When India defeated West Indies by six wickets at Port of Spain on April 12, 1976 it was hailed as the greatest victory in Indian Test cricket and one of the most remarkable wins in the game. This was with good reason for after all it is not every day that a team successfully chases a target of 400 plus and indeed before that date it had been achieved only once – by Don Bradman’s “Invincibles” against England at Leeds in 1948. That winning score of 404 for three was set aside by the Indians who finished with 406 for four. For 27 years it remained the highest total in the fourth innings to win a Test till the West Indies scored 418 for seven to defeat Australia at Antigua in 2003. India’s score slipped to third spot when South Africa finished at 414 for four to beat Australia at Perth in 2008-09.
But neither this nor the fact that over the last 45 years India have notched up several significant victories in Test cricket has diminished the aura over the notable triumph at the Queen’s Park Oval in 1976. The background to the achievement is almost as interesting as the feat itself. West Indies had won the first Test at Bridgetown in three days by an innings and 97 runs but India had the better of the drawn second Test at Port of Spain. The third Test was scheduled to be played at Georgetown but continuous rain in the Guyanese capital saw the venue shifted back to Port of Spain. The Queen’s Park Oval was certainly India’s lucky venue for in 1971 they had registered their first-ever victory over the West Indies in 25 attempts at this ground and then in the final Test drew the game to clinch a historic series triumph. And as I said in the recently concluded match West Indies were lucky to get away with a draw.
However, events of the first four days indicated a West Indies win which would of course clinch the series for them. With Vivian Richards – then in the midst of an imperious run that would see him amass a record 1710 runs in the calendar year of 1976 – leading the way with 177 West Indies totalled 359 in their first innings. India’s reply was a feeble 228 and the home team, helped by an unbeaten 103 by Alvin Kallicharran, then consolidated their position by scoring 271 for six before Clive Lloyd declared midway through the penultimate day. India clearly faced an impossible task. A target of 403 meant that winning was out of the question and with nine hours still left it needed a herculean effort to save the Test.
Moreover, India had batting problems of their own. Aunshuman Gaekwad was opening the batting for the first time following the failures of Dilip Vengsarkar and Parthasarathy Sharma but showing the guts that would become his trademark he scored 28 and put on 69 runs with Sunil Gavaskar. Mohinder Amarnath entered at No 3 and he was coming in at this pivotal but for him unfamiliar position for only the second time following the failure of his brother Surinder. He stood his ground firmly and with Gavaskar came through unbeaten with India on 134 for one at stumps. With a day left India required 269 runs for victory and West Indies nine wickets. It was an interesting situation with a draw the most likely result.
Gavaskar, 86 overnight, duly completed his second hundred of the series but when he was out for 102 at 177 it was a major blow to India’s attempts to draw the match. Gundappa Viswanath joined Amarnath and it was the third wicket partnership that really raised hopes of an unlikely win. While Viswanath dominated with his sparkling strokeplay, Amarnath was the perfect sheet anchor – a role he was to excel in over the next decade. The two came in unbeaten at lunch, were still together at tea and by this time the West Indies were reduced to defence and an Indian victory was in sight. The spin trio of Raphick Jumadeen and debutants Imtiaz Ali and Albert Padmore made no impression and by now the Indians were so confident that they were also scoring freely against Michael Holding and Bernard Julien. Finally, after the third wicket stand had added 159 Viswanath was run out for 112. Brijesh Patel joined Amarnath and gave the scoring rate an impetus by some attacking strokeplay. With victory on the horizon Amarnath was run out at 392 for a courageous 85 for which he batted 442 minutes. Patel (49 not out) provided the finishing touches ending the match in the 13th of the 20 mandatory overs.
“The greatest victory” was the general refrain and few disagreed with this view. And though time has lengthened the gallery of historic, remarkable and significant wins, Port of Spain 1976 will still be in any cricket fan’s list of ten great triumphs.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)