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May 11, 2000


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The other side of the coin

Raju Bharatan

Trust Viv Richards to put the 'Big Black Cat' among the 'Grey-Area Pigeons'! Sir Vivian Richards's charge that "a former Pakistan captain had forfeited the toss during the home series versus the West Indies in 1974-75" predictably had Intikhab Alam up in arms, threatening to sue.

"Ma'n, I lost (the toss) and he said I won," Viv Richards is cited as quoting Clive Lloyd saying. What a pity 'Vivy' failed to add in which one of the two Tests (Lahore or Karachi), in the February 16-March 6, 1975, span, the 'toss-fixing' took place!

Oddly, Intikhab Alam's Pakistan batted first in both the Lahore and Karachi Tests, so did any 'fixing', if it really happened, remained confined merely to the idea of 'who won the toss?'

In point of fact, the West Indies, in mid-February 1975, had made the trip straight from India to Pakistan -- at a time when Clive Lloyd, as the Caribbean captain, was but five Tests' old! And those five Tests had all been in India. It was Clive Lloyd's blistering 163 in the second innings of the first Test at Bangalore's KSCA Stadium; and Viv Richards's arrival as, potentially, a world-class batsman with 192 not out in the second Test at Ferozeshah Kotla, Delhi, that had seen the West Indies' fresher-skipper take a firm 2-0 lead in the five-match series.

In the teeth of India, under Ajit Wadekar, suffering a 3-0 whitewash at the hands of Mike Denness's England on that cataclysmic 1974 tour, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, insisting upon a "unanimous" voteback, returned as captain. Only for Pataudi's India to surrender the Bangalore Test by 267 runs and then the Delhi Test (under S Venkataraghavan in Pataudi's injured absence) by an innings and 17 runs.

In such a setting, our ragged army of a team looked in for the ma'n-hunt of a lifetime.

This precisely was when Tiger Pataudi, redeploying the varied spinning skills of Erapalli Prasanna, Bishen Singh Bedi and B S Chandrasekhar, incredibly reversed the trend by convincingly (85 and 100 runs) winning the Calcutta and Madras Tests for India -- to shock Clive Lloyd, as the series thus, suddenly, stood levelled at 2-2. True, the West Indies proceeded to win the decider -- the first-ever Test at the Wankhede Stadium, Bombay -- by a stupendous 201 runs to clinch the rubber 3-2, Clive Lloyd himself being a noteworthy contributor, here, with 242 not out and a quickfire 37.

As the Wankhede stadium thus stood up to a man to hail Clive Lloyd as a potential leader of men, there was reason for the West Indies to rejoice. But, even in the face of such spot acclaim, Clive Lloyd remained a captain still to acquire seasoning, as he took his team, for those two Tests at Lahore and Karachi, to Pakistan.

In the circumstances, Lloyd could, possibly, have been 'had' in the matter of the toss - as hinted by Viv Richards. Especially if you consider how G R Vishwanath, captaining India for the first time, came to be, on all available evidence, similarly 'done in' during the sixth Test versus Asif Iqbal's Pakistan at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, on January 29, 1980. I would not have so readily been able to recall this but for Judge Malik Mohammad Qayyum, in his Star News interview with Rajdeep Sardesai, suggesting India to be the venue where the whole sorry thing began.

The circumstances in which G R Vishvanath became India's captain, with that sixth (Calcutta) Test versus Asif Iqbal's Pakistan, were extraordinary, so that it is not difficult to envision a good soul like the Karnataka stylist going for a 'toss'. That 1979-80 grudge series in India had, by then, been decided 2-0 in our favour. And when Vishwanath tossed at Eden Gardens as the new 'home' captain, the coin, to him, looked to have rolled in Pakistan's favour. But Vishy is supposed to have been told that it was India, not Pakistan, that had won the toss -- and this mild-mannered man probably lacked the gumption to take up the matter 'on the spot', where the coin fell!

I am talking of the Eden Gardens Test in which Asif Iqbal, as captain, was set to cause a further raising of eyebrows, as he declared Pakistan's first innings closed at 272 for 4 (himself not out 5, Wasim Raja not out 50) - still 59 runs behind India's 331! That Imran Khan, at last, began firing in that series to send four of our batsmen swiftly back to reduce Viswanath's India to 92 for 6 in the second innings was what saved Asif Iqbal's bacon, otherwise awkward questions could have been posed about his against-all-odds declaration.

Vishwanath's sense of diffidence in confronting Asif Iqbal on the 'toss' business, before that, should be evaluated in the electric atmosphere in which he had been pitchforked into India's captaincy. We had taken a 1-0 lead in that 1979-80 rubber - a confrontation coming close on the heels of Mushtaq Mohammad's Pakistan having thrashed Bishen Singh Bedi's India 2-0 in the late-1978 three-match series across the Wagah border. And that series in Pakistan had been the one marking the resumption of hostilities between the two nations after a cricketing lay-off of no fewer than 18 years. There was thus a late-1978 2-0 score to settle for India in that 1979-80 series at home.

As Sunil Gavaskar led India to a traumatic 131-run win in the third Test at the Wankhede Stadium, Bombay, Pakistan protested vociferously about the umpiring of 'softie' S N Hanumantha Rao and 'toughie' K B Ramaswami. Asif Iqbal, in fact, was here even stampeded (by Pakistan pressmen travelling with the team) into calling a press conference at his Wankhede Stadium lodging -- after the first three days of that Bombay Test. By the stage of that rest-day press conference, the third Test at Bombay (after the Bangalore and Delhi matches had ended in draws) stood all but lost by Pakistan.

Following that 1-0 lead India thus inexorably took at Bombay, after the Kanpur Test had ended in a draw, the fifth Test at Chepauk, Madras, saw Sunil Gavaskar just grind Pakistan into the dust -- with 166 and 29 not out. As India won that fifth Test nerve-tinglingly by 10 wickets to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the six-match series, Asif Iqbal graciously congratulated Sunil Gavaskar upon his team having "outplayed" Pakistan "in all departments of the game" during that Madras encounter. Iftikhar was Pakistan's guest commentator on Doordarshan during that Madras Test. As he handed the mike to Asif Iqbal (seated with Sunil Gavaskar at the end of the Test), 'Ifti' even warned his captain: "We are about to cross over to Pakistan..." By which Iftikhar meant that President Zia ul Haq was listening! But Asif Iqbal was undeterred by the veiled warning, he manfully conceded that India, under Sunil Gavaskar, had won the Madras Test fair and square.

This was the signal for Sunil Gavaskar to drop a bombshell. Sunny announced that having (by implication) "smashed Pakistan to pulp" -- after having predicted that it was they who would be doing that to us -- he was stepping down as India's captain! Stepping down having avenged, 2-0, India's 0-2 loss to Pakistan at the National Stadium, Karachi, on 19 November 1978 (with Zia ul Haq personally present at the ground to glory in our discomfiture). Sunny thus was, with one redundant Test in India to go, relinquishing the country's leadership and making it over to vice-captain G R Vishwanath for the sixth Test at Eden Gardens!

With the series already won 2-0, pointed out Sunil, it was right that Vishwanath took over. Why? Because - and this came as the second bombshell from Sunil - he was opting out of the tour of the West Indies immediately due, against the background of our cricket board's having (for those times) drawn up, for India, a gruelling programme of 26 Tests in 16 months! That was the underlying reason for Sunil to say "Enough is enough", but he softened the blow by noting that, since he was not going to tour the West Indies, it was timely for Gundappa Vishwanath to begin acquiring captaincy experience straightway - with the sixth Test versus Pakistan at Calcutta!

That the West Indies peremptorily cancelled India's tour of the Caribbean itself, once they knew that the series there would be just 'Calypso-so' without the attraction Sunil held out as a 'Caribbean' icon, was something that further made our cricket board feel diminished - it never had liked Gavaskar too much!

Such then were the circumstances in which Vishwanath went out for the toss with Asif Iqbal at Eden Gardens (for the final Test of the series) on January 29, 1980. And Judge Malik Mohammad Qayyum was referring to this very toss as having been 'won' by Vishwanath when that raw captain thought he had lost it!

Likewise could Clive Lloyd, also a little-experienced captain then (February 1975), may have failed to see the 'other' side of the coin.

There are controversial tosses and controversial tosses. Take the toss in the needle 4 June 1999 World Cup encounter at The Oval between India and Australia. I mean the match in which Steve Waugh's Australia, after being asked to bat first, hit up 282 and Geoffrey Boycott, on television, forecast that "I can't see India making it!" In that key Super Six opening match for India, it had been a unanimous team decision that, come what might, we would bat -- if we won the toss. But India's consultant coach in that 1999 World Cup was Australia's Bobby Simpson! And Simpson was the last man India's captain Mohammed Azharuddin spoke to, as he stepped out for the toss amidst gathering clouds! Azhar won that toss, chose to field and the rest is Kangaroo World Cup history! It was with India's decision to field first in that 4 June 1999 World Cup Oval contest that the Azhar-Sachin face-off acquired an even sharper edge - as Glenn McGrath had the Indian batsmen on edge from the word go.

Australia, vintage Australia, it is that figures, afresh, in an amazing sequence by which India's 1947-48 tour captain, Lala Amarnath, lost 10 Test tosses in a row! The first five of these Test tosses were lost by Lala Amarnath to Don Bradman in Australia. Batting first meant everything those run-laden days, as underscored by Bradman's tally of 185; 13 (on a Sydney 'gluepot'); 132 & 127 not out; 201; and 57 (retired hurt) in the five Tests of that 1947-48 series -- the very first between Australia and India.

Indeed, during that landmark tour, there was even a Melbourne newspaper report to the effect that, after the first four Tests, Lala Amarnath took a 'lucky' coin out to the middle - to practise tossing! Absurd when you remember that it was Don Bradman (as the home captain) who would have been tossing in the final fifth Test at Melbourne too. Maybe all that the Lala tried doing was holding the coin, in that toss-practising session, the exact way the Don did!

If Lala Amarnath did so experiment with the Bradman coin-hold, it availed him little, for he was next set to lose all five tosses - to the West Indies' John Goddard in the first-ever Test series between the two countries, at home, in 1948-49. That Goddard's West Indies, powered by Everton Weekes (128; 194; 162 & 101; 90; 56 & 48) and Clyde Walcott (152; 68; 54 & 108; 43; 11 & 16) still won the five-Test series only 1-0 is a tribute to Lala Amarnath's astute leadership in the face of overwhelming tossing odds. For all that, imagination boggles at the thought of what the West Indies, if Frank Worrell too had made that 1948-49 tour, would have done to the India of Lala Amarnath!

Lala Amarnath's arch-rival always was Vijay Merchant. And to Vijay Merchant went the dubious distinction of losing, for the first time by 'the spin of the coin' in the history of the Ranji Trophy, the February 1946 semifinal-deciding match between Bombay and Baroda at Bombay's Brabourne stadium. Those were the days of pluperfect wickets and, of Vijay Merchant's Brabourne stadium, it used to be said that, if you dug up the centre-pitch there, all you would discover was bat-oil! That February 1946 Ranji Trophy match was a four-day affair. And, given the pace at which Merchant's Bombay batted, not even one innings (by the two teams in the match) could be completed in four days! Bombay, winning the toss and batting first, made 645 (Vijay Merchant 171, Uday Merchant 136, K C Ibrahim 132, Khandu Rangnekar 113). Baroda, in the less than two days' time remaining, held out to finish at 465 for 6 (Raosaheb Nimbalkar 132; Hemu Adhikari 126; Vijay Hazare 85).

Here is where 'the spin of the coin' came into play, for the very first time in the Ranji Trophy, to determine which one of the two teams, Bombay or Baroda, would go on to meet Southern Punjab in the semi-final at Patiala. I recall, as a 12-year-old, being within handshaking distance of Merchant (near the CCI pavilion) as, at the end of that Bombay-Baroda 'non-match' at the Brabourne stadium, Vijay took the coin in his quivering right hand to toss - as the 'home' captain. Baroda skipper Raosaheb Nimbalkar was now asked by the umpires whether everyhthing was okay, before Merchant tossed.. Raosaheb -- as the elder brother of Bhaosaheb Nimbalkar (of 443 not out fame) -- gave the go-ahead. Merchant had already won one toss in that match, his players now wanted nothing less than an encore from him. Up went the coin and down went Vijay Merchant's Bombay! Raosaheb Nimbalkar had called right. And Vijay Merchant, scorer of ever so many centuries at that stadium, probably wished, at that piquant point, that the Brabourne earth would open and swallow him up!

Vijay Merchant was perhaps too straight a man for the fray. Vijay here should probably have considered adopting the stratagem that a Delhi Ranji Trophy captain (who shall remain unnamed) was later to bring into diabolic play. The man had two double-headed coins in his prized possession. One had 'Heads' on both sides, the other had 'Tails' on either side. The man would first find out what his opposing captain habitually called and then decide which one of the two coins to take out to toss -- as the 'home' captain at Ferozeshah Kotla!

So much hinged on the coin's spinning in your favour and your batting first those days that, for a three-Test or five-Test series, it was seriously suggested (and considered by the MCC) that there should be one, and only one, toss during a rubber. If, say, India won that first toss, in the Test match following the opposing team would automatically be taken as having the option to bat or field first. This way, it was argued, the country winning the first toss would still be holding the whiphand in the final Test, whether it be a three-match or five-match series.

The idea was given up speedily as it was felt that it could lead to match-fixing! If a team knew that it could bat first in a Test match without having to toss, what prevented it (if it was the home team) from preparing a track that would leave the balance of winning advantage wholly with it on the final day of the match? So 'toss-fixing' was out because 'match-fixing' was not in - not yet!

Raju Bharatan

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