Column | Madan Lal – a never-say-die cricketer

Madan Lal
Madan Lal was a gutsy all-rounder. File photo

To the cricket enthusiasts of my generation, India winning the 1983 World Cup was the most significant event of our adolescence. The winning streak of “Kapil’s Devils”, which started once the skipper bailed them out of a hopless situation during the league match against Zimbabwe, carried them to the final against the mighty West Indies. Then, in the biggest upset that cricket world had witnessed till then, India humbled the reigning champions by a comfortable margin of 43 runs to lift the title. The thrill that followers of the game in our country experienced when Kapil held aloft the trophy can never be expressed in mere words.


For a greater part of the match, it appeared as if India would not only lose the game, but do so by a large margin. In the first place we were bundled out for a low score of 183; when the West Indies innings began, after the early fall of the wicket of Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards started blasting away in manner that suggested that he was in a hurry finish the match early.It is acknowledged by everyone who saw the game or even read or heard about it that the turning point came when Kapil took a brilliant catch to dismiss the marauding Richards. Much has been written about Kapil’s athleticism that made a difficult catch appear simple as well about the over confidence of Richards that brought about his downfall. But the bowler who foxed the best batsman in the world into mishitting a pull shot has seldom received credit for his efforts.


The bowler in question - Madan Lal - had reasons to feel on top of the world. He had been treated with disdain by Richards during the previous over and but for the wicket of Desmond Haynes, who hit a catch to Roger Binny at cover, he would have found himself out of the attack. But the dismissal of Haynes gave him the courage to ask his skipper to allow him another over. There was something about the manner in which Richards was batting that gave him the clue that the great man might get a little complacent on seeing him running in to bowl again. Madan Lal barged in and bowled one just short of good length and Richards rocked on to the back foot for a mighty pull. But the ball was not pitched short enough for that shot and it struck the upper portion of the bat and ballooned towards deep mid-wicket region where no fielder was posted. Kapil ran backwards for a good 30 yards from orthodox mid-wicket position and plucked the ball out of thin air.


Though the exit of Richards turned the tide in favour of India, West Indies still had their captain Clive Lloyd and the dependable Larry Gomes, who could swing the fortunes in their favour in a low scoring game. But Madan Lal ensured that a revival did not occur by accounting for Gomes, who was caught by Sunil Gavaskar at slip. And when Binny lured Lloyd into hitting at catch to Kapil at mid off India had the match firmly in their grasp. Though a 43-run partnership between Jeff Dujon and Malcolm Marshall created a few moments of tension, this was not sufficient to repair the damage and the West Indies folded up for 140.

Madan Lal
Madan Lal had a big role in India's shock win over the West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final. File photo: IANS


Incidentally, this was not the first time that Madan Lal had dismissed Richards at a critical moment in a crucial match for India. Flashback to 1974, which was by far the worst year for Indian cricket during the last half century. India had been routed in the three-Test series against England, losing all matches by huge margins. And when the side lost the first two Tests of the home series against the West Indies in the winter, despair seized Indian hearts. Were we reverting to the dark ages of the 1950s when we were the favourite whipping boys of international cricket? Were the three back-to-back series victories from 1971 to 1973 a flash in the pan?


India made five changes for the third Test of the series at Kolkata. Along with the return of skipper Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and B S Chandrasekhar (Chandra), who sat out the game at Delhi, India decided to blood in two youngsters - Karsan Ghavri and Anshuman Gaekwad. And Madan Lal, who was in the wilderness after playing two Tests in England, was recalled. After being dismissed for 233 in the first innings, India struck back to restrict West Indies to a total of 240, helped by a disciplined spell of bowling by Madan Lal, who picked up 4/22 runs off 16 overs. A brilliant century by Gundappa Viswanath took India to a total of 316 in their second knock, thus setting the visitors a target of 310. The fact that wicket had started turning and India had three top drawer spin bowlers in their side gave some hope to the hosts that they might be able to win this match.


West Indies lost Gordon Greenidge early and Roy Fredericks, their centurion in the first inning, fell to Bishan Singh Bedi, when the total reached 41. At this stage, Richards joined Alvin Kallicharan, who was tackling the Indian spinners comfortably, and the pair took charge of the proceedings in grand style. Richards had made his debut in the first Test of the series at Bangalore but could not do much as he was all at sea when confronted with Chandra. However, in the second Test, where Chandra sat out, Richards made hay scoring 192. He was run-out in the first innings at Kolkata and he started as if he was determined to make amends for the low score in the earlier outing. None of the Indian spinners could make any impression on him as he cut, drove and pulled them with ease and took the total past 100. As Indian shoulders started drooping, skipper Pataudi summoned Madan Lal back into the attack, more in hope than anything else.


The return of Madan Lal also sent the signal that Indian spinners had thrown in the towel, which marked a major victory for the batsmen. Despite his spell in the first innings, the medium-pace of Madan Lal was not expected to trouble the top West Indies batsmen, who started looking for some easy pickings. Richards, in particular, was lulled into a sense of complacency and when the bowler pitched one ball at the good length spot, he played back instead of playing firmly forward. The ball cut in sharply and found the gap between the bat and pad of the batsman to rattle the stumps. The dismissal of Richards brought the spinners back into the attack and the run flow also abated and West Indies finished the day on 146/3. This was a far cry from the score of 200-plus, which looked likely when Richards was at the crease.


The Indian spinners bowled out the West Indies for 224 on the last day, which happened to be the first day of January, 1975. Fans in India were overjoyed that the national side had managed to break the losing streak that plagued them throughout the previous year. The roles of Viswanath and the spin trio of Chandra, Bedi and Prasanna and even the captaincy skills of Pataudi were applauded by the media. But hardly anyone offered a word of praise for Madan Lal, who took the wicket of Richards at a critical juncture and ensured that India had something left to fight with on the New Year. His knock of 48, incidentally the second highest score in India’s first innings, and tally of 4/22, besides the wicket of Richards in the second knock, failed to make headlines!

Madan Lal & Sachin Tendulkar
Madan Lal was the head coach during Sachin Tendulkar's first stint as Team India captain. File photo: AFP/ Aamir Qureshi


Failing to win recognition for doughty match-saving performances was a recurring feature of Madan Lal’s career. Hailing from Amritsar in Punjab, he cut his cricketing teeth in Delhi, under the watchful eyes of Bedi, and forced his way to the national squad to tour England in 1974 on the strength of outstanding performances in domestic cricket. A medium-pacer who was also a useful lower order batsman, he was uncomfortable against the short rising ball during the early years in international cricket. His career at the highest level fell into two phases - the first one from 1974 till 1977 and the next from 1981 till 1987. He was the leading or sole pace bowler in the playing eleven during the games in 1970s while he played second fiddle to Kapil on his return to the side in 1981. He was dropped from the side after the second Test of the series against Australia in 1977-78 as selectors preferred Karsan Ghavri who was quicker with the ball and a more gutsy batsman.


Madan Lal forced his way back to the national side when England toured India in 1981-82 and announced his arrival with a five-wicket haul in the very first Test of this series. But he found wickets to be rather elusive after that as his final tally of 71 wickets in 39 Tests would indicate. However, he evolved into an archetypal limited overs cricketer, where his outstanding fielding ability and capacity for bowling a tight line, especially during the end overs, were added assets. Though he was ridiculed by many as a bits-and-pieces player, his ability to contribute substantially on the field was recognised by both Gavaskar and Kapil, who led India during this period. So implicit was Kapil’s faith in him that he was called for the Test at Leeds, Headingly, in 1986, despite not being a member of the squad. This match proved to his last Test and his international career ended in 1987, when he was not considered for the World Cup. After his playing days were over, he served a stint as coach of national side and was also a national selector during the 1990s.


The real worth of Madan Lal’s contribution to Indian cricket cannot be understood from the rather modest tally of 1,443 runs and 144 wickets in 106 outings (39 Tests and 67 One -Day Internationals) for the country. He was a gutsy, hardworking, largehearted, and never-say-die cricketer who always put his best foot forward and contributed selflessly to the cause of the team. His place is second to none in the pantheon of heroes who brought pride to the country in the cricketing arena during the 1980s.

(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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