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Great Test Matches Part III: India v Australia, Delhi 1969 - Chetan Narula Column
by Chetan Narula
Nov 02, 2008
Australia undertook their fourth tour of India in November 1969, embarking on a five test series against India and a further trip to Sri Lanka after that. The last two seasons had seen them do quite well in international cricket, with wins against India and West Indies at home, as also a draw in between with England and thus retaining the Ashes. It wasn't as if they were the strongest team in world cricket at the moment, instead it was a fairly balanced side with their chief strength being their batting line-up: skipper Bill Lawry, Keith Stackpole, Ian Chappell, Doug Walters, Ian Redpath and Paul Sheahan, ably supported by the pace of Graham McKenzie and Alan Connolly and spin of Ashley Mallett and John Gleeson.

What also contributed to the strengthened position of the visitors was the fact that Indian cricket was in a state of turmoil at that particular moment. And the prime reason for the same was the chairman of selectors at that moment Vijay Merchant, who, much against the wished of captain Tiger Pataudi, wanted to infuse young blood into the team. It wasn't as if the skipper was against that policy, but wholesome changes were being made to the side and they had almost cost India a home series against New Zealand.

Australia won the first Test by a huge margin of eight wickets. The match saw a quick end as the Indian batting collapsed in the second innings to leave the visitors just 64 runs to win on the final day. In the first innings too, only Ashok Mankad and skipper Pataudi stood tall with fighting half centuries. In reply, the visitors' whole batting got starts while Keith Stackpole went on to compile a hundred. Prasanna grabbed five wickets but the second innings failure gave the Indian bowlers absolutely nothing to bowl with.

The Indian batting finally found its lost touch as they put up good scores in both the innings to salvage a draw in the second Test at Kanpur. Ashok Mankad made another fifty as did Farokh Engineer, but the rest of the batting failed to get going even as they got starts. Replying to the hosts' 320, Australia racked up 348 as Paul Sheehan took turns to frustrate the Indian bowlers in this match.

The match is however known for the arrival of Gundappa Viswanath on the scene, as part of Merchant's youth policy. After getting out for a duck in the first innings, he struck his maiden test hundred in the second essay, supported again by Mankad, as India declared at 312 for seven trying their best to make a match out of it. But if they thought they could fashion an Aussie collapse, they were wrong as Lawry and Stackpole blunted the Indian bowling for 44 overs to return to the pavilion without any losses.

The Indian team went into the third Test at Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi knowing that it could not afford to lose another game in this series. The pitch laid out was an absolute grassless one, like it is so at the Kotla almost always. And thus it was imperative for the visitors to win the toss and bat first to negate the Indian spin attack.

Skipper Lawry correctly called the coin and elected to bat first, getting the first hurlde out of the way. He opened the batting with Stackpole but lost his stumps to Subroto Guha for only six runs. Ian Chappell came out at number three and 67 runs for the second wicket before the other opener was stumped by Engineer off Bedi for 61 runs.

This dismissal offset an Australian collapse as the Indian spinners started weaving their web of guile and turn on a responsive pitch. Prasanna removed Walters and Redpath in quick succession, and when Bedi bowles Sheahan for 4, Australia had lost three wickets for thirty three runs.

Ian Chappell though dug in, doing best what number three batsmen do best, holding together a crumbling innings with a fighting ton, notching up 133 runs in the process. He finally found an able supporter, who could stop the deluge of wickets from the other end, keeper Brian Taber helping him put up a 118 run partnership for the sixth wicket. Just when it appeared that the Aussies would negotiate the day without any further damage, Bedi struck a crucial double blow to remove Chappell when the score was at 251, while Venkataraghavan snatched his first wicket as he removed Mallett for just two. The first day’s play closed at 261 for 7.

Early on the second day, Taber and Mckenzie did resist as much as they could, adding 23 runs before Prasanna with a double strike and Bedi closed the visitors' first innings at 296. This was a better bowling performance by the home team than the previous two tests as the Aussies failed to cross the 300-run mark.

In reply, India started strongly with the top four batsmen all getting starts. Engineer, Wadekar and Viswanath all got off the blocks well but failed to capitalize, with only Mankad standing tall, carrying on from the first two Tests. The start was good and solid, returning 85 for the first wicket but then the wickets fell at regular intervals to leave India tentatively poised at 4 for 177.

But then disaster struck as Mallett came into his own, making full use of the drying pitch, taking six for 64 as the Indian middle order failed to counter his turners. His spell on the third morning, which was really the one that caused most damage, read as thus: 13.3-7-17-5. India lost the last six wickets for just forty six runs, surrendering a shock 73 run lead to the Australians.

What happened next was in keeping with the tactics Tiger Pataudi brought in when he asuumed leadership of the Indian team by Tiger Pataudi. Pataudi brought on Prasanna and Bedi after only three overs of medium pace had been bowled by Guha and Solkar. Dismissing Stackpole with a splendid off-break, Prasanna started the rout which offset the Aussie lead of 73 runs, swinging the match India's way.

In the twenty-five minutes remaining before lunch, Australia lost Stackpole and Chappell for 16 runs. Bedi claimed Walters and Redpath for 16 and 24 respectively. There was a stubborn stand between Lawry and Sheahan, which took the score to 61, but as soon as Sheahan was caught by Venkataraghavan of Prasanna, the end was near. Lawry was the lone man waging a battle as he defied the two spinners and carried his bat through for 49 runs in a stay of three and a quarter hours. Prasanna and Bedi collectively accounted for nine wickets. The spin bowlers were backed up by splendid close-in fielding by Wadekar, Solkar and Venkataraghavan, another Indian hallmark of those times.

The Indians made a horrible start, chasing 181 runs with two days remaining. Bedi came out as the night watchman to avoid any further damage, scoring 20 and doing rather well. Next day (after the rest day), Wadekar and Vishy added 120 runs to take India to a famous win within four days.

At Kolkata, in the fourth Test, Australia replaced leg-spinner John Gleeson with Eric Freeman, who took 4 for 54 in India's second innings, and thus helped them bounce back with a ten-wicket win. In the final Test at Chennai, Doug Walters' 102 helped Australia to 258 despite four wickets apiece from Prasanna and Vengataraghavan, but Ashley Mallett bettered them picking ten wickets in the match to seal a 77-run victory. Australia won the series 3-1.

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