It is only fitting that the 2012-13 edition of modern-day cricket’s most gripping rivalry — the Ashes apart — opens at the M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.
For, the quality of cricket witnessed there over the last 33 years in India vs Australia Tests has been nothing short of special. Doubtless, India vs Australia in Chennai has been a story of blood, sweat and tears, the most famous of examples being ultra-dehydrated Dean Jones’ double century in the Tied Test of 1986.
But without the tall willow and leather deeds, cricket would be only about bravado.
India’s two wins at Chennai were both classic contests. The 1998 game was wide open until the penultimate day, but Sachin Tendulkar’s epic 155 was too much for Mark Taylor’s Australians. In 2001, close on the heels of the miracle in Kolkata, the final Test was clinched by the hosts in exciting fashion. It is justifiably rated as India’s finest victorious home series and Tendulkar has marvelled on more than one occasion on how the series was decided in the last hour of play.
The 1979-80 Test was drawn and so was the one in the 2004-05 series when rain ruined the last day’s play which would have surely witnessed a result.
The last time Australia won a Test in Chennai was in 1969. It was a game which India should have pocketed, but their batsmen succumbed to the off-spin of Ashley Mallett. Set to score 249 for victory, India appeared on course when Ajit Wadekar and Gundappa Vishwanath put on a century partnership for the third wicket. But according to Mallett (in his book Spin Out), “after Wadekar was well caught in the gully by (Keith) Stackpole off Laurie Mayne, they collapsed in a heap.” India’s last seven Indian wickets fell for only 57 runs and the series was lost 1-3.
It was a low-scoring game in which Mohinder Amarnath made his debut. He opened the bowling with Eknath Solkar and enjoyed memorable success in Australia’s second innings by disturbing the furniture of opener Keith Stackpole and one-drop Ian Chappell in quick succession.
Australia’s first innings total of 258 would have been far less had it not been for a century from Doug Walters, who benefited from a missed stumping by Farokh Engineer when only on four. Aggressive opener Stackpole was the second highest scorer with 37. His end came through the brilliance of Solkar.
Stackpole in his book Not Just for Openers thus described his dismissal which gave S Venkataraghavan the first of his four wickets in the innings: “I made 37 before Eknath Solkar brilliantly caught a ball that I tried to cut and thought was flying for 4. The close-to-the-wicket fielding of the Indians was so good that if you edged anything, you were history.”
India’s batting was terrible in the first innings as well. After Pataudi’s 59 and Engineer’s 32, the highest score was 19 — from rookie Chetan Chauhan.
Prasanna stood out by claiming 10 wickets in the match and Ian Chappell waxed eloquent in his autobiography Chappelli: “Most slow bowlers use seven men on the on-side when they want to keep the runs down but when Prasanna used the same field, he would have three men close in on the leg side in catching positions. With ‘Pras’ it was always attack, even in defence.”
Walters didn’t chose to elaborate on his hundred while writing his autobiography The Doug Walters Story. All the flamboyant New South Welshmen said was: “I made 102 (my only century of the tour) with fourteen 4s and two 6s, but it was hard going on a pitch ideal for the spinners and with the Indians setting a strong leg side field and bowling at leg stump.”
But Walters reckoned his team had its share of good fortune on their way to a 77-run win. He wrote: “It was a lot closer than that and India could have easily won the fifth Test to square the series. They were unlucky that Bedi was ill and couldn’t bowl in the second innings. Perhaps he would have delivered the knockout blow which Prasanna couldn’t do on his own in our second innings.”
What a tour!
The Australians were delighted by their performance against spinners of the highest quality. That Indian tour was a hard one for them. They copped some accommodation and food issues and this didn’t do any good for their relations with the Australian Cricket Board.
They also did not have the support of their country’s media. “The fact that no Australian journalist accompanied us to put our side of the story was also a serious disadvantage,” wrote Stackpole.
They were delighted to finish off in Chennai and head to Mumbai where they boarded their flight to Nairobi en route to South Africa. They found comfort there, but not on the field as South Africa handed Bill Lawry’s team a 0-4 thrashing.
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