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Great Test Matches Part IV: India v Australia, Perth 1977 - Chetan Narula Column
by Chetan Narula
Nov 10, 2008
Cricket history would look back at India's tour of Australia in the season 1977-78 as the moment when the first seeds of a great rivalry were probably sown. What we see today out there on the fields, may all very well be down to this ripper of a five match rubber that ensued when the Indians came calling on their third tour Down Under.

The tour took place in the back drop of the newly formed Kerry Packer series. But with the emphatic display that both the teams put up in their white flannels, meant that the crowds came in droves to the grounds, even though coloured clothing and the white ball were making an alternate appearance in the new shorter version of the game, the World Series Cricket. Test cricket won its first battle against ODIs that Aussie summer.

The hosts had been dismembered by the Kerry Packer initiative and this reflected as much from the last trip to England in 1977. That they were still able to give the Indians more than a run for their money is down only to the leadership and personal flamboyance of Bobby Simpson who came out of retirement to lead his country out of a major crisis.

The Indians, on their part, put up more than a fight in alien conditions especially in centers like Perth which were soon to gain legendary status. This was an upswing for the team from their last performance against England, the previous winter. It also helped that the wickets had lost some of their bite, thanks to a dry running summer.

At the first Test in Brisbane, the Gabba, Bishen Singh Bedi ran through the home batting on the first day, with five for 55. Only Peter Toohey remained at the crease long enough to see his team reach 166 and it wasn't to be the last time he would do so in this series.

In reply, India self destructed to be bowled out for a paltry 153 when they very much had the chance to bat Australia out of the match. Jeff Thomson and Wayne Clark took seven wickets to unearth India's fallacy against quality pace yet again, as not one Indian batsman was able to reach the half century mark.

Australia came up with a much better display in the second innings although it did start on a calamitous note for them again. Trying to set a decent target, they were again reeling at 7 for 3, before skipper Simpson and Toohey (for the second time in the match) came up with brilliant fifties and then Thomson went on a slog-fest to help them reach a defiant 327, setting India 341 runs to get.

It wasn't something beyond the Indians and they let it be known to the hosts as led by a century from the incomparable Sunil Gavaskar. He was ably supported by Amarnath and Kirmani but they fell short by a mere 16 runs as Thommo and Clark did most of the damage again, picking four wickets each, destroying the Indian middle order.

Although 1-0 down, the Indians had proved to be no push overs, unlike on their previous visits, for it was a very different Indian team indeed. They had made quite a solid start to the tour registering wins in the practice games before the Tests began, beating South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland in an unbeaten lead-up to the first match of the series. This was probably the first, and the only time, something like this happened in Indian cricket!

The loss in the first Test may have been a bit harsh but the Indians were themselves to blame, for a bit more application may have gotten them a better first innings display. The disappointment petered on to the first-class game against Western Australia, which the team duly lost, just prior to the second Test.

The famous WACA Ground at Perth was a new addition to Australia's list of Test centers and since then has left a lasting imprint on the game. The Indians won the toss on 16th December 1977 and without a second thought elected to bat. They had a match to win, a series to level in what would turn out to be a fascinating Test match in which more than 1400 runs would be scored and, yet, a result would be registered.

Gavaskar failed to fire after his glorious ton in the last game but Chetan Chauhan and Mohinder Amarnath then watchfully negotiated India's nemesis in the previous game, Clark and Thomson. Amarnath had gained a huge amount of respect in this series as a batsman and it was beginning to show as he held forte with 90. Chauhan, on the other hand, batted within his limitations and gave good company to Jimmy till the score read 163. Vishwanath was in next and got out when he looked set for 38. This was the second time he had gotten a start and messed it up when more was required from him. And when Amarnath and Brijesh Patel left within six runs off each other, the Indians were looking at squandering away the whole advantage at 5 for 235.

The hallmark of this Indian team was to be the plethora of all-rounders in their ranks and for years to come, they would serve the team's cause well. They did as much on this occasion too, as Kirmani, Venkataraghavan and Madan Lal all played their part as India reached a safe 402.

It was definitely a position of strength for India and they looked set to exert unrelenting pressure on the Aussie batting given their spin strength. And at 65 for 3, it appeared that the home team would indeed capitulate but for one man. Veteran captain Bobby Simpson, after only a brief rest following a long stint in the field, rallied Australia with a dogged 176, lasting six hours forty-one minutes. Dyson, playing in his first Test, and Rixon were the only others to pass 50. Still, Australia came within near reach of India's total of 402 as Bishen Singh Bedi led from the front taking his second five-for in the series. India gained a lead of just eight runs as the hosts were all out for 394 on the third day.

In the second innings, India found themselves in a commanding position, with Gavaskar (127) and Mohinder Amarnath (100) staging a record second-wicket partnership of 193. both batsmen completed their tons, Sunny's second of the series and Jimmy following up his ninety in the first innings. But their dismissal triggered a mini-collapse as five wickets went down in seventy-five minutes for only 47 runs. Bedi then declared because he did not want to risk injury to himself or Chandrasekhar, something which might have hampered India's chances of a win.

Australia, therefore, were left six hours and forty minutes to score 339 runs for victory. At the fall of the first wicket on fourth day, Tony Mann came in as night-watchman and this after all the happenings of the four days, was to be the turning point of the match. The left-handed West Australian stayed on the next day to play a match-winning innings of 105 runs in just over three hours.

The Indians suffered from their chronic weakness of being unable to bowl steadily to a left-hander and hence suffered. Australia, at 195 for four, were well-placed to aim for victory and later, with Simpson and Toohey so firmly entrenched, only 58 runs were wanted at the start of the mandatory fifteen overs of the last hour.

However, a last bit of drama was left to be staged as yet. With 44 needed, Madan Lal ran out Simpson and in the same over, he trapped Hughes lbw. Then, with only 9 runs needed and almost six overs left, Toohey had a rush of blood to betray his disciplined 83 and played a fatal, lofted drive off Bedi.

Panic set in as Rixon, in the same over, fell lbw to Bedi who picked a second five wicket haul in the match, taking ten on the whole. But Australia had come too close to lose the match. They won by two wickets with just 22 balls remaining to take a 2-0 lead in the series and India had three matches in hand to do something about it. (To be concluded)
 
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