England v India, third Test, The Oval, 1971

Six for glory

India are struggling against England on this tour because their fast bowlers have been ineffective, but back in 1971, on a slow Oval pitch, a legspinner took them to their maiden series win in the country

Interviews by Nagraj Gollapudi |

It was Indian cricket's annus mirabilis. Months before, they had won in the West Indies; now they pulled off the same feat in England. But where the win in Port-of-Spain was down largely to India's impressive batting, this one was the bowlers' doing. India's spinners (Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, Bishan Bedi, Srinivas Venkataraghavan) accounted for 37 wickets to their seam-bowling colleagues' 11 in the series. At The Oval, it was all Chandra, whose eight wickets brought India their biggest win to date.

Chandrasekhar's run-out of John Jameson in the second innings turned the game in India's favour

Chandrasekhar's run-out of John Jameson in the second innings turned the game in India's favour © Getty Images

England had been deprived of victories in the first two Tests. The Oval would decide the series.

Ray Illingworth, England captain We got a very poor pitch at Lord's, and we got the worst of it - it was green and brown and doing all sorts of things when we batted on the first day, and towards the end it became slow. India were eight down around tea on the final day and just then there was a spot of rain. At Old Trafford they needed over 400 in a day and a half, but we were disappointed by the rain again.

Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, India legspinner Before this Test there was speculation that I might be the bowler to be left out. I think it was our manager, Hemu Adhikari, who settled the matter. Our skipper, Ajit Wadekar, also had a lot of faith in me.

England roared off the blocks thanks to John Jameson, and were 355 all out at the end of the day. The second day was rained out. India were all out for 284 early on day four. England's game till then, but things didn't go exactly to plan after that.

Illingworth Our lead was decent - it should have been sufficient to win the match. There was nothing particularly wrong with the wicket, but we had ourselves to blame. We got bowled out for a very small total in our second innings and lost the upper hand.

Ajit Wadekar, India captain With the wicket getting slower, and even breaking in and around the rough, and with just two days left, I decided that it was best to bring the spinners on straightaway in the second innings. And they responded extremely well.

Sunil Gavaskar, India opener [On the morning of day two] the headlines in some of the English newspapers surprised us. One of the newspapers even went to the extent of saying that England could go ahead to an easy victory. Mind you, at this stage we had not even begun our batting; but the English critics were already predicting an England victory. This, more than anything else, spurred us on to do better.

England lost their first wicket early - Jameson run out by Chandra, who then went on to turn in an extraordinary performance.

Chandrasekhar It was the ball which castled John Edrich that made me aware that things could happen on this wicket. Edrich, a most dangerous batsman, effective, and capable of the long innings, played forward helplessly. It was my fast ball which breached his defence. I realised my legbreak would turn too.

Venkat [Srinivas Venkataraghavan] at the other end gave nothing away. On his day, and with a little encouragement from the wicket, he could really pin down batsmen. And then there was [Eknath] Solkar. I cannot imagine how badly off we spin bowlers would have been without him. His very presence almost had the batsmen thinking twice about pushing forward.

Venkat's catch to dismiss [Brian] Luckhurst, who had been batting steadily, was a blinder. I think Luckhurst did not read the length right and launched into the cut. He slashed more than cut, and the ball seared off the edge. How Venkat saw it and snatched it one-handed remains a mystery. Then, it was nice to see [Basil] D'Oliveira succumb to pressure. He tried to get at Venkat and miscued. He had mauled us in 1967. Ray Illingworth knocked a catch back to me. I just could not believe it all even then. Solkar came up with a fine catch to get rid of Knott. Venkat had been giving Knott a harrying time. Finally, I got [John] Price lbw for three. It was virtually a low full-toss that struck him on the ankle. I was in a daze. England all out 101 and I had figures of 6 for 38.

"I went to sleep when I came back to the dressing room after being dismissed. I was nudged awake by Ken Barrington, the England manager, who told me that we had won. I said to him that I always knew we'd win" India's captain, Ajit Wadekar, was confident of victory

Wadekar Chandra just needed to get a wicket in his first two or three overs, else he would start experimenting. So I knew I had to handle him properly. On that fourth day he got off to a good start. He and Venkat kept the Englishmen guessing.

Down the line I noticed that Derek Underwood was playing Chandra confidently, so I replaced him with Bishan [Bedi] for a few overs - which Chandra humbly accepted without getting agitated, even if he was in the thick of the wickets. Underwood tried sweeping Bishan and was caught at short leg. The last man was the left-hander, [John] Price, who was working Bishan out quite well, so I brought back Chandra, who finished the job by getting Price leg-before.

Illingworth That sort of pitch suited Chandra because he bowled very fast. If he got two or three inches of turn at that pace, that was enough to make him dangerous. Three of our batsmen, including me, got out to full-tosses. But he did bowl well: got on top of us right from the beginning. India were always a good side if their spinners were on top.

Farokh Engineer, India wicketkeeper Chandra was an absolute pleasure to keep to. Almost every ball was different. He was certainly the greatest spin bowler for me. Maybe the English batsmen misread some of his yorkers that were disguised as full-tosses.

England couldn't get any partnerships going and were dismissed for 101. That left India 173 to get to win the series. They started hesitantly, losing Gavaskar for a duck. But Illingworth, normally an astute tactician, missed a trick.

Illingworth We said to Derek, "Look, you've got to bowl a bit slower. You're not going to turn it at the pace you're bowling at." He bowled slower for two or three overs, but then he lost it and said, "I can't bowl this slow." Eventually I gave it to Luckhurst, who spun it a lot as soon as he came on, and got a wicket right away. If I had brought him on an hour earlier, we may have won.

It was a very slow, low, nothing sort of pitch. The biggest thing was the new lbw law: you couldn't be out leg-before to a ball pitched outside the off stump unless you weren't playing a shot. That made a big difference, because I know I bowled about 40 overs in the second innings and I must have hit the pads two or three times an over. That was disappointing.

Wadekar I was very confident of reaching the target. Illingworth's psychology was that we were not good against their pace, and in the process he floundered. Then he relied too much on Underwood. I just told my batsmen to wait and watch and go for the runs.

Small target or not, India were losing wickets every now and then.

Eknath Solkar, fielding close to the pitch, was crucial to the Indian spinners' success

Eknath Solkar, fielding close to the pitch, was crucial to the Indian spinners' success © Getty Images

Engineer When we batted in the second innings the wicket was at its worst, especially on the final day, so England certainly had the advantage still. And Illingworth was a shrewd captain - he had plugged all the boundaries. For once my batting was a bit boring, but I was just determined that we would graft and win the match.

We were just a handful of runs away from victory when Vishy [Gundappa Viswanath] was out. Abid Ali walked in. I was aware that the tail followed after him, and I told him to take it easy and to just try and push for singles.

The very first ball, he charged out, but Knott missed an easy stumping. Abid was so keen to get the winning runs, and eventually he did, by cutting Luckhurst to the boundary. What followed was sheer pandemonium. The Indian crowds charged down to the pitch and hoisted us onto their shoulders.

Wadekar I went to sleep when I came back to the dressing room after being dismissed. I was nudged awake by Ken Barrington, the England manager, who told me that we had won. I said to him that I always knew we'd win.

We were on top of the world. England were rated the No. 1 team then, and we had been very eager to beat them, especially because we had just beaten West Indies in the Caribbean. The spinners were once again the cornerstone of this famous victory.

Chandrasekhar quotes from The Winning Hand by Rajan Bala; Gavaskar quotes from Sunny Days (courtesy Rupa & Co, both titles)

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine in 2006





  • POSTED BY V on | August 8, 2011, 1:47 GMT

    An important aspect of this series was the planning that went on in the Indian dressing room. When the first test at Lord's ended around tea time, India needed 38 runs to win with two wickets in hand. Everyone in the media and even some of the English players felt that India were probably saved by the rain. Later it became known that the Indian think tank was closely following the weather forecast on TV even while the match was in progress. A decision was deliberately taken to go for the runs and risk wickets in the process even as clouds gathered over Lord's. Surely enough the rains came as expected. But India's aggression and positive approach had sent a clear message to set the tone for the rest of the series. During the current series, Dhoni removed his strike bowler Ishant Sharma when England were 62-5 at Lord's. India have been mostly on the back foot in this series from that time onwards.

  • POSTED BY V on | August 7, 2011, 12:16 GMT

    Some of us oldies remember this series fondly. There was no formal ranking system those days. But there was little doubt that without South Africa in the picture, India was number 1. It was a pleasure to watch that generation of Indian players all of whom held regular jobs in order to make ends meet. They were entirely self motivated and rose to the top without helmets, special coaches or physios. I sincerely hope that this year being the 40th anniversary, there is a reunion of those players and a recognition of their achievements.

  • POSTED BY nalin on | August 7, 2011, 4:53 GMT

    Apart from the odd brilliant fielder like Solkar Indian fielding has been mediocore. India won 1983 world cup after Kapil Dev"s brilliant catch and actually outdid Sri Lanka in the field to win this world cup. [they would have chased 300 if they fielded as usual]. Only positive spin off from IPL would be the demand on quality fielding that would spread to other levels of cricket. India is currently holding the world number one in the absence of any great side in world cricket and in 1971 the only great side that was South Africa were removed by apartheid in 1970.There is a possibility that England could become the fourth number one in four years and India would have to rebuild from the eventual retirement of the last 3 of the fab4.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 7, 2011, 3:51 GMT

    Wadekar's memory appears to be a little faulty here. I followed the fortunes of the Indian team through the England tour with the raptness and attention that only a nine-year old could generate. I appeared to recall Bedi being brought back for only a single over in the second innings of the Oval test, not the "few overs" that Wadekar mentions. Sure enough, a check of Criconfo's archives shows Bedi's second innings figures read 1-0-1-1. (I also appear to recall that it allowed Venkat and Chandra to change ends. Price played Bedi for barely a few balls before Chandra was brought back.) But it was nice to see Wadekar (briefly) and Chandra (generously) acknowledge the superb role Venkat did in tying down batsmen at the other end.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 6, 2011, 23:34 GMT

    great memories .dohni is the worst keeper i have ever seen for india .india is in a black hole re spin bowlers .4 nil to eng weather permitting.

  • POSTED BY Asker on | August 6, 2011, 16:02 GMT

    @Avadhlal- I totally agree with you. The highest priority for the BCCI and the selection team is to focus on buiilding up the fielding talent and then look for the players other skills and slot him where he fits. There is absolutely no match for these two legends of fielding Syed Abid Ali & Eknath Solkar, both of them were not only good close in fielders, the guys who fielded without helmets..remember, but also good in the outfield too. As they say "runs saved are runs scored", catches win matches, that includes wicketkeeper too but as you have rightly pointed to, Dhoni is really a pale shadow of Engineer and the inimitable Syed Kirmani. In between we have had some good fielders coming through like Azhar, Jadeja, Robinsingh, Kaif but not too many though. As rightly pointed out by someone, see in the many playgrounds of India, a guy either picks a bat or ball, how many practice fielding hard unless the coach calls for, so if this is the mentality, how can we produce good fielders.

  • POSTED BY Kali Muthu on | August 6, 2011, 13:46 GMT

    I still vividly remember the build-up to the test. India managed to escape in the 1st two tests ,Thanks to the rain Gods ( Alas, where the hell they have gone this time around in the current series?!!!). Chandra was selected despite his lack-lustre performance in the previous tests and raised many eye brows.. After England hammered 300 + in one day ( which was a rarity in those days 150-200 scores in a single day ) and took a sizable first innings it looked all over for India. I went to play my evening cricket and when I came back and tuned in the BBC commentary , to a great surprise England was 99-9 ... those days the reception was not all that great. First , I could not believe... then I thought Bedi and Venkat must have ran through the English line-up. Wehn , I heard that it was Chandra who did the maximum damage , it was unbelievable.. that started one of the great eras of a new breed of spinner.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 6, 2011, 13:10 GMT

    Forget Bedi, Prasanna & Chandra, just imagine - what would Bhajji & Mishra give for a Solkar at forward short-leg ? The way he fielded there, he made front-foot play akin to hara-kiri for most batsmen. ....And you can't play good spinners standing inside your crease all the time !

  • POSTED BY Steve on | August 6, 2011, 12:52 GMT

    I was too young then. But, I remember ppl talking about this victory for almost a decade afterwards as much as the famous series win in WI earlier.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 6, 2011, 8:52 GMT

    Oh, what would Indian cricket do now to have a spinner of the caliber of Bedi, Prasanna, Chandra! Harbhajan's not been running through the opposition now for the past 2 -3 years. He doesn't look threatening, & not somebody that the opposition starts to plan on how to play him.

  • POSTED BY AVADH on | August 6, 2011, 7:14 GMT

    The 1971 Oval win was magnificent and the year is rightly described in the Indian cricket history as annus mirabilis. However, it is rather unfair to attribute India's struggle on the current tour to the ineffectiveness of its fast bowlers. Quite the contrary, the fast bowlers had done their bit by making inroads in the England top order time and again. They just didn't get any support from the spin department - holder of 400+ wickets or part-timers. Could there have been a different story if only the services of just one spinner (ideally 2) from the famous quartet were available; not to say of the agility and alertness of a Solkar, Abid, Venkat, Surti, Wadekar? Even behind the wicket, Dhoni is just a pale shadow as compared to the brilliance of Engineer. Avadh Lal