Book Review: The Greatest Year: The 1971 Tours of the West Indies and England

As 2020 wends its tortuous path, it sets a bar so low that we can only hope and imagine that 2021 will be a great year by comparison. But 2021 will also be the fiftieth anniversary of what author Anindya Dutta has described in the title of his new book as “The Greatest Year”.

1971 was the year that India arrived as an international cricket force. Consecutive overseas tours to the West Indies and England resulted in back-to-back Test series wins. Apart from victories in New Zealand in 1969, this was the first time they had punched above their weight to defeat stronger opposition on their own turf.

Dutta’s book is a short, sharp account of the two tours, a blend of behind-the-scenes tales with concise match accounts that could almost be imagined as Pathe newsreel scripts without the pictures.

Kenia Jayantilal, whose solitary Test appearance came in the opening match of that West Indian tour, has provided Dutta with some valuable insights to that series as will as some of the photos that appear in the book. Jayantilal’s opening batting partner on that one and only occasion was Syed Abid Ali, who was also interviewed for “The Greatest Year”.

Jayantilal’s replacement in the remaining Tests of the West Indian tour was a 21 year-old newcomer named Sunil Gavaskar who accumulated an astonishing 774 runs in his four matches in the Caribbean. But as Dutta tells us, Gavaskar was fortunate to be playing at all, a diversion of the team’s trans-Atlantic flight to New York enabling urgent treatment on an infected finger.

India’s unexpected triumph over England at The Oval came through the spinning fingers of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, a reluctant choice of chair of selectors Vijay Merchant who considered him too “unorthodox”. But it was one of Merchant’s more contentious picks, using his casting vote to appoint Ajit Wadekar as captain instead of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, that proved an inspired choice.

The rigours of the English tour circuit of 1971 are highlighted with the case of the Indian team completing a three-day match against Kent, and making the three-hour trip to Leicestershire that evening to start the next game in the morning. Try telling today’s highly-paid professionals to do that.

“The Greatest Year: The 1971 Tours of the West Indies and England” is a worthwhile diversion from the not-so-greatest year that is 2020.

“The Greatest Year: The 1971 Tours of the West Indies and England” is published by Westland Books and available in India on Kindle through Amazon. It will be available worldwide shortly.

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