Some inspiration for Virat Kohli and Co

Updated: Dec 20, 2018, 11:54 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Grand performances and triumphs over pain contributed to India's last Test win at MCG in 1981 when Sunny's India outwitted Australia

India's Kapil Dev celebrates after trapping Australia's last man Jim Higgs leg before wicket to win the Melbourne Test by 59 runs  on February 11, 1981. Pic/Getty Images
India's Kapil Dev celebrates after trapping Australia's last man Jim Higgs leg before wicket to win the Melbourne Test by 59 runs on February 11, 1981. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloThere was a time when India had the wood on Australia in Test cricket at Melbourne by winning the 1977-78 and 1980-81 Tests. Now, Virat Kohli & Co await India's first Test win in the Victorian city since 1981. The aftershock of this week's Perth Test threatens to peel off the significance of winning the opening game at Adelaide. The same men, who were draped in glory for becoming the first Indian side to win an opening Test of a series in Australia, now look vulnerable. And all that advantage India had over Australia being without Steven Smith and David Warner is now being chipped at swiftly as the host bowling attack looks more dangerous than what Indian supporters probably expected.

More crushing the defeat, the harder it is to feel optimistic. But the series-changing moment could well be close at hand. If Kohli's men believe they are mentally tougher than their opponents, they will end 2018 on a winning note. For that to happen, there will have to be multiple grand performances, triumphs over pain and the X factor that goes beyond hard work and commitment at Melbourne. This is what happened in 1981, when Sunil Gavaskar's Indians beat Greg Chappell's Australians to square the series. India lost the opening Test at Sydney and performed better in Adelaide where the tailenders contributed to a thrilling draw.

The series was not yet lost and the Indians believed that they could beat Australia on a pitch that the hosts were cranky about. The uneven bounce of the Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch annoyed the Australians, their captain in particular. This was the first Test at Melbourne after Chappell's infamous underarm incident and Melbourne was certainly not his favourite venue. Interestingly, Chappell put India in and Chetan Chauhan departed with zero on the board. Dilip Vengsarkar exited for 12 and Gavaskar, who had scored only 38 runs from four previous visits to the crease, fell for 10 — caught at fourth slip — by Kim Hughes off Len Pascoe, who had dismissed Chauhan in the ninth ball of the Test.

Gundappa Viswanath worked his way to a century but had his share of anxious moments. After reaching his half-century, he offered a sharp chance to Bruce Yardley who couldn't hold on to a catch at backward short leg. After his hundred he was castled by Pascoe but umpire Mel Johnson declared a no-ball. His fighting innings of 114 ended when Chappell caught him at slip off Yardley.

His runs were worth their weight in gold. Viswanath's two partnerships — 48 with Sandeep Patil and 49 with Syed Kirmani — provided some boost as well, but 237 was not a total that would worry the Australians too much and they proved it by scoring 419 in their first innings, aided by a century from Allan Border. Chappell got 76 before he hit one back to Karsan Ghavri, bowling his brand of left-arm spin while veteran Doug Walters carved 78 for his last half-century in Test cricket.

The Indian bowling attack was wounded. Spearhead Kapil Dev suffered a torn muscle on his right thigh, chief spinner Dilip Doshi had a broken instep and Shivlal Yadav's toe on his left foot was broken while tackling a Pascoe delivery en route his valuable 20 in the first innings. Yadav told me yesterday that Viswanath instructed him not to inspect his toe on the pitch because he wouldn't be able to slip his foot into his shoe again, so he carried on batting. The offie managed to bowl in Australia's first innings because of the two pain-killing injections he took during each session. However, he couldn't bat and bowl again in the Test.

Then came the biggest controversy of the summer after underarm. Gavaskar, as well documented, threw a fit when umpire Rex Whitehead upheld a leg before wicket appeal from Dennis Lillee. He took his opening partner Chetan Chauhan with him, only to be pacified at the pavilion gate by manager Wing Commander Shahid Durrani, who asked Chauhan to return to his crease. Gavaskar's 70 and Chauhan's 85 were the chief contributing factors in India's second innings total of 324 which left Australia 143 to win. Kapil's injury forced Gavaskar to open the bowling with Ghavri and Sandeep Patil on the fourth day, which ended with Australia in trouble at 24 for three. Ghavri bowled Chappell around his legs for a duck, but India still needed their spearhead.

It is learnt that Kapil informed his skipper that he would bowl through the pain the following day at a dinner party hosted by an Indian doctor in Melbourne. And he did, aided by pain-killing injections and ultra sound treatment. Australia were bowled out for 83, their lowest total since England dismissed them for 78 at Lord's in 1968. Kapil, according to cricket writer Mike Coward, celebrated his spell of 16.4-4-28-5 with piping hot Darjeeling tea. "You don't feel pain when you win the Test. There was a build-up of blood in my thigh and it was very black and sore. But we won," Kapil was quoted as saying. If Kohli's men are short of inspiration, Melbourne 1981 will provide plenty of it.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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