Much has been written and spoken about Australia’s fast bowling stocks after the drawn Ashes series.
When I was eight or nine and had just started my love affair with the game of cricket, my dad asked me, “What’s the duration of a Test match?”.
“Five days,” I replied, full of confidence.
“Wrong,” said my dad, much to my surprise. There was no fixed rule for the number of days in a Test match. For example, the historic Test match between India and Pakistan at Dacca in January 1955 was four days, and before the World War II there were even Tests of unlimited time.
Yet in a sense I was right. By the 1970s most of the rules regarding Test matches were becoming fixed and certainly five days, normally with a rest day after the second or third day, had become the accepted norm.
Yet the record books would tell us that there were two six-day Test matches in the 1970s. One was at Wankhede, Bombay; the other at the famous Adelaide Oval.
There were remarkable similarities between the two events. Both matches involved India; both were the fifth and final Test of the series, with both series tied at 2-2; and both matches saw India defeated in the middle of the sixth day’s play.
India versus West Indies – Bombay (Wankhede) 23 to 29 January 1975
Winning the toss, West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd had no hesitation in batting first, and his top order fully vindicated his decision. Roy Fredericks scored a fine ton (104), his second in the series, and in the process became the 91st man score a century in the new Test venue.
Alvin Kalllicharran scored 98, but it was the Windies skipper who stole the show, smashing a career-best 242 not out.
He had come in for some criticism for his dismissal in the second innings at Madras. While chasing a target in the fourth innings on a turning track he tried to attack the Indian spinners immediately in a bid to wrest the initiative, but he failed miserably. He was out stumped by Farokh Engineer-bowled by Erapalli Prasanna. But here at Bombay he made amends smashing 19 fours and four sixes.
Thanks to the belligerent batting of their skipper the West Indes declared at 6/604 early on the third day. For once the famed spinners of India failed to make any impact, but they were badly let down by some poor catching.
Facing a mammoth score, the Indians did well on the third day, finishing at 2/171. They were buoyed by the return of Sunil Gavaskar, who had missed most of the series with a finger injury. He and his Bombay teammate Eaknath Solkar put on 168 for the second wicket.
For left-handed Solkar it was an unusual bating position. The new bowler for his team and a brilliant short leg fielder, he normally thrived while batting down the order at six or seven, but with the Indian top order struggling against the menacing pace of Andy Roberts, he became the fifth Indian batsman to be tried in that number three slot in the series.
Despite not looking fully comfortable, he fought well, finishing the third day 76*.
After the rest day, the fourth morning saw Solkar complete his only Test hundred (102). Others supported him well, with in-form Gundappa Vishwananth and young Anshuman Gaekwad both scoring fine half-centuries.
But then India slumped from 4/359 to 406 all out early on the fifth morning as the tail looked hapless against the spin of Lance Gibbs. The veteran spinner had got a flip after bowling Gavaskar very late on the third day and used all his guile and experience to finish with 7/98.
India had just managed to avoid the follow-on, and the West Indies batted in their second innings looking for a quick declaration. The declaration came after 40 overs as the tourists reached 3/205. All the batsmen contributed, with young Viv Richards looking especially impressive smashing 39 not out in just half an hour.
India had no chance of winning this match and tried to bat out the time, but they were under pressure right from the beginning after losing the openers cheaply and never really recovered. They were bowled out for 202 in the middle of the final day, giving the Test and the series to the visitors.
Most people expected Gibbs to be the wrecker in chief, but though he took two wickets, he played a supporting role for Barbados fast bowler Vanburn Holder.
His record of only 109 wickets from 40 Tests spanning ten years suggests that he was a persistent bowler rather than a matchwining one. His wickets came at a price of 33-plus. Nevertheless, after making his Test debut in 1969 he worked as a bridge between the Hall and Griffith era and the pace quarter era starting in the second half of the 1970s.
For the most part of this tour he had been used as a support bowler for Roberts, but on the final day of the series he stole the show. He ripped through the Indian middle order to finish with 6/39; only Brijesh Patel with 73 not out managed to offer any resistance against him.
This Indian skipper Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer’s last Tests, although Farokh would represent India in the inaugural World Cup in the summer.
Australia versus India – Adelaide (Adelaide Oval) 28 January to 3 February 1978
Before discussing this match we should first look at the circumstances surrounding the series because these were extraordinary times for the world of cricket.
With the best Australian players unavailable due their commitment to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, Australia was forced to field a group of youngsters in their team, led by 43-year-old Bob Simpson, returning to international cricket after a gap of a decade. There was some irony in Simpson’s selection as skipper – Ian Chappell, leading the rebel Aussies, had made his Test debut in 1964 playing under Simpson.
The Australian team for the first Test had six debutants, and skipper Simpson and fast bowler Jeff Thomson were the only players with considerable international experience. The young team did well, winning the Test match by 16 runs. They took a 2-0 lead after another nail-biting finish at the WACA.
But the Indian team, led by Bishen Bedi, found their niche in the slower pitches of MCG and SCG. With Bedi and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar striking form, India won back-to-back Tests to level the series 2-2. Sadly for India EAS Prasanna was struggling with back problems and was unable to repeat his performance of his previous tour Down Under.
With the series tied the Australian Cricket Board, after consulting Indian team management, made the fifth Test a six-day affair in a bid to ensure a result. The Aussies made five changes for this Test, bringing in four more debutants. Overall 11 Australians made their debut during the series, although only opener Graeme Wood and off-spinner Bruce Yardley would enjoy relatively long international careers.
There were six different openers for the home side during the series. Australia also had five different number threes, including the successful night watchman Anthony Mann at the WACA.
Australia batted first after Simpson had won the toss, and they took an early command of the match, scoring 505. Simpson scored exactly 100, his second ton in the series, but it was Graham Yallop, the young Victorian, who received the bigger applause for his fine 121 on his return to the Aussie team. For India, with Prasanna able to bowl only ten overs, Bedi and Chandra had to do extra work.
Throughout the series Jeff Thomson had been a menace for the Indian openers, and bowling fast and straight he struck here early to restrict India to 3/23. Sadly for the home side, an injury meant that Thomson would bowl only three and a half overs in the whole match. Despite his absence, the Aussies restricted the Indians to 269, with Wayne Clark, Thommo’s new ball partner, taking 4/62.
At that stage Simpson had the chance to enforce the follow-on but decided against it. There were still more than three days left and he had no intention of facing the Indian spinners on a six-day track.
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At this point India started its fight-back. The ball was turning and for one last time, and the Bedi-Prasanna combination came good, showing all their guile and variations of flight. Bedi took 4/53 as Australia scored 256. Bedi and the other Indian spinners were not at all happy with the umpiring as they felt that a number of close calls went in favour of the home batsmen.
India started their final innings with 14 hours still left and needing a mammoth 493 runs for victory.
Indian openers Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan threw it away after looking good, but the century stand between Mohinder Amarnath and GR Vishwanath briefly revived the memories of Port of Spain couple of years earlier.
The Aussie bowling missed Thomson badly, but the young bowlers did an admirable job picking up wickets just in the right time. Vengsarkar and wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani also hit 50s, but India missed one really long effort that would have made the difference.
The Indian innings ended in the middle of the final day with a score of 445. Quite appropriately it was the Aussie captain who took the final victim, having Chandrasekhar caught behind.
India lost the series 3-2, but with a bit of luck they could have won it 5-0. But there were plenty of positives, especially from the batting perspective. Eight years after making his Test debut, Chetan Chauhan finally emerged as a reliable opening batsman.
Yong middle-order batsmen Mohinder Amarnath and Dilip Vengsarkar, both of whom had already shown promise in the West Indies couple of seasons ago, showed their growing maturity. They would form the backbone of India’s middle order in the 1980s. While they lacked the flair of some of their successors, they were both ideally suited for Test cricket.
The story was exactly opposite for Ashok Mankad and Surinder Amarnath. Veteran Mankad, seeking a comeback, scored freely in the tour matches but failed when given his chance in the Test team.
Surinder injured himself and returned home early – in fact his loss was his younger brother’s gain. A fine left-hander, he would play in the three-match series in Pakistan in the autumn of 1978. But with Kapil Dev emerging as an all-rounder, there was scope for playing an extra bowler in the home series against the second string West Iindes side, and Surinder was the batsman sacrificed.
I always felt that a good series at home against a depleted side would have given him the confidence he needed. A double hundred in an Irani trophy match couple of years later briefly rekindled his hopes of a national team recall, but it never happened.
As for the bowling, Karsan Ghavri, the left-arm seamer, bowled well with the new ball, but Prasanna, the off-spinner, showed signs of ageing. His international career would end after the Lahore Test in autumn.