Great Test Matches XXIII: Australia v India, Brisbane, 1968

2009 Apr 20 by DreamCricket

"Indian cricket must be possessing riches if it could afford to overlook a performer so abundantly gifted as Jaisimha." - Bill O'Reilly

By Gulu Ezekiel

India's second tour of Australia saw the tourists being beaten conclusively in both the first Test at Adelaide and the second at Melbourne.

An injury to leg spinner BS Chandrasekhar meant an SOS was sent out to ML Jaisimha as his replacement prior to the third Test at Brisbane.

It had been a shock that Jaisimha had not been selected in the original touring party under the captaincy of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.

Both the three-day match against Queensland and the one-day game scheduled against Queensland Country XI at Brisbane had been washed out. That left the tourists short of match practice after the Melbourne Test.

As for Jaisimha, he flew from Hyderabad to Brisbane, catching numerous connecting flights and arriving just before the Test with no chance at all to test out the Australian tracks. In the light of his subsequent batting feat, it was a marvelous performance considering the debilitating effects of jetlag.

Pataudi won the toss as he had done in Melbourne in the previous Test, but this time he asked Australia to bat first. The batting had collapsed at Melbourne after India took first strike and Pataudi wanted to protect his batsmen from any early life in the Gabba wicket.

Bill Lawry, in his first Test as captain and Ian Redpath took full advantage of the lack of quick bowlers in the opposition and dominated the opening session to put on 76 for the first wicket before Redpath fell to off-spinner EAS Prasanna for 41.

The spinners now came into their own. After just a few overs of ineffective medium pace, Surti switched to spin and with fellow-left-handers Bishan Singh Bedi and Bapu Nadkarni, the quartet restricted the mighty Aussie batting line-up to 312 for 7 on the opening day from 89 overs (77 of which were bowled by the spinners).

Lawry, Bob Cowper, Paul Sheahan and Doug Walters all contributed half-centuries but none could reach three figures and when medium pacer Umesh Kulkarni captured the final wicket of Walters for 93 on the second morning, the home side were all out for 379.

Once again the fragile top order crumbled and at 9 for 3, there seemed little hope for the beleaguered Indian batting. Farrokh Engineer, Abid Ali and Ajit Wadekar fell cheaply to the pace bowlers. But the best Aussie bowler was surprisingly Cowper who captured seven wickets in the match with his innocuous off-spinners.

Pataudi now joined Surti at the crease in a desperate bid to restore some respectability. The all-rounder was enjoying a purple patch in the series and in 156 minutes of classy batting they put on 128 for the fourth wicket.

Surti reached his second 50 of the series while Pataudi, still struggling with a leg injury that forced him to miss the opening Test, was all class in his innings of 74 that included 10 fours and a six. Batting virtually on one leg in the second Test at Melbourne, 'Tiger' had reeled off 75 and 85 and here again he showed his superb technique and temperament before falling lbw to opening bowler Eric Freeman.

Surti was out just two runs later and at 139 for 5, India were virtually back to square one.

Chandu Borde also fell cheaply and Jaisimha and Nadkarni were together with the score reading a sorry 169 for 6 by stumps on the second day.

Overnight on 16, Jaisimha batted superbly on the third day and certainly proved a point.

His 74 took nearly four hours and with useful runs from Prasanna there were even visions of India gaining the first innings lead. That was not to be and Australia's lead was exactly 100. Jack Fingleton writing in The Hindu was pretty impressed. "Jaisimha is naturally a good cricketer. He must be so to bat so assuredly today after not even one good net practice." The Aussie batting legend, like all others watching Jai bat, simply could not fathom the folly of leaving him out of the original team. And their bewilderment would only increase at the end of the Test match.

Once again the openers gave the home side a good start, this time with a century stand. And once again the top order all scored useful runs without any converting into a big score. The Indian spinners kept pegging away and they were rewarded as Australia failed to reach 300 for the first time in the series. Prasanna was the pick, troubling all the batsmen and finished with splendid figures of 6 for 104 off 34.4 overs.

The target was 395, a score till then only once before surpassed by a winning side and surely beyond the scope of the Indian batsmen. At 177 for 4 by close of the penultimate day, the mountain appeared even steeper. Surti's second 50 of the match, 48 from Pataudi and a rollicking 47 by opener Abid Ali however kept the Indian flame just about flickering.

Jaisimha, overnight on 5, was the hero of the final day's run chase. Indeed, as his century partnership with Borde (63) mounted, Lawry practically threw in the towel.

Borde was out to Cowper at 310 for 6 and now it was left to Jaisimha to wage a lone hand. The next four wickets fell for 45 runs of which he scored all but 11. Jai got to his century after nearly five hours at the crease with last man Kulkarni keeping him company. When he was finally caught by Gleeson off Cowper for 101, the target was just 39 runs away.

It was the closest India had come to winning a Test on foreign soil in nearly 36 years of trying. That landmark would be achieved a month later in New Zealand.

Jai was the lone Indian century maker of the series. Losing the fourth and final Test in Sydney completed the 4-0 whitewash. Bill O'Reilly, writing tongue-in-cheek could only wonder: "Indian cricket must be possessing riches if it could afford to overlook a performer so abundantly gifted as Jaisimha."