Given India’s fairly unimpressive Test record in Australia, it seems quite remarkable that they went in to the Boxing Day test at MCG in 1985 hoping to complete a hat-trick of successes at the venue.
Back in 1977-78 season, the Indians went in to the MCG test 2-0 down in a five-match series against Bob Simpson’s men.
Despite making a disastrous start when they lost their openers, Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan without a single run on the board, India eventually won the Test against the inexperienced Aussies comfortably.
Gavaskar redeemed himself with a fine ton in the second innings and leg spinner Bhagwath Chandrasekhar took 12 wickets to ensure the victory. Again In 1980-81, the Aussies took the early initiative; but India fought back with Gundappa Vishwanth’s fighting ton and Kapil’s final day burst to snatch victory from defeat.
Interestingly, neither of these was a Boxing Day Test. The 1981 Test in fact took place in February.
So there was added incentive for Kapil Dev’s team to do well in the 1985 Test.
Kapil Dev’s decision to put the opposition in seemed strange to many people, with India going into this match with three frontline spinners: Ravi Shastri, ShivLal Yadav and Laxman Shivaamakrishnan.
Yet, the spinners were in action right from the first morning. After Yadav and Shastri removed the openers, Shiva, the leggie, had the big fish: Allan Border.
The Aussie captain misjudged a full toss and gave a simple return catch. The Aussies were struggling at 3/41 and at the end they reached 262 all out early on the second day thanks to a brilliant 100* by all rounder Greg Matthews.
The Indian spinners took nine wickets among themselves. For millions of Indian supporters following the game over radio, this was just like the old days with Bishen Bedi, Chandra and Eraplli Prasnanna doing the damage.
However, while the trio playing at MCG was steady; they lacked the killer venom of their predecessors. This shortcoming would hurt the team; both here and then at SCG in the third Test.
In reply, India batted for almost two days to reach 445 all out. Opener Krish Srikkanth top scored with 86 from 89 balls, batting in his usual flamboyant manner.
There were useful contributions from others and early on the 4th morning India had total control of the match. Now, it was up to the spinners to bowl Australia out.
A changed batting line up saw Geoff Marsh-David Boon partnership opening for the 1st time. WK Wayne Philips, who opened in the 1st innings, went to the middle order.
In time, Marsh-Boon combination would play in big part in Australia building their teams for both the Test and also in the ODI format but here they perished cheaply.
The middle order looked hapless against the spinners and when Yadav dismissed Philips the home team was 161/6, they were staring at a certain defeat.
At one end, the skipper Border was batting beautifully; but there seemed no support at the other end.
Australian cricketer Allan Border. (Photo by Adrian Murrell/Getty Images)
Border finished the day at 98* with his team at 228/8, with the fate of the game almost decided, the only talking point at the start of the final days play was whether the Aussie captain would reach his hundred.
Well, not only did he complete his ton, he eventually reached 163 – in the process taking his team past the 300 mark.
The remarkable 77-run tenth wicket stand with Dave Gilbert saw the NSW man contribute only 10*.
Border very cleverly manipulated the strike; but Gilbert also played his part defying the Indian spinners for 65 deliveries.
Chasing 126 for a victory, India finished at 59/2 (from 25 overs) before tea. Then the weather intervened denying India any chance of a victory.
Certainly, the weather came at the most inopportune time for the Indians. There is still no doubt that they should have won this match much earlier.
Their spinners were steady; but lacked the killer venom. Off spinner Yadav received harsh criticism despite taking six wickets in the match. The fact that both Mathews and Border were left handers went against him.
The Indian middle order batting throughout the match was slow. In the first innings they took almost 150 overs to reach 445 – this despite Srikkanth and Kapil dev scoring aggressive half centuries.
Even more inexplicable was their batting display on the final day. The weather forecast predicted rain to intervene on the final day, but they showed no urgency in their batting.
Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath and Vengsarkar played almost 100 deliveries for a total of 12 runs.
It appeared that they were trying to save the Test match against an inexperienced Aussie bowling in which left armer Bruce Reid – playing his second Test – was the main threat.
Finally, Kapil Dev’s captaincy came in for heavy criticism. Especially his inability to put enough pressure on the Aussie tail was frustrating.
Twice, India allowed the Aussie tail to contribute vital runs. The Australia’s number 10 and 11; Reid and Gilbert were genuine tail-enders with batting average well below 10.
Yet, at MCG they spent valuable minutes at the wicket. While the spinners did an excellent job against the top order; Kapil himself perhaps should have bowled at the tail-enders. In the Aussie 2nd second innings lasting 124 overs; he bowled only 22 overs.
Thus India missed a golden opportunity to take the lead in the series; and after another missed opportunity at SCG (with the weather again playing a part); the series ended 0-0.