With India having played their 500th Test match at Green Park in Kanpur, the time is apt to relive a significant result achieved by them at this venue more than half a century ago.
This was the second Test of Australia’s second visit to India; the visitors having won the first Test at Delhi by a massive innings and 127 runs.
India had never got the better of Australia in nine attempts since 1947-48, and following the humbling at Delhi, the odds were clearly stacked against them coming into this Test, which was played from December 19-24, 1959. Gulabrai Ramchand had taken over the reins of the Indian captaincy for this series.
Ramchand’s opposite number was Richie Benaud, who had starred at Delhi with a match haul of 8/76 and remained the biggest threat to the Indian camp. India had not won a Test in four years – their latest assignment being a catastrophic 5-0 whitewash in England. A new hero was needed, who eventually turned up in the form of a little-known off-spinner from Ahmedabad.
Jasubhai Patel had a passable record of ten wickets in four Tests, at an average of 31, and had last played for India more than three years ago. The 35-year-old received a surprise call-up for the Kanpur Test from chairman of selectors Lala Amarnath, who believed that he could pose a considerable threat to the Australians on a newly-laid, spin-friendly surface.
Openers Pankaj Roy and Nariman ‘Nari’ Contractor sedately added 38 runs after India won a crucial toss. It was not long before Benaud got into the act, however. The leg-spinner dismissed both the opening batsmen, thus initiating a wobble in the Indian batting. India slipped to 77/4 and never recovered from these early setbacks.
Alan Davidson, the impactful left-arm paceman, dealt vital blows to the middle and lower order, finishing with a neat return of 5/31. Benaud continued his good tour by taking 4/63. India could muster only 152 on the board, and the fact that no batsman crossed 25 underlined the control that Australia’s bowlers maintained throughout the innings.
Australia, resuming from 23/0, seemed to be moving ahead fast in the game on the second day as their openers Colin McDonald and Gavin Stevens produced a stand of 71. Though Patel removed the latter, the dependable Neil Harvey joined McDonald in the middle and the duo steered their team to a strong position of 128/1 at lunch.
Patel was made to change ends after lunch, and this had a remarkable effect on his bowling and as a result, on the Australian batting. Exploiting the slow track and the footmarks on it to the fullest, he bamboozled the visitors with generous turn and drift. McDonald (53) and Harvey (51) were both clean bowled, and this was just the beginning.
At the other end, Chandu Borde sent back Norman O’Neill – the only wicket in the innings that did not fall to Patel. Ken ‘Slasher’ Mackay was struck on the pads for a duck and Australia had now lost 4 for 31 to be 159/5. Davidson bravely attempted to grind at one end, even as Patel, who had brought India right back in the contest, was running amok at the other.
Such was Patel’s accuracy that none of the batsmen to ensue were allowed to settle in, and they sooner or later succumbed to his guile. Davidson’s resistance ended when he was the ninth man out, bowled for 41 with the score reading 219. Last man Gordon Rorke was caught by Abbas Ali Baig, restricting Australia to a lead of 67 and giving Patel a nine-wicket haul.
Patel’s analysis read an astonishing 35.5-16-69-9. He single-handedly destroyed the Australian line-up – only one of his nine wickets was assisted by a fielder’s catch. These were the new best innings figures by an Indian, bettering Subash Gupte’s 9/102 against the West Indies at the same ground a year ago. The record stood until 1998-99, when Anil Kumble collected his famous 10/74 against Pakistan at Delhi.
The onus to perform now lay on the batsmen if India hoped to nudge ahead in the Test. It was Contractor who rose to the challenge, compiling a fine 74 – his best Test innings according to him – to give India a positive start. With Davidson at his best, this knock provided belief to the rest of the batsmen to tackle his pace and swing.
When Contractor was caught by Harvey off Davidson, India were 121/3; the lead being 54 and the match tantalisingly poised. Australia appeared to have the upper hand at 153/5, before the Mumbai pair of Borde (44) and Ramnath Kenny (51) put on 61 for the sixth wicket. The tide was slowly shifting towards the hosts.
An even more crucial partnership followed for the seventh wicket, for which Kenny and Bapu Nadkarni (46) shared 72 runs. The displays of Patel and Contractor had undoubtedly rubbed on to the middle and lower order, leaving Benaud increasingly worried with every passing over.
The last four wickets however fell for just five runs as India were bowled out for 291, which was a great improvement from their first innings. Davidson bowled his heart out to return 7/93, giving himself 12/124 for the match – both career-best figures. This match haul is still the best by an Australian bowler against India.
Australia’s target of 225 was always going to be a difficult proposition on the wearing, final-day pitch. Patel expectedly struck early, dismissing Stevens with only 12 on the board. Late in the day, Polly Umrigar’s off-spin delivered the important wicket of Harvey, caught by Nadkarni in the slips. Australia ended the fourth day at 59/2.
Umrigar (4/27) also accounted for O’Neill early on the fifth day, without any addition to the score, before consigning Mackay to his second duck in the match. Australia were now 61/4 and staring at a quick submission to spin. A double disaster occurred with the score at 78, as Patel added the scalps of Davidson and Benaud. This effectively sealed the game.
McDonald top-scored for his team again, churning out a patient 34 before being the ninth man out at 105, stumped by Naren Tamhane off Patel. This was the final wicket to fall, since Rorke was absent hurt. Patel fittingly had the last say as he finished with 5/55 in the second innings, his match figures being an outstanding 14/124.
India had astoundingly turned the tables to record a historic win by 119 runs – their first ever against Australia. Patel’s startling recall from the wilderness proved to be a coup de maître. Though this match will always be remembered as ‘Patel’s Test’, one must not forget the invaluable contributions of Contractor, Kenny and Umrigar.
Patel’s match return was a new Indian record as well, surpassing Vinoo Mankad’s 13/131 against Pakistan at Delhi in 1952-53. It was in turn improved by Narendra Hirwani, who took 16/136 on debut against the West Indies at Chennai in 1987-88. India’s best return against Australia currently is Harbhajan Singh’s 15/217, at Chennai in 2000-01.
Australia bounced back to win the five-Test series 2-1, thanks to another big win – by an innings and 55 runs – in the fourth Test at Chennai. Benaud led from the front, taking 29 wickets at 19.58. Davidson performed even better, with 29 wickets at 14.86. As for Patel, Kanpur was his only moment in the sun as he never played for India again after this series.
Given India’s position in world cricket at that time, the ‘miracle at Kanpur’, as it was christened by the media back then, was a pivotal moment in their cricketing history. Two years later, India won their first series against England under the leadership of Contractor, while a maiden overseas series victory followed in New Zealand in 1967-68.