Former Australia Test batsman Craig Serjeant graduated from a New South Wales second XI rookie to Australia vice-captain in the space of 24 months. With Australia's top stars deflecting to World Series Cricket (WSC), Serjeant emerged as Bob Simpson's deputy in the side that denied India their maiden series win in Australia in 1977-78. Eventually, he played only 12 Test matches.
"India had a really strong team. A team that had Sunil Gavaskar, Bishan Singh Bedi, Vishy (Gundappa Viswanath), Mohinder Amarnath and so many other great players. In the end, we almost surprised ourselves by winning the series," Serjeant recalled.
"That was the best spin attack in the world. Personally, it was difficult for me, because I came from Perth, where we play on a fast and bouncy wicket. It was a tough test to face those Indian spinners. In the end, I think the depth of talent in Australian cricket prevailed. It was mainly because the Sheffield Shield is such a tough competition. Even with the main players going away to WSC, we had enough players to make the first XI of other international teams."
Serjeant felt that inexperienced Australian team sowed the seeds for the future. "With WSC breaking out, we picked a very inexperienced side, especially when compared to India. But, that series unearthed talents like Graeme Wood, Kim Hughes and Bruce Yardley and Graham Yallop, who went on to have distinguished international careers. What that series did was bring in a new crop of cricketers -- who would form the nucleus of future teams. We also found two future captains in Yallop and Hughes," he said.
"The only two other series I played -- England (1977) and West Indies (1978) -- we lost. So, the India series has happy memories because it's the only time I ended up winning end." The Perth-based batsman revealed the difficulty of being vice-captain to Simpson. "It was extremely difficult to perform that role.
And the reason for that was I was inexperienced. I had played only three Tests prior to that. All of sudden, I had all that responsibility on me. It was difficult to carry. And nobody knew how long Simpson was going to stay (since he had come out of retirement to lead Australia). He didn't talk much to players. It was perhaps because of the big age difference," he said.
Serjeant started his career in a hurry at Lord's in June 1977. "I scored 81 in my very first Test innings. But I rate my 85 against India at Melbourne as my finest. Chandra (Bhagwat Chandrasekhar) had me dancing around in the crease for most part. We lost that Test but I enjoyed playing that knock. It was the toughest challenge for any batsman those days," he said.