August 1971 would always be looked back with great fondness in the annals of Indian cricket history. Indian cricket teams have never been known to be good travelers abroad. However, it was on this month 47 years ago that Ajit Wadekar's team went on to register India's first Test win in England and thereby setting an example for the coming generations to follow.
After the first two Tests of the series were drawn, both the teams were keen to get a result in the third and final Test at The Oval.
After batting first, England put on a solid 355 on the board on Day 1 of the Test. The second day was rained out and the Indian reply on the third day was ordinary. Ray Illingworth's 5-70 on a seaming track helped scuttle India out for only 284 runs. None of the batsmen could settle in and make a big score, with Farookh Engineer's 59 being the highest of the innings.
India had conceded a 71-run lead and England were firmly ahead in the game with close to two days in hand. However, India finally produced some magic soon enough.
Leg-spinner Bhagwath Chandrasekhar was the wrecker-in-chief with an outstanding spell of 6 for 38 that simply destroyed the England batting unit. There was nothing too wrong in the pitch as such, but it was getting slower and even breaking in and around the rough.
Captain Wadekar hence decided to utilize his spinners. Chandrasekhar's guile and turns were simply too much to handle for the English batsmen and they were bowled out for a paltry 101 – their then-lowest score against India.
"Our lead was decent - it should have been sufficient to win the match. There was nothing particularly wrong with the wicket, but we had ourselves to blame. We got bowled out for a very small total in our second innings and lost the upper hand," Ray Illingworth, the England captain in the Test match, was quoted as saying to ESPNCricinfo.
India now needed 173 runs for victory on the last day. While the British press was sure that their bowlers would successfully defend the target, the Indian batsmen were quietly confident. With valuable contributions from Wadekar (45), Dilip Sardesai (40), Gundappa Viswanath (33) and Farookh Engineer (28*), India chased down the target with four wickets to spare.
It was a tough effort where every batsman had to grind it out. But eventually, it was worth it as India registered its first-ever victory on English soil. Winning the last Test also meant that India had clinched the series 1-0 – their maiden Test series win in England.
The aftermath of the victory
"We were on top of the world. England was rated the No. 1 team then, and we had been very eager to beat them, especially because we had just beaten West Indies in the Caribbean. The spinners were once again the cornerstone of this famous victory," the late Ajit Wadekar was quoted as saying to ESPNCricinfo on the famous Test win.
The Test victory was a monumental moment in Indian cricket and gave the confidence for future Indian teams to perform against all odds on overseas tours.
While Virat Kohli and his men are battling it out in the five-Test against England at present, they would do well to seek inspiration from Wadekar's men who achieved a historic win when no one expected them to.