Clive Llyod ko bhi out kiya tha (I did bowl very well. I bowled Sir Gary Sobers and also got Clive Llyod out)”, he recalled with pride. As per him, the simple plan was to just get them out.
Durani rightly said that this turned the match in India’s favor. Venkat took five of the remaining six wickets as the home side were bowled out for 261. This meant that India needed 124 runs to register its first Test victory over the West Indies. Young Gavaskar scored his second half-century (unbeaten 67) in as many innings and India won the match by seven wickets.
“It was a great teamwork. We fielded and bowled very well. And we found the great cricketer Sunil Gavaskar”, reminisced Durani. Emphasizing on the great opener, he added, “Later Sunil became a world class player. I feel very happy. Jis tarah se Sunil ne batting kiya, usne prove kar diya ki woh bahut bada player banenge. Baad mein unhone 10,000 runs banakar bataya (The way Sunil batted, he proved that he would go on to become a big player. Later on, he scored 10,000 runs).”
It was indeed a great occasion for the Indian team and without an iota of doubt Gavaskar was the find of the tour. The next three Tests were drawn, and India won the series 1-0. I am sure each member of that team would have many memories and stories that they would treasure for their lifetime. When I asked about the experience to Durani, he summed it up nicely, “Team pehli baar jeeti thi West Indies mein. Yahi badi baat thi. Jeet ke aye isse badi baat kya hogi (Team had returned victorious from the West Indies for the first time. This itself was a big thing. What could have been bigger than the fact that we had won!).
Indeed, firsts in life have a special place and it is for this reason that 50 years since that landmark day, a mere utterance of the words ‘Port of Spain, 1971’ in enough to bring a smile to Indian cricketers and fans.