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Great Test Matches Part I: India vs Australia, Kolkata, 1956 - Chetan Narula Column
by Chetan Narula
Sep 27, 2008
Saying that Sir Don Bradman wasn't part of a really great Test match against India wouldn't actually be blasphemy. That's because a game of cricket would be deemed great - from a neutral perspective that is - if both the sides are at equal pegging with each other. And it so happens that when the great Don played India, he merely butchered them in 1947-48, like he did every one else!

It took Australia to land in the sub-continent for the Indians to have a position of equality against a much better opposition. They arrived in the autumn of 1956 to play a three match series in this country. Just prior to this, they had been to Pakistan playing, and losing, a one off Test match by nine wickets there, but more importantly already accustomed a bit to the conditions on their very first tour of India. Something teams give due importance to, even today, fifty-two years hence!

The first Test was played at Madras (Chennai) and Australia won by an innings and five runs. India batted first and batted very slow, inspite of a majority of Aussie bowlers on the injured roster, which was ultimately to be their downfall. Richie Benuad took 7 for 72 as India made 161. Ghulam Ahmed and Vinoo Mankad did their best to restrict the opposition batsmen, but partnerships amongst the tail-enders saw them reach 319, a lead of 158. In India's second innings, a fit-again Ray Lindwall showed fine stamina and accuracy despite the heat to scalp out seven wickets, and Australia won with over a day to spare.

In the second Test at Bombay (Mumbai), Australia dominated again in favourable conditions. Lindwall was leading the side now and alongwith Pat Crawford and Ken Mackay made life miserable for the home side. Jim Burke and Neil Harvey then struck centuries, batting as if there was no tomorrow. For 73 overs, they mauled the Indian bowling after which Harvey left, only for Burke to be joined in by Peter Burge as the two put on another 137 runs. Staring at another innings defeat, India went into intense rearguard action as Pankaj Roy and Polly Umrigar painted a picture of immense concentration, helping the team secure a draw.

So, the action moved on to the majestic Eden Gardens for the final test, with both teams fully aware that all three outcomes for the series were still possible. Australia may have held the higher ground in the previous two games, but in the sub-continent, they only knew too well that the tide could turn quickly with a turning track. And their worst fears must have come true when they first saw the pitch. It was, quite obviously, a square turner.

Polly Umrigar won the toss and had no hesitation in putting the opposition to bat. For all their high scores in the first two tests, Australia's fallibility against spin on a turning track was well and truly exposed as they failed to reach even 200. One can gauge the amount of turn that was there in the pitch to be exploited by the mere fact that Gulabrai Ramchand delivered just two overs before the Indian skipper brought on Ghulam Ahmed into the attack!

In a mesmerizing spell, the off spinner took three wickets for three runs in 6.2 overs as Australia were tottering at 22 for 3. It could have been four had Ahmed not put down a return catch from Ian Craig. Cricket history is rife with examples that beneficiaries of such kind deeds then go on to make the benefactors pay. And so did Craig as he put on 68 runs with Burge to steer Australia out of desperation.

Burge completed his fifty before Ghulam Ahmed returned to scalp four more wickets and thus bowled Australia out for a mere 177. The off-spinner finished with his best ever figures of 7 for 49, his previous effort being 5 for 70.

Rain delayed the start of the second day by an hour, but when play finally commenced, Nari Contractor and Vijay Manjrekar batted with level headedness. Only until the ground dried up a bit upon which Richie Benaud came into the attack. From the on, it was more like, 'What Ghulam Ahmed can do, I can do better' for the legendary leg-spinner. Once he had removed both the set batsmen, the Indian batting melted away from 76 for 3 to 136 all out.

That is a loss of seven wickets for just sixty runs and meant that despite all odds, the Aussies had managed a lead of 41 runs. A slim lead, yes, given the standards they set in the entire series, but even then, crucial enough to turn the tide on a 22-yard turner.

When Australia batted again, it was beyond Ghulam Ahmed to do it all over again just by himself. Standing in the way of the possibility of an Indian win was Harvey, as he again came good with a solid 69, compiled over a grueling three hour stay at the wicket. Though there were hardly any other major contributions, but four batsmen from the lower middle order contributed twenties each. Burke, Mackay, Benaud and Lindwall, all hit out against India's spin attack to post a challenging 231 as target for the home side to level the series. Vinoo Mankad picked up four wickets as Ahmed added another three to his first innings tally.

By lunch on the fourth day, India were batting steadily but steadfastly towards the target, when lightning indeed struck for the second time. As with the Indian bowling, Benuad couldn't do it by himself, so he had Burke bowl his gentle off breaks, which well, turned out to be not that gentle in reality, and more lethal in effect than Mankad's supporting effort.

Burke got his Test best figures of 4 for 37 while Benaud picked his second five wicket haul for his match figures to read 11 for 105, as India collapsed from 3 for 94 to 136 all out, again. This time they lost seven wickets for a mere 42 runs.

India lost the match by 94 runs even though the pitch suited them to the tee, as proven by the fact that 35 of the 39 wickets to fall went to the spinners' kitty. Australia thus won the third Test inside four days to clinch the series 2-0.
 
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