A Blaze of Glory: India, ignominious losers in the opening Test of the series, ended it in a loss of glory, coming tantalizingly close to what would have been a historic win. They would have been heroes even if they had lost, in their furious effort to win this test and draw the series. The final day’s play not created one of the most glorious chapters in the history of cricket, but also made for one of the most exciting episodes in the annals of the game, only.
The unavailing bid for victory was a personal triumph for Sunil Gavaskar who, without giving the semblance of a chance, steered India along their course till they were only 49 runs from their destination.
It must be mentioned for the record that no side has ever achieved in a Test match as big a target as India set. There have been only two winning totals of over 400 in the last inning, and one of them was by India at Port of Spain in 1976. Sunil Gavaskar has played eleven Test innings in England since last making a comeback, his 101 at Manchester in 1974, which he refers to as his best-ever Test innings.
He was proud of it because it was made under very adverse circumstances and in conditions that were more suited to the bowler. Indeed, Gavaskar has made hundreds under more testing conditions than what prevailed at the Oval, but his 221 was a masterpiece because of its value to the side and as a test of stamina, both mental and physical.
If India, after the great start they got, could not bridge the gap, it was because we were a bit tardy in mounting the final assault. They did not take into account the lack of firepower in the middle order and the lack of test experience as far as Yashpal Sharma and Yajurvindrasinh were concerned.
They might have been unlucky with a couple of umpiring decisions. The runout of Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan was a desperately close one, and umpire Palmer was a brave man to give Yashpal Sharma LBW out, for he had played well forward. Therefore, the gamble of promoting Kapil Dev to number four was justified and may have proved a decisive mistake. However, Gundpa Viswanath had the experience and skill to do the job. Sent in at number six, with less than seven over’s remaining, he had little time for maneuvering.
One cannot emphasize sufficiently that India’s failure to put the seal on a great performance can be attributed to the strong accent placed on first-inning leads in our domestic cricket. Also, the runs given away through slack fielding in England’s second inning tipped the scales the wrong way.
There will be a strong inclination on the part of the selectors to field the same team in the first Test against the Australians at Chepauk. Every man did his duty at the Oval, and my heart would bleed for anyone who was dropped.
But sentiment doesn’t win test matches. There must be horses for courses, and it must be remembered that if the pitch at Chepauk is anything like it was for the West Indies Test earlier this year, fast and bouncy, another fast bowler must play.