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India-Australia thrillers

December 26, 2007

Text: Haresh Pandya

With the battle Down Under underway, here's a brief accounts of the five most exciting Tests between India and Australia.

(Kanpur 1959-60)

This particular Test afforded a classic example of cricket being a game of glorious uncertainties. India had lost 11 of its last 14 Tests, including one by an innings and 336 runs, before tasting its maiden triumph against Richie Benaud's all-conquering Australian team at Green Park.

The visitors had already won the first Test in Delhi by an innings and 127 runs and were in a mood to crush the hosts 4-0 in the series. Why, the Indians seemed to be relishing their losing streak (pun intended) even under new captain GS Ramchand.

But a master stroke by Lala Amarnath, the chairman of selectors, did the trick. A good reader of wickets, Amarnath was certain the newly-laid Green Park turf would assist spinners. He knew the Australian batsmen's traditional weakness against off-spin bowling. So he took a gamble and recalled the almost forgotten 36-year-old Jasu Patel. The unassuming Gujarat off-spinner, who had played only 4 Tests until then, had a reputation of being the best matting wicket bowler in the country.

India won the toss and elected to bat. Since the spin was going to hold the key on this particular pitch, Benaud (in picture) brought himself on in the fifth over itself and removed the openers Nari Contractor (24) and Pankaj Roy (17) when India's score was 47. He took 2 more wickets to finish with 4 for 63. Left-arm fast bowler Allan Davidson claimed 5 for 31. India was sent packing for a paltry 152.

When the Indian bowlers failed to separate the openers Colin McDonald and Gavin Stevens in the rest of the first day, it appeared as if Australia would post a big total and hand out another humiliating defeat to the hosts. But it was not for nothing that Amarnath had gambled on Patel. Came the second day and Patel ran through the Australian innings, bamboozling most of the star batsmen.

But for McDonald (53), Neil Harvey (51) and Allan Davidson (41) offering some resistance, Australia would not have mustered even 219 runs it eventually did. Patel returned dream figures of 35.5-16-69-9 . Chandu Borde, who bowled the dangerous Norman O'Neill for 16, deprived Patel of a rare feat of taking all the ten Australian wickets.

Having conceded a 67-run lead, India fared much better in the second innings and scored 291 runs thanks to handsome contributions from Contractor (74), Ramanath Kenny (51), Bapu Nadkarni (46), Borde (44) and Abbas Ali Baig (36). Davidson bowled tirelessly on a turning track and took 7 for 93 in 57.3 overs.

Australia required 225 runs in 400 minutes to go 2-0 up in the rubber. Considering Australia's formidable batting line-up, many felt it would be a cakewalk for the visitors to thrash the hosts. There was still 100 minutes' play left on the penultimate day and the Australian openers began to reduce the victory target against the friendly medium-pace stuff of Ramchand and Surendranath.

But pretty soon Ramchand launched a double off-spin attack of Patel and Polly Umrigar. As expected, Patel consumed Stevens for 7. What was interesting was that part-time offie Umrigar was proving more dangerous for the Aussies than their first innings' tormentor. It was Umrigar who took the all-important wicket of Harvey, when he had the southpaw caught by Bapu Nadkarni in slips for 25. At close, Australia was 59 for 2 with McDonald and O'Neill at the crease. With Ken "Slasher" Mackay and allrounders Benaud and Davidson yet to come, Australia seemed to be heading for a sure win.

But in the very first over of the final day, Umrigar dismissed O'Neill and showed a glimmer of hope of a rare Indian win. Umrigar then broke the back of the Australian batting by removing Mackay, who had the dubious distinction of registering a pair in this Test. Umrigar had taken three crucial wickets and completely overshadowed Patel until then. Patel then took over and dismissed Davidson for 8 and Benaud for 0. Umrigar dealt another blow and bowled wicketkeeper Barry Jarman for 0. The Aussies were 84 for 8 when Patel bowled Lindsay Kline with a vicious off-cutter.

With the Australian wickets falling at regular intervals, the excited spectators started celebrating in advance what was going to be a sensational Indian victory.

The only Aussie who had handled Patel and Umrigar with the right technique and temperament was opener McDonald. He was still there, making game efforts now to save the Test for his country. The confidence with which he was batting, he threatened to carry his bat through the innings. However, he came down the wicket to hit Patel in his 25th over, missed the ball and Naren Tamhane whipped off his bails in a split second. McDonald top-scored, again, with a painstaking 34.

The last man, fast bowler Gordon Rorke, could not bat as he was indisposed. So the Australian innings folded at 105 in 57.4 overs. India won by 119 runs. Patel bagged 5 for 55 in 25.4 overs, which gave him 14 wickets in the Test. Umrigar, who turned out to be India's unlikely hero on the fifth day, had amazing figures, both in terms of economy as well as reward, 25-11-27-4.

Led by Ramchand, Patel and Umrigar, the Indian team did a victory lap on Green Park amid thunderous applause of thousands of spectators, who had reasons to indulge in wild celebrations. The Indian players had not only humbled the "invincible" Aussies but also erased bad memories of the last tour of England, where they lost all the five Tests under Dattaji Gaekwad.

This remains one of India's greatest wins of all-time

Photographs: Getty Images

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