Remembering the Indian cricket team's forgotten overseas triumph of 1968

Mar 11, 2018, 16:25 IST | Clayton Murzello

While the 1971 win in the West Indies is often hailed, it was not India's maiden overseas victory. The 3-1 glory achieved by Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi's team in New Zealand was the first and its 50th anniversary falls tomorrow

Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi

The 1971 Test series triumphs in West Indies and England are considered the most significant of India’s overseas wins and with good reason. But the series in the Caribbean is often mistaken as India’s maiden overseas win and the 3-1 result in New Zealand is often ignored.

Tomorrow is 50 years since MAK Pataudi’s India beat Graham Dowling’s Kiwis by 272 at Auckland for their historic conquest. The Eden Park high came after victories in Dunedin and Wellington, while the hosts clinched the second Test at Christchurch.

India set foot on New Zealand shores after a 4-0 shellacking Down Under where Pataudi’s spin ammunition was not enough to trouble the Australian batsmen while the India batters succumbed to Aussie pace.

The first Test of the NZ tour was held in Dunedin. Dowling, who would be captain from the next Test, slammed 143 as NZ totalled 350 to which India responded with 359. Openers Farokh Engineer and S Abid Ali batted aggressively against pacemen Dick Motz and Bruce Taylor to set the tone before Ajit Wadekar batted splendidly for his 80. The star bowler of the series, Erapalli Prasanna helped dismiss New Zealand for 208. Wadekar was pivotal in the second innings as well.

Team India from 1968
(Clockwise from top left) S Abid Ali, BS Bedi, Chandu Borde, RG Nadkarni, V Subramanya, FM Engineer, Ajit Wadekar, EAS Prasanna. (Third row, from left) U Kulkarni, ML Jaisimha, Rusi Surti and RB Desai 

This time it was 71. Dick Brittenden, the doyen of NZ cricket writers felt the Bombay southpaw was a complete batsman, but one with no century to show. A little more than three months ago, he walked back to the Melbourne Cricket Ground dressing room with 99 against his name. India had to endure some anxious moments on the final day when the rain came down as they required 39 with seven wickets in hand. The weather improved and a five-wicket victory was achieved. It was India’s first-ever Test match win abroad across 12 tours.

New Zealand’s pace attack did not worry Pataudi’s Indians because the pitches were slow. But first change bowler Gary Bartlett, did some serious damage with figures of six for 38 in India’s second innings during the second Test at Christchurch.

On Day Four, Bartlett claimed two vital wickets — Pataudi and Chandu Borde — in the space of four balls to break a threatening partnership. The Indian camp was convinced that Bartlett’s action was suspect and manager Ghulam Ahmed is quoted as saying in Men in White that, "No bowler of his pace can get that extra bounce and speed from an occasional ball without some change in his action."

Pune-based Borde recalled Bartlett’s pace and had no doubts over his suspect action. "I remember batting against him in Christchurch and before I knew it, my middle stump was out of the ground," he said on Saturday.

Dowling, who scored a double century in Christchurch, didn’t have Bartlett in his playing XI for the next Test in Wellington where NZ batted first. The cloudy weather helped opening bowler Rusi Surti claim the first three NZ batsmen before Prasanna claimed five for 32 to bowl out the hosts for 186. It was in this Test that Wadekar reached his first and only Test century – 143 in 371 minutes. After India scored 327, Bapu Nadkarni (six for 43) and Prasanna (3-56) thrived on the well-rolled track which offered turn and bounce. NZ were dismissed for 199 before India went on to win by eight wickets.

Rain caused havoc on the first day of the fourth and final Test in Auckland, but India managed 252 with Pataudi getting his second half century of the series. Bartlett was back in the side and sent back Wadekar and Surti in the top order. Thanks to the weather, India’s innings ended on the third afternoon. Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi and Nadkarni caused most of the damage after Surti sent back openers Dowling and Bruce Murray, both caught behind by Engineer.

A feeble 140 was beyond belief for the Kiwi fans and India, helped by the aggression of openers Engineer and Abid Ali, followed by the fine innings of Surti, declared at 261 for five. Surti, like Wadekar in Melbourne, was dismissed for 99. He was unlucky, but also lucky to have survived three dropped catches.

New Zealand were set 374 to win, but save Dowling, who scored 37, none of the batsmen were up to the task of coping with India’s spin ammunition. They folded up for 101 and India achieved a historic series victory through their 272-run win.

Borde insisted that it was no cakewalk. "NZ were a quality side. They had some very capable batsmen and their bowlers in their conditions. It was a fine win by us and it should be given due importance," he said.

The tour saw a rise in India’s fielding and catching standards and that delighted captain Pataudi, who always wanted to see agility on the field. Edward Docker didn’t dwell too much on this triumph in his History of Indian Cricket, but he did write: "Borde made a long-awaited return to form in New Zealand; Wadekar had emerged as possibly the most accomplished and cultured player of them all; Surti, as the most attractive stroke-player."

Prasanna claimed 24 wickets and in his book One More Over, said he felt on top of the world. And Bedi, according to Pataudi in Tiger’s Tale, "came into his own, keeping all the New Zealand batsmen guessing."

Also view: Aamir Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Soha Ali Khan honour Tiger Pataudi

BCCI must felicitate Class of 1968
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) ought to felicitate the team that secured India’s first-ever overseas Test series win in New Zealand 50 years ago. The surviving members are Abid Ali, BS Bedi, Chandu Borde, Farokh Engineer, Umesh Kulkarni, RG Nadkarni, EAS Prasanna, V Subramanya and Ajit Wadekar. In the case of the departed players (MAK Pataudi, Ramakant Desai, KS Indrajitsinhji, ML Jaisimha, Dilip Sardesai, Ramesh Saxena and Rusi Surti), their family members can be part of the felicitation. It must be pointed out that most players were away from their families for five months on the tours of Aus and NZ in 1967-68.

Brave 'Tiny' Desai
Ramakant ‘Tiny’ Desai played in the first Test of the series and was hit by NZ fast bowler Dick Motz on the jaw while batting in the first innings.

It turned out to be a fracture. Yet, he batted on and scored 32 not out and put on 57 for the last wicket with Bishan Singh Bedi. “India was 48 behind when it [the partnership] began, yet led finally by nine. Desai’s gallant fight, with a fractured jaw, did as much as anything to win the game for India,” wrote Dick Brittenden in Sport & Pastime magazine.

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