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When Gupte dismissed Sobers at Green Park

April 09, 2008 19:50 IST

He dismissed Sir Garfield Sobers only once in his career, but such was the guile and craft of Subhash Gupte that the legendary West Indies batsman believed there was no leg-spinner better than him.

"Warne's a great bowler but the best leg-spinner I've ever seen is still (Subhash) Gupte. He could do things that I still don't believe all these years later," said Sobers a couple of years back, putting the Indian ahead of the Australian and paying an ultimate tribute to a bowler who passed away a few years back [in May 2002, to be precise].

And at no other point was Gupte's brilliance more evident than the first innings of the second Test at Green Park in December 1958; it also happened to be the second ever Test at the venue.

West Indies, opting to bat first, were cruising at 55 for no loss when Gupte struck, getting the legendary opener Conrad Hunte caught by Chandu Borde. Eight runs later he accounted for Sobers, who had made only four before being snapped up by Manohar Hardika. It was the only instance when Sobers fell prey to the leg-spinner who he would later label as the best.

Thereafter, using his skills to the maximum, Gupte dismissed John Holt (jr), Rohan Kanhai, O'Neill Smith, Basil Butcher, Joseph Solomon, Franz Alexander and Wes Hall to return with career-best figures of 9 for 102 even as the formidable West Indies batting line-up was allowed to put on only 222 runs on board.

Even as Gupte ran through the West Indies batting order, 'keeper Naren Tamhane dropped Lance Gibbs off his bowling. And that was the only wicket that he didn't take [Vasant Ranjane became the beneficiary].

So, what was it about that Gupte spell that the Windies found it difficult to handle?

"Gupte had a special ability; he could turn the ball on any wicket," reminisces Borde, a member of that team.

"It was jute-matting and Gupte's line and length in that innings was immaculate. In fact, after his spell in the first innings we were hoping to win the match."

Did the wicket lend a helping hand?

"I remember in those days there was no turf wicket, rather a matting surface," said Nari Contractor, who scored 41 and 50 in that match.

"Gupte got the wickets on the first day itself." Borde concurred.

"I believe the West Indies couldn't adjust properly to the nature of the wicket. But in the second innings they did and scored big."

The visitors piled on 443/7 in their second innings -- after the Indian first innings had folded up for exactly 222, the same as the Windies -- and Sobers had his revenge, scoring a magnificent 198 as Gupte couldn't replicate his first innings success -- he took 1/121 to finish with match figures of 10/223.

"Sobers batted really well and though Gupte bowled well, he could not do much," recollects Borde.

Contractor offered a different perspective, saying Sobers was given a lifeline early on in his innings.

"In the second innings, Sobers was actually out, caught behind off Gupte again when he had made just two," informed Contractor. "I was standing nearby and could hear the snick clearly but he was given not out and went on to score big."

Gupte couldn't get Sobers out on any other occasion. But he did get the better of the Caribbeans on more occasions than one. 49 out of his 149 Test scalps came against the West Indies. That's probably the reason why Sobers rated him so high. 

For the record, India were dismissed for just 240 runs in their second innings as the visitors won by a whopping 203 runs -- certainly not something that Gupte deserved after scripting such a magnificent story in the first innings. But, then, not every story has a happy ending. 

Bikash Mohapatra in Kanpur