The Greatest Year

Published: 2020
Pages: 36
Author: Dutta, Anindya
Publisher: Westland
Rating: 4 stars

There were some modest books and souvenirs produced at the time, but it has always surprised me that no author has attempted to write a full account of the remarkable events in Indian cricket in 1971. It was not that the Indians had not produced some excellent cricketers, as they certainly had, and sometimes several at once, but prior to 1971 they had only ever won a single series away from home, in New Zealand in 1967/68.

But all but half a century ago there was then a remarkable turnaround in fortunes. In early 1971, with no great expectations, the Indians visited the Caribbean. They had never won so much as a single Test against West Indies, but with an extraordinary display of batting from the previously unknown Sunil Gavaskar taking centre stage the tourists took the five Test series 1-0.

Within weeks of that triumph a date with reality beckoned however. The Indians were due to visit England. They had played 19 Tests in England in six previous series. The height of their success was avoiding defeat four times, and they had never looked like winning any of those matches. To make their task even harder in 1971 England were on top of the world, the Ashes having been reclaimed in Australia just a few months before.

In the first of the three Tests India were, perhaps, lucky to get away with a draw, although I dare say Bishan Bedi would say that with a few more overs he and Ekki Solkar would have got those last 38 runs. Even Bishan however wouldn’t claim that India were anything other than fortunate to draw the second Test, which just left the Oval.

The Oval Test was the first Test match I ever watched from start to finish. In my last summer before I went to secondary school I had slowly fallen under the Indians’ spell and, with the Englishman’s natural fondness for the underdog, by the time the Oval came round I was supporting the Indians. It was something that I justified to myself at the time by virtue of the fact that the only Lancastrian on show was playing for India.

The match was a fascinating one. On the whole England had the better of things for the first three days, but the Indians hung in there, and were rewarded by that bewitching spell from the mercurial Chandra on the fourth day and, not without the odd alarm along the way, got over the line with four wickets to spare to the delight of all India, and many more Englishmen than just me.

So there we have the background – what has the man who much impressed me last with Wizards made of it? First of all The Greatest Year is not that long awaited full account, running as it does to a modest 36 pages. Much better described as a celebration it seems to me that the acid Test was whether or not Anindya Dutta was able to go any way towards recreating the enjoyment that that historic game gave me as I watched it unfold almost half a century ago.

He begins by telling the story of how it was that Ajit Wadekar secured the captaincy ahead of ‘Tiger’ Pataudi, before moving with the team to the Caribbean and finally on to that triumph at the Oval. I have to say that the four pages devoted to that match were more than enough to transport me back to those heady days. For all that the match is remembered for Chandra’s bowling, my childhood hero Farokh Engineer also played a major role in India’s victory.

Anindya knows how to tell a cricketing story, and the fact that he spoke to Syed Abid Ali, the scorer of the winning runs, only adds to the authority with which he writes and any cricketer lover will enjoy this brief but atmospheric account of the year that Indian cricket finally arrived on the world stage. The one drawback with the book is that it is only available in a kindle version something which, for those of us who like the feel of a print edition is disappointing but, I suppose, the current pandemic means we all have to make sacrifices. Anyway Anindya was kind enough to send me a pdf, so I was able to print it off and tell myself I had a book in my hand anyway – the reason I mention this is because that is how I come up with 36 pages, rather than the 53 that Amazon India mentions.

The world we live in is an increasingly strange place, and revisiting happy times from years gone by is a welcome distraction, and one which The Greatest Year certainly makes very easy indeed.

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