Right now, there are 12 Test-playing nations. In 1971, exactly 50 years ago, this number was much smaller.
With South Africa absent from the international scene, only six countries played Test cricket at the time. Obviously the number of Tests played was relatively low, but there were plenty of eventful matches played.
However, here I don’t intend to discuss the matches played in the year 1971. Instead I want to form a team consisting of players making their Test debut in the year.
The total number is 20. Both Pakistan and India found one of their greatest cricketers in this year. Elsewhere, Australia found their champion fast bowler of the decade.
But there is great imbalance in the choices available. I found three world-class quickies (with a number of possible back-ups) and the spinners are okay. There is not one but three choices available for the wicketkeeping role.
The main problem is with the middle-order batting. Greg Chappell delaying his Test debut by a month would have helped me greatly. South Africa’s absence probably denied me the option of Clive Rice.
In the end I came up with a slightly imbalanced but still a fairly strong Test squad. So, now to my team.
Desmond Lewis (West Indies)
A wicketkeeper-batsman, Lewis played three Tests against India in 1971. He scored 259 runs at an impressive average of 86.33 with three 50s. For some unknown reason this was his only Test series. Here, I have picked him just as a batsman.
Ken Eastwood (Australia)
It was a straight fight between two one-Test wonders for the second opening slot. Kenia Jayantilal from India scored five runs in his only Test innings. Eastwood from Victoria managed five and zero against England in the seventh Test of the 1970-71 series. But it’s his ability to bowl left-arm unorthodox spin that has tilted my decision in his favour.
He was already in his mid-30s when he played his only Test match. He got his chance mainly based on a fine Sheffield Shield season with Victoria. Brought in the team to replace an out-of-favour Bill Lawry, he failed to impress, struggling badly against the Poms’ new-ball attack of John Snow and Peter Lever.
His Test bowling average is 21.00. He dismissed Keith Fletcher in the second innings – no mean achievement because Fletcher’s main reputation was as an excellent player of spin bowling. According to the Australian Cricket Society, Eastwood got two Test caps despite playing just one.
John Jameson (England)
A hard-hitting opening bat, he is picked to bat at number three in my team. His Test average of 26.75 in four Tests isn’t impressive, but it could have been much better if he hadn’t run himself out three times in his first four innings.
In the famous Oval Test of 1971, he was run out in both innings. On the first day he scored a highly entertaining 82, hitting ten fours and two sixes. He was especially harsh on Bishan Bedi, treating him like a club bowler. Failure in two Tests in the Caribbean in 1974 ended his Test career.
He was a part of the England World Cup team of 1975, but failed to take his chances properly. He came to Bangladesh with the MCC team twice, in 1978-79 and in 1980-81. On the second occasion he acted as the vice-captain to the skipper Micheal Mence.
He became a huge favourite with the Dacca crowd for his rather bulky figure. He also did some coaching with the Tigers. His interest in Bangla cricket had something to do with his South Asian connection. He was born in Bombay during the war days.
Sunil Gavaskar (India)
An interesting fact about the Indian legend is that while he was one of the greatest opening batsmen in Test history, his highest Test of score of 236* came while batting in the number four position. This came against the West Indies in Madras during the Christmas period of 1983. In the process he also broke Sir Don Bradman’s record for the highest number of Test hundreds.
Back in 1971 he a made sensational debut against the West Indies, scoring 774 runs four Tests (average 154.80). Things however evened out in England. In three Tests, he scored 144 runs at 24 each. In the second innings at the Oval, he got his first Test duck, LBW to Snow. However, I must add that the LBW decision was highly debatable.
Gavaskar did score two half centuries in the series, and he always rated his 57 in the first innings at Old Trafford against John Price and Peter Lever – John Snow was dropped on disciplinary grounds – as technically one of the best innings he ever played.
It was cloudy at Manchester on the second day of the match – perfect for pace bowling – and there were a number of interruptions. But many pundits view his 101 in equally challenging conditions at the same venue – for a losing cause three years later – as his best innings. He was the eighth man out, run out trying to protect the tail-enders from strike.
Back to 1971, Gavaskar ended the year in Australia playing for the Rest of the World team under Gary Sobers, opening the batting against Australia’s new fast-bowling sensation Dennis Lillee.
Richard Hutton (England)
As the son of a famous father, it was always going to be a difficult task for Richard at the highest level, but actually he didn’t do too badly in the five Tests that he played in 1971.
His Test batting average of 36.50 is 15 runs higher than his county average. His best score 81 interestingly came in his final Test at the Oval. On the opening day, Hutton (81) and Alan Knott (90) had shared a century stand for the seventh wicket against India.
A more-than-useful medium pacer, he took nine wickets at less than 29 runs per wicket in Tests. His best bowling of 3-72 came in front of his home crowd at Headingley.
In 1980-81, Hutton toured Bangladesh with the MCC team. John Jameson and John Hampshire were the other two players with Test experience in the team. The other notable members of the team were Mark Nicholas and Dermott Monteith, the Irish legend.
I was at the Dacca stadium for the second day of the three-day match for MCC against the Bangladesh national team, and I watched Hutton score a quick-fire unbeaten 50, hitting the last three balls of the day for sixes. I was very upset sitting in the gallery, as Syed Ashraful, my childhood hero, was the unfortunate bowler.
Imran Khan (Pakistan)
Just 19, Imran made his debut at Edgbaston in June, but went wicket-less in the match. The Pakistan selectors are always renowned for pushing a young talent to the highest level without giving him enough time to develop himself. This was a similar case. Here, his family’s strong influence also played a part.
It was only during the 1976-77 season that Imran become a regular with the Pakistan team. At the MCG in January 1977, he took 5-122 in the second innings, his first five-wicket haul in Tests. He went to the next gear in the next Test at the SCG. His 12-wicket haul helped Pakistan create history.
Kerry O’Keeffe (Australia)
Keith Boyce of the West Indies has a much better Test record as an all-rounder, but for the sake of the balance in my team, I have opted for the NSW leggie.
Great things were expected of him when he made his debut at the MCG, but eventually he ended up being a containing rather than a match-winning bowler. His economy rate of 2.24 is impressive, less impressive is his strike rate of 101.50.
If anything, he was more impressive as a useful lower-order bat. However, his Test batting average of 25.76 was certainly boosted by three not-out innings at the end of his career.
Bob Taylor (England)
After watching the seven-Test Ashes series from the pavilion, Taylor was given his chance in the first Test of the NZ series in Christchurch. Allan Knott was fit and available, but the management thought that Taylor deserved an opportunity.
This, however, was his only Test for six years, and it was the only the departure of Knott to World Series Cricket duties that saw Taylor return to Test cricket late in 1977. But he ended up representing England in 57 Tests, playing up to the age of 43.
His most memorable effort came in Bombay in early 1980. In the Indian first innings, he took seven catches, equalling the record set by Wasim Bari of Pakistan. It’s still a record, although others have equalled the fit over the last 40 years.
With the bat, he came to the wicket with England struggling at 5-58, but he batted for four and half hours to score a patient 43, and more importantly helped Ian Botham smash a hundred. Botham also took 13 wickets in the match as England won by ten wickets.
Dennis Lillee (Australia)
Making his debut at the Adelaide Oval in January 1971, the West Australian quickie made an immediate impact, taking 5-84. John Edrich was his first victim, dismissed very late on the first day.
He always seemed to reserve his best for the old enemy. At the Oval in 1972, he took ten wickets to lead Australia to a comfortable victory.
A career-threatening injury meant that he was out of Test cricket for almost two years but returned just in time for the Ashes summer of 1974-75 and destroyed the England batting with his new buddy, Jeff Thomson.
Bob Willis (England)
Willis got his chance in the 1970-71 England team for their tour down under as a replacement for the injured Alan Ward. He played in five Tests on the tour. Over the next few years, he was considered more as a support bowler in the national team.
Much was expected of him and Peter Lever during the 1974 tour to Australia, but in the end it was the Aussie quickies who dominated the series. He made a remarkable comeback in 1976 after a double knee surgery. At Headingley, his first five-for in Tests (5-42) against the Caribbean team gave England an outside chance of victory. In the end, they lost by 55 runs.
His 5-27 in Calcutta on the New Year’s Day of 1977 helped England to a comfortable victory. He impressed the huge crowd at the Eden Gardens immensely. And his hair style became especially popular among the young boys of Calcutta.
He played a big part in England’s Ashes success of 1977, taking 27 wickets at less than 20 apiece. But Headingley 1981 was without doubt the high point of his career.
Unfortunately, his final Test in 1984, also at the same venue, against the Windies proved a harrowing experience for him. There was no rhythm in his bowling, a clear indication that the knees were no longer able to take the burdens associated with fast bowling.
Jack Noreiga (West Indies)
Off spinner Noreiga was already 35 when he made his Test debut at Kingston. In four Tests, all against India at home, Noreiga took 17 wickets at a respectable average of 29 and contributed just 11 runs with the bat.
But he got his name in the record books in the second Test at the Queen’s Park Oval, taking 9-95 in the Indian first innings. Medium pacer Grayson Shillingford broke the opening partnership dismissing Ashok Mankad for 44, but after that it was all Noreiga. In the process he became the first bowler to dismiss Sunil Gavaskar in Tests, caught by Clive Lloyd.
His 9-95 is still a West Indies record in Tests. At the time it was the best bowling in an innings for a losing team. It improved Subhas Gupte’s 9-102 at Kanpur against the West Indies in December 1958. Kapil Dev now holds the record after taking 9-83 at Ahmedabad against the Windies in 1983.
12th man: Keith Boyce (West Indies)
Although he made his debut against India at Georgetown, it was at the Oval two years later that Keith Boyce really announced himself to the cricketing world. After taking the 11 wickets in his first five Tests he took 11 more here, as the West Indies ended their winless streak of almost five years. With the bat, he contributed 72 from 99 deliveries batting in true Caribbean fashion. Further success with the ball came at Lord’s in the final Test of the summer.
In Adelaide in January 1976, Boyce was adjudged the man of the match despite his team suffering a heavy defeat. He scored 95* and 69 in the match batting in a carefree manner against a strong Aussies pace attack. But he was struggling as a medium-pace bowler, and the emergence of some hostile pace bowlers pushed him in to the back stages within a year. His first class career ended abruptly in 1977, due to serious knee problems.
The other players
Eight other players made their Test debut in 1971.
Kenia Jayantilal (India): opening batsman
Pociah Krisnamurthi (India): wicketkeeper
Arthur Barrett (West Indies): leg spinner
Inshan Ali (West Indies): left-arm unorthodox spin
Uton Dowe (West Indies): fast bowler
Ross Duncan (Australia): fast bowler
Tony Dell (Australia): fast bowler
Murray Webb (NZ): fast bowler