August 15, India’s Independence Day, is a day of joyous celebration for India & the global Indian Diaspora. But this year’s Independence Day was a day to look back, to remember when our generation began believing we could win.
India has always had spectacularly successful, talented individuals. But India had hardly ever won as a team, especially against a better, more talented & dominant team.Not only as a child but even as a teenager, we always knew that India would lose.
One man changed that for our entire generation and, frankly, for the country as a whole. He himself was always ignored in his prime. The national selectors saw his performance as a young man but always ignored him because he did not come from the elite. Finally after his best years as a batsman probably behind him, they included him in the Indian Cricket team and later made him the captain for the tour of the West Indies in 1971.
What a challenge that was? The might West Indies were not only the strongest, deepest & most talented team in the world, but they were also the most scary & dominant team. They were led by the all-time great Gary Sobers & great batsmen like Rohan Kanhai & Clive Lloyd. Their bowling was always fast & scary. As we remember vividly, everyone expected the Indian cricket team to be embarrassed.
But that Indian team had two new members – a first time captain named Ajit Wadekar & a 21-year batsman on his first tour named Sunil Gavaskar. From the beginning of the tour, it became evident that this was a different Indian team with a different attitude. Add brilliant & timely decisions of Captain Wadekar to an epoch making batting performance from Sunil Gavaskar. The result was something no one in India or the world had imagined.
For the first time ever, a visiting Indian team defeated the might West Indies in the West Indies in a 5 match series. That amazement, that joy still remains with us to this day.
But the impact of decades of continuous defeat is hard to remove with just one tour victory. And the next target for Wadekar’s team was a series in England. England was a very different sort of a team. As Captain Wadekar explained,
- “English batting is entirely different than the West Indies batting; they have got a professional approach; they have very good defense, they go very methodically; so best chance is to attack them whenever we get an opportunity to attack them; “
It is not enough to attack methodical batsmen with great bowling. It is even more important to put intense mental pressure on them. Captain Wadekar did that by devising a very aggressive fielding system that put fielders around the batsmen at very close range. Any errant touch of the bat to the ball would be caught by superb fielders literally within a few yards of the batsmen.
Nobody had ever seen such aggressive fielding & certainly never from an Indian side. Look at the pressure it put on the English batsmen when it counted – watch the clip below from 4:30 minute to 7:45 minute. Seeing young Solkar ready to catch so close to the bat unnerved the English batsmen & the entire English team was bundled out for a mere 101 runs giving the Indian team a chance to win the match and the series.
How we remember listening to the radio broadcast of this match? When the middle order of the Indian team began collapsing, we thought India would lose again. We still recall Farukh Engineer coming in to bat and saying to the English team – “not today boys“.
India went on to win that match and the series against England in England after winning against West Indies in the West Indies. Ajit Wadekar went on to become the only captain to win three consecutive test series. But his gift to India was much more than that. He transformed the mentality of the Indian Cricket Team. Twelve years later, another Indian team won the 1983 world cup against the mighty West Indies in England, an achievement for which Captian Kapil Dev of that team credits to what Wadekar taught Indian Cricket.
Ajit Wadekar passed away on August 15, 2018 on India’s Independence Day. But his gift to an entire generation of winning will live on for ever.
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