1976: Massacre at Sabina Park

  1. 1976: Massacre at Sabina Park

    Clive Lloyd unleased a new era in West Indies cricket, with a little help from Michael Holding.Whenever India play at the Sabina Park, it is important to revisit the events of 1976which marked the lowest point in their cricketing relations with West Indies.It is also the start of West Indies’ two-decade long supremacy, and an occasion which caused a livid Sunil Gavaskar to make a racially-charged comment about Jamaican people.

    But before we get to how Clive Lloyd unleashed a torrent of fast, dangerous, short-pitched bowling on India, sent half their top-order to the hospital and caused captain Bishan Singh Bedi to ‘surrender’ the match, we have to see what went on in Caribbean cricket before this match.

    Lloyd had made a fine start to his captaincy with a 3-2 win in India and the World Cup triumph of 1975. But it all changed with the tour of Australia.

    “There is basically not much between the two teams where talents and skills are concerned, and you don’t need a crystal ball to predict the outcome could hang on a slender thread,” Lloyd said upon his arrival in Australia.

    He couldn’t have been more wrong.

    Humiliation in Australia

    Alvin Kallicharran takes one in the face from Dennis Lillee during the 1975-76 tour to Australia.

    Alvin Kallicharran takes one in the face from Dennis Lillee during the 1975-76 tour to Australia.

    Greg Chappell’s side won 5-1. West Indies were done in by the furious pace of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee who took 56 wickets between them in the series. West Indies were broken in body and spirit — by Lillee and Thomson’s dangerous pace bowling, by biased umpiring and by an extremely hostile crowd that never lost a chance to heap abuse — often of the racial kind — on the visitors.

    “We were young, inexperienced, thrust into international cricket, thrown at the deep end,” notes Gordon Greenidge of his baptism by fire in the documentary film, Fire In Babylon. “We went out and all we could hear screaming into our ears was “Lillee! Lillee! Kill! Kill! Kill!”

    Bruised, beaten, humiliated, Lloyd said, “Never again.” He was now convinced that the shortest route to success was finding an army of vicious pace bowlers. And that’s what he did. He already had Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Bernard Julien and Vanburn Holder. He would add Colin Croft, Wayne Daniels, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall to his arsenal in the days to come.

    The Build-up to Jamaica

    Jamaica captain Maurice Foster managed to get on the Indians' nerves in a warm-up match before the Test series decider.

    Jamaica captain Maurice Foster managed to get on the Indians’ nerves in a warm-up match before the Test series decider.

    After a hammering in the Barbados Test, Bedi’s men bounced back hard in the next two matches in Port of Spain. Gavaskar made 156 in the drawn second Test, giving India a 161-run lead. With their confidence high, India created history in the third Test.

    West Indies set them 403. A win would have caused a world record chase. With hundreds from Gavaskar and G Vishwanath and Mohinder Amarnath’s 85, India chased the monstrous target down. “We were absolutely overjoyed since not only had we levelled the series, we had created a record.” Gavaskar wrote in Sunny Days.

    “This was undoubtedly India’s greatest Test victory. Cables arrived from the President and the Prime Minister of India other dignitaries.”

    As India moved to Jamaica to the play the decider, some diplomatic fires were lighted in a practice game. Bedi rested due to a finger injury. Captain for the game, Gavaskar batted at No. 9 because of a chin injury. He made 43, ensuring a seven-run lead. Gavaskar threw his wicket away and declared the innings, hoping to set up an interesting finish.

    Jamaica captain Maurice Foster thought otherwise. He continued to bat till the game was well out of the Indians’ reach. This didn’t go down well with Gavaskar. “I felt cheated,” he wrote. “To show my disapproval I bowled slow full tosses.” Jamaica eventually set the Indians 266 to win in two hours and the game ended in a draw.  According to Gavaskar, this was a sign of growing desperation to win in West Indies cricket.

    As the Jamaica Test got underway, Gavaskar and Anshuman Gaekwad took India to 98 without loss on a fresh, bouncy wicket. Lloyd and West Indies’ desperation had reached its tipping point.

    ‘Barbarism at Kingston’

    The Jamaican mob bayed for Indian blood, eliciting a racial taunt from Gavaskar in his book, Sunny Days.

    The Jamaican mob bayed for Indian blood, eliciting a racial taunt from Gavaskar in his book, Sunny Days.

    After lunch, Lloyd unleashed a new era in West Indian cricket: of the fast, nasty, life-threatening kind, the kind they endured at the hands of Lillee and Thomson, stretching the laws of cricket to their limit.

    Holding bowled three bouncers in an over to Gaekwad, followed by four and one beamer to Gavaskar in his next. The crowd loved it. They wanted blood. More beamers followed. Holding pretended the ball kept slipping out of his hand.

    Gavaskar devotes a whole chapter to the Test in his book. Titled ‘Barbarism in Kingston’, it carries this regrettable description of the public: “The partisan attitude was even more evident when they did not applaud any shots we played. At one stage I even demanded claps for a boundary shot off Daniel. All I got was laughter from the section, which certainly hadn’t graduated from the trees were they belonged. The whole thing was not cricket. The intention wasn’t to get a batsman out but to knock him out.”

    Gavaskar made 66 before being cleaned up by a Holding yorker. Gaekwad batted a day and a half for a brave 81, taking several body blows. He eventually had to retire hurt after being hit behind the left ear by the new ball. This was after Vishwanath had to visit the hospital with a finger broken trying to save his face from a vicious Holding bouncer.

    In the dressing room, the local authorities showed little urgency in getting Gaekwad treatment. He eventually got it when the team’s treasurer Balu Alagnan was sent to persuade Jamaican cricket officials to rush the injured opener to the hospital.

    Soon, Brijesh Patel’s upper lip was cut open by Holder. Bedi declared the innings at 306-6 fearing injury to bowlers. After the batsmen, it was now the bowlers’ turn to suffer. As West Indies racked up 391, B Chandrashekhar injured a finger while Bedi aggravated his own injury trying to catch Viv Richards off his own bowling.

    This wasn’t all. On the last day of the match, India’s twelfth man Surinder Amarnath had to be rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendicitis operation.

    India’s annihilation in the Test was complete. With Mohinder Amarnath ’s gutsy half-century, they reached 91-5 when Bedi decided he had had enough of the short-pitched stuff. With a lead of 12 runs, he declared.

    India’s second innings scorecard made astonishing reading:

    Gavaskar c Julien b Holding               2
    Vengsarkar lbw b Jumadeen                 21
    Amarnath st Murray b Jumadeen             60
    Madan Lal b Holding                       8
    Venkataraghavan b Holding                 0
    Kirmani not out                           0
    Gaekwad          absent hurt
    Viswanath        absent hurt
    Patel            absent hurt
    Bedi             absent hurt
    Chandrasekhar    absent hurt
    Extras (nb 6)                            6
    Total (all out, 26.2 overs)              97

    Eleven balls later, West Indies chased down the 13 they needed to win the game and the series.

    Aftermath of the Test

    India’s team manager Polly Umrigar called a press conference to protest against Lloyd’s dangerous tactics. Lloyd justified himself saying they had not complained about the punishment they received in Australia, so why should the Indians complain now? Their manager Clyde Walcott said India were ill-equipped to play fast bowling.

    West Indies took India’s declaration as a surrender. Wicketkeeper Deryck Murray says in Fire In Babylon, “The Indians thought we were overdoing the fast-bowling, surrendered the Test match to the West Indies almost as a show of protest.” Bedi later issued a statement asking their innings be considered completed.

    Some weeks later, Tony Greig would use the word “grovel”, leading to England’s annihilation in a home series by West Indies. Between the losses to Australia in 1976 and 1995, West Indies lost nothing and remained the strongest Test team around, thanks in no small part to their feeder line of great fast bowlers.

    Sabina Park’s bouncy wicket kept proving India’s bogey venue on successive tours. Six defeats and no wins later in 2006, India played here again with the series stuck on 0-0.

    On a minefield of a wicket, West Indies ran into the man they call The Wall. India won that encounter. It probably mitigated some of Bedi’s pain.

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