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.

Book Review: Wizards: The story of Indian spin bowling

The sub-title of “Wizards”, the fourth book of cricket history from Anindya Dutta, is “The story of Indian spin bowling”, but it could so easily be described as “the history of Indian cricket through spin”.  

Dutta presents a fascinating and thoroughly researched journey through more than one hundred years of Indian cricket teams whose journey from failure to success has been underscored by the efforts those slow bowlers, many of those still living having been interviewed by the author, who exercised their wizardry on the pitch. 

Dutta’s mostly chronological study begins with the remarkable story of Palwankar Baloo, the left arm bowler who broke through the caste barriers to play in England with the All India team of 1911. Rustomji Jamshedji was, at the age of forty, the first spin bowlers to play Test cricket, and Dutta gives space to Baloo, Jamshedji, and some seventy spinners, most of whom wore the Indian cap at Test, one-day or more recently Twenty20 level. 

Vinoo Mankad’s unfortunate entry into cricket’s lexicon is but a passing item in the chapter on his remarkable career. There is the account of Subash “Fergie” Gupte, capable of bowling two types of googlies and described by Sir Garfield Sobers as a better leg-spinner than Shane Warne. Gupte’s playing career came undone after a hotel incident involving room-mate Kripal Singh in which he was not involved. 

The greatest slow bowlers of the past two decades, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are featured in the second half of “Wizards” but much of the middle section is taken by the four spin bowlers who dominated for much of the 1960s and 70s: the “Spin Quartet” of Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Bishen Singh Bedi.  

Test matches in which some or all of the quartet played are described more than once in the book, but through the perspective of each bowler’s performance. Dutta invokes the theory more recently known as Blue Ocean Strategy to describe how the great captain “Tiger” Pataudi brought out the best in his Spin Quartet. 

Fine spin bowlers whose time in the Indian team never came because of the shadow of the great Quartet – Rajinder Goel, Paddy Shivalkar, Rajinder Singh Hans – and Dilip Doshi, whose opportunity was delayed by their presence – all take their place in Wizards. So too Maninder Singh and Laxman Sivaramakrishan, both unable to deliver all their talents had to offer. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag find their way into the pages as “Breakthrough Bowlers”. 

Among the many examples of maladministration detailed in the book, players dropped, careers delayed, captains chopped and changed for reasons of politics or personal jealousies. There is perhaps scope for a history of Indian cricket as defined by how bad decisions by selectors and administrators have held the team back. 

As Kapil Dev says in his foreword, “Today is a different world”, and the role of the match-winning fast bowlers such as Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma is a world whose beginnings trace back to him. But as Dutta concludes this comprehensive and enjoyable history with the wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, he ponders whether they are the Wizards to take Indian cricket into the future. 

“Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling” is published by Westland Sport and available worldwide through Amazon. This review is based upon the Kindle edition. ISBN 9789388754514

Sachin A Billion Dreams film review

You could sit Sachin Tendulkar down at a desk in front of a single camera, get him to read from the telephone book for six hours and it would be a box-office smash. Thankfully director James Erskine and the producers of “Sachin: A Billion Dreams” have more respect for both their subject and the filmgoing public in this entertaining 139 minute documentary on India’s most loved sportsperson and greatest cricketer. Continue reading “Sachin A Billion Dreams film review”

2015: A year in cricket (or at least the start of it)

January 1, Kirribilli House, Sydney. Two of these three men still had their job at the end of the year:

Now we have the entire Australian eleven in shot. #AusvInd #Cricket

A photo posted by Rick Eyre (@rickeyre) on

While you sleep, I train. While you eat, I train. While you party, I train. February 21 is my goal!

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