On January 4, 1978, India won their first ever Test on Australian soil — at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground where Bedi’s men triumphed over Bob Simpson’s inexperienced yet spirited Aussies.
The victory brought India back in the series after the first two Tests at Brisbane and Perth ended Australia’s way in thrillers. The architect of that 222-run win in Melbourne, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (67) may not remember every detail of the five-day battle, but the match ball and Benson & Hedges man of the match award occupies pride of place in his showcase at his home in Bangalore.
Chandrasekhar went into the Test match with only one wicket in the previous Test at Perth, but didn’t carry that disappointment to the large expanse of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
India got off to a disastrous start with openers Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan back in the pavilion without scoring courtesy Jeff Thomson and Wayne Clark respectively. One-drop was Mohinder Amarnath, fresh from his 90 and 100 in Perth. Like Chandrasekhar, Amarnath too didn’t read too much into the previous Test.
“Whenever you get runs, there is that level of confidence. But I always treated the past as history and I took one innings at a time. There was a job to do,” said Amarnath.
Amarnath and Gundappa Vishwanath stitched together a 105-run partnership for the third wicket. Amarnath recalled: I broke my index finger from a ball from Thommo. I remember the spinners winning the game for us and Sunny getting runs in the second innings. It was important to win this Test considering we were two-down in the series. Vishy played superbly too.” Indeed. The little Bangalorean, as usual, played a hand in an India victory through his 59 and 54.
Gavaskar’s brilliance shone through in the second innings despite some damp spots on the track following some rain. According to eminent Australian writer Ray Robinson, “the saboteurs had been seagulls, pecking holes in the rain- covers in the hunt for insects.”
Robinson reported that Gavaskar “scarcely bothered to scrutinise the spots, much less tap them” and reached his 13th Test century, his fourth in as many Tests. Gavaskar capitalised on India’s 43-run lead which Chandrasekhar (6-52) must be credited for. Useful knocks from Ashok Mankad (38) and Amarnath (41, batting at No 7) helped India set the hosts a challenging target of 387 and they responded in shoddy fashion.
Chandrasekhar ran through them, supported by skipper Bedi, who claimed the first and last two wickets to fall.
“We knew that we didn’t have too many wins over Australia and we were happy to win. We also thought about the next Test and the importance of doing well there. We knew Sydney will help us and we won there too,” said Amarnath.
The fifth Test at Adelaide was the decider which Australia won, but not with ease.
Here’s an interview with Chandrasekhar on that very special Melbourne Test:
You got the man of the match award for your 12 wickets in the Melbourne Test. Do you still have that award and ball?
Oh yes! The award and ball occupies pride of place in my showcase at home.
How much do you remember of that Melbourne Test?
I remember the victory and the celebrations but whatever happened during the match, I remember vaguely.
You managed to get only one wicket in the previous Test at Perth. So, coming into the Melbourne Test, were you charged up to make an impression at the MCG?
I always worked hard and did my best. I didn’t have a lot of tension heading into that Test match. Winning and losing, getting runs, getting wickets, not getting runs, not getting wickets are part and parcel of the game. Yes little tension will be there considering it’s a Test match, but once you get on to the field, you only concentrate on what is happening there.
Sunil Gavaskar scored his third hundred of the series in Melbourne...
Yes... Sunny was in wonderful form throughout that series.
How quick was Jeff Thomson?
I remember he did not go to World Series Cricket then and he was not 100 per cent fit. He came off the field in Adelaide as well. But whenever he bowled, he was quick - no doubt about that.
You got Bobby Simpson out twice in Melbourne…
Simpson’s huge experience came into play. He was a good thinker as well but he was passed 40 and was making a comeback here. Australia had some good young players - Peter Toohey, David Ogilvie, Craig Sergeant and Gary Cosier.
Do you know you got a wicket every 23 balls in Melbourne?
I didn’t know that.
What were the celebrations like?
Nothing much. We went back to the dressing room and were on our own as usual. We didn’t celebrate hard. In those days, both teams got together at the end of the Test so we did that. Maybe things dragged on for half an hour longer that day.
Where would you place the Melbourne performance among your other great spells?
The two Tests I will always rate as the games where I bowled my best are: vs Australia at the Brabourne Stadium in 1964 and the one against the West Indies at the same ground in 1967. Melbourne is memorable because I got 12 wickets in a match which India won and it was our first Test win in Australia. It’s just like my 6 for 38 against England at the Oval in 1971. That was our first Test win on English soil and we won the series too. So, from a historic point of view, Melbourne was memorable, but those two Tests at the Brabourne Stadium were where I bowled the best.
You were given a couple of pizzas by the security personnel in Melbourne...
Yes. I used to order pizza every now and again. So they told me don’t order them, we’ll give you one pizza every time you get a five-wicket haul. I loved those large pizzas in Australia.