Let me be frank with you. I never expected to lead the Indian team to the West Indies in 1971! I always thought the fight was between the two giants -- 'Tiger' Pataudi and Chandu Borde and that 'Tiger' had a better chance. When the selectors met for the purpose, I was busy shopping for my new little flat with my wife. I was really stunned when I saw a large gathering, some of them of course being reporters, for interviews. More responsibility and tension for sure!
Likewise, when the team was announced, there were mixed feelings amongst the critics and public. The general consensus was that it wasn't a good side to combat the mighty West Indies and that too on their own soil.
It had no 'Tiger' Pataudi who almost ruled the captaincy of the Indian team for about 11 years continuously, a record by any standard. He opted out. It had no batting genius like Borde. Instead, we had seniors who were not in dazzling form, youngsters like Eknath Solkar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Sunil Gavaskar, Kenia Jayantilal, Devraj Govindraj, Rusi Jeejibhoy coupled with an inexperienced captain not much heard of.
No doubt, when we landed in Kingston, Jamaica, their skipper and my only idol as the best all-rounder then, Gary Sobers, had the same opinion at the airport which he expressed over the glass of welcome drinks.
I had of course no words to retort except that "let us wait and see" and that "we would like to be your foes on the field and friends outside". He might have been right as his team was one of the best amongst the three nations in the cricketing world then.
He had a superb batting line up in himself, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Roy Fredricks, Joey Carew, Charlie Davis, George Camacho and Alvin Kallicharan waiting in wings. He also had a considerably good pace attack in Keith Boyce, Grayson Shillingford, Vanburn Holder, John Shepherd and Uton Dowe who managed to rattle us with their barrage of bouncers with increasing intimidation as the tour progressed.
Compared to that, our so-called medium pace attack was in the hands of Govindraj, Solkar, Abid Ali and M L Jaisimha to a certain extent. Their short-pitched delivery was not even knee-high! The only solace was that we were really better off in the spin department with the wily Bishen Singh Bedi, deceptive E Prasanna, steady Venkatraghvan and the moody Salim Durrani. Yes, in addition, their umpiring wasn't that friendly to the guests with no TV to show the replays.
Our early showing in the first practice game against Jamaica XI was none too impressive. Firstly, we hardly had any practice as we missed our flight from New York. We arrived in Kingston without our kits. We had to beg and borrow or buy cricket clothing and equipment from the local shop.
To top it up, we had Gavaskar and his future brother-in-law Vishwanath on the injured list from Day One. It was the same case in the second outing at Montego Bay against the WI Board XI.
It was high time to think of proper planning and strategy as the first Test was next. We decided to concentrate on fielding, more particularly on close-in-positions for two reasons -- one to provide support to our spinning trio and another to ensure that we don't drop catches of Sobers, Kanhai or Lloyd or otherwise they would get not less than two hundreds.
We pinpointed Solkar, Gavaskar, Abid Ali, Venkat and myself with better anticipation and reflexes for the job. The bowlers were given specific instructions to contain these great free scoring, cavalier batsmen and make them lose patience quickly. Thirdly, we decided to go all out when the conditions and circumstances were in our favour, be positive but exercise caution as well.
And lo! Our strategy started working. We also had a bonus that some of our batsmen got into great form. Even the tailenders stood up to the attack courageously. None of the players flinched from the duties allotted to them.
I admit we had an atrocious start in first Test with me losing the toss, the first day's game getting washed out, and we reeling at 75 for four. The trio of Dilip Sardesai, Solkar and Prasanna came to our rescue and how!
What a knock Sardesai played, scoring 212 runs effortlessly -- the best knock I had ever seen flowing from his bat under such a hopeless situation. His double century infused hell of a confidence in all of us.
It also fired great enthusiasm into my players, especially the bowlers. Later on, his appetite like his love for spicy food increased with every match and at the right time whenever the side was in dire trouble.
Once against the state team, he was rested for a bad tummy. The doctor advised him to have only chicken soup. In the evening, I entered his room to find him eating a full plate of tandoori chicken. On enquiry, he mentioned if he was allowed to have soup, then why not have the chicken itself. Isn't it one and the same? I wasn't convinced.
In the same Test, Prasanna and Venkat got the hosts out just for 217 in the first innings leaving a deficit of 171 runs. That was good enough for me to enforce the follow-on on the West Indies for the first time as the difference required for follow-on is 150 runs for a four-day game as against 200 runs for a five-day game.
Sobers wasn't aware of the rule. I made it a point to go to their dressing room and asked him to bat again, albeit a little bit loudly so that all his players could hear it loud and clean. That was a psychological ploy as there was no chance to win the game with only one day left and the wicket had rolled out superbly. Henceforth, the public and West Indies players were not to take us for granted for sure.
Luckily for me, a legend was being born for India in the West Indies. Yes, it was Gavaskar. To get a record breaking 774 runs on his debut in just four Tests and that too on foreign soil and against one of the best teams in the world is something which ordinary batsman just can't do!
He had got to be extraordinary, divinely talented with tremendous concentration, temperament and the will to win. I prayed that he did not get a century on his debut, as it was a curse to Indian cricket. Whoever had done that earlier never lasted long in the Indian team.
It was Sobers who named him 'Little Master' at the end of the series. What a tribute from one to another great! Had it not been for his century in the first innings and double hundred in the second innings, we wouldn't have been able to win the series 1-0. It would have been drawn.
In the second innings of the last Test, he suddenly started hitting almost each and every ball uppishly. Fortunately, it never went straight to the fielders. When he came back to the dressing room, I asked the reason. He looked at me and said, 'Sorry captain, I thought I was instrumental in getting Abid Ali run out. It was biting me all along. I know that was wrong and I wouldn't repeat it.' Well, he went on to get 212!
All in all, our main bowlers -- Bedi, Venkat and Prasanna bowled according to plan superbly. Abid Ali's shooter uprooting Roy Fredricks' middle stump with the first delivery and those two magical deliveries from Durrani claiming the valuable wickets of Sobers and Lloyd in the second innings of the second Test were instrumental in our win.
Solkar and Mankad chipped in with their valuable stands with either Sardesai or Gavaskar, excellent catches were held by Solkar, Venkat and Abid, the priceless advice I received from Jaisimha from time to time and other small incidents helped us in registering the first ever win in the West Indies.
Rahul Dravid has a tremendous scope to repeat history after a gap of 35 years. It is really surprising that India have had to wait so long. Maybe, they might have come closer to the target but were unable to turn it into a win.
Maybe, West Indies' battery of pace attack might have gone berserk with short-pitched deliveries and bouncers to shatter the confidence of our main batters then. Maybe, our attack was not good enough to capture all the 20 wickets.
Dravid doesn't have to worry. He has perhaps the best and well balanced team at his disposal. He has a tremendous batting line-up starting with himself, Sachin if fit, Yuvraj, Sehwag, if he gets cracking, Raina the most promising youngster, Dhoni, with all the ability in the world to hit any ball if he so desires, and Irfan Pathan, with great potential.
He has a good seam attack in Pathan, Sreesanth and Agarkar to exploit the fast tracks and humid conditions like we have in Mumbai or Chennai. He also has a good spin attack to go with.
The West Indies team is still in the process on rebuilding and if our bowlers contain their main batsmen like Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and to a certain extent Chris Gayle, victory is on the platter like we had in 1971.