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Opinion

India's missed opportunity at the Gabba 43 years ago

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Roar Guru
26th January, 2021
13

Needing 98 for victory and with five wickets in hand, with their champion batsman at the wicket, the Indians were fancying their chances of a famous victory over Australia in the fourth afternoon at the Gabba.

This was December 1977, at the beginning of a most remarkable season.

For the first time, the Australian summer saw two sets of different international cricket going on together – the establishment cricket sanctioned by the ICC, and the rebel cricket in the Packer circus.

Initially there were doubts over the official India series but it duly started on the second day of December at the famous ground of Brisbane.

India’s Test record against the Aussies was poor, but here the away side was considered the favourites, given the state of Australian establishment team.

There were six debutants in the home side and leading them was Bob Simpson, almost 42 at the time. Simpon’s previous Test was also against the Indians, a decade ago.

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‘Uncle’ Bob won the toss and decided to bat and was soon regretting his decision. Mohinder Amarnath, with his gentle out swingers, dismissed both the openers, then – as usual – the Indian spinning trio took over. Bishen Bedi, the skipper, became the main threat here, using all his guiles and variations to mesmerise all the Aussies batters except one.

Peter Toohey, the debutant from NSW, stood firm at one end showing excellent technique and temperament beyond his age to play a knock of the highest class. He deserved a hundred but was denied when Syed Kirmani stumped him off Bedi for 82. He had scored almost half of the team total of 166. No one else managed to reach the 20 mark.

The last-wicket pair had added 32 runs, which would become even more vital in the final count. Alan Hurst, the No.11, remained 0 not out.

Bedi took 5-55 and despite Toohey’s brilliance it was very much advantage India. Australia regained some lost ground when debutant Wayne Clark dismissed Sunil Gavaskar cheaply – not a bad first Test victim. India finished the day at 1-13.

The dismissal late on the first day was a big boost because at the time the Indian batting depended on Gavaskar and his brother-in-law Gundappa Vishwanath. And the frailty of the Indian middle order became apparent on the second afternoon.

India looked comfortable at 2-90, but then Western Australia leggie Tony Mann dismissed Vishy for his first Test wicket, leading to a batting collapse and Aussies took a surprising first-innings lead of 13.

Jeff Thomson took 3-54, but it was the two debutants from WA, Wayne Clarke (4-46) and Tony Mann (3-12), who impressed the most.

Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson together in England

Dennis Lillee (left) and Jeff Thomson. (PA Images via Getty Images)

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The Aussies were back in the game but soon slumped to 3-7. A captain’s knock was required and Simpson was ready to play it. He drew upon all his previous experience against the best bowlers of the world, playing every ball on its merit during his more than five-hour stay. He shared successive solid partnerships with Ogilvie and Toohey. While Ogilvie contributed a solid 46, Toohey’s 57 came in just 97 minutes.

Simpson was the sixth man out with the team score on 233 but the tail added valuable runs. For the second time, the Indian bowling struggled against the last pair. Jeff Thomson (41*) and Alan Hurst (26) added exactly 50 to take the score to 327. Medium pacer MadanLal took 5-72, Amarnath supported him well but the spinners were surprisingly ineffective.

As the tourists started chasing 341 late on the third day, they knew that it would be a tall task. But two things were in their favour. First, the bowling, apart from Thommo, was nexperienced and just less than two years before this match India had successfully chased down a 400-plus target against the West Indies at Port of Spain. And the three heroes of that victory; Sunny, Vishy and Jummy (Amarnath) were all at the Gabba.

India ended the third day at 1-51, Gavaskar was 15* and all the signs were that he was preparing himself for another typically long stay.

As play restarted after the rest day it made sense to target the middle order and Thomson did just that, taking the next three as India reached 4-151.

But at the other end, Sunny remained totally unperturbed. He completed his ton and along with Syed Kirmani took the score to 5-243.

Then the Aussies made the big breakthrough, as Clarke had the honor of dismissing Gavaskar for the second time in the match. Steve Rixon, another debutant, took the catch behind the stumps.

Madan Lal from Delhi joined Kirmani at the wicket and with the three spinners all being rabbits with the bat, India’s chances relied heavily on this pair.

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Lal enjoyed a great reputation as an all-rounder in India’s domestic cricket and finished his first-class career with a batting average of over 42 and a bowling average of 25.

Sadly, Test cricket generally proved a much tougher experience for him. And here he failed his big test with the bat. Clarke, in the middle of a fine spell dismissed him for two, again caught behind by Rixon. And when he dismissed Erapalli Prasanna cheaply, the match seemed over.

But there was more drama. Skipper Bedi, with little or no reputation with the willow, suddenly started to time his shots beautifully. The ninth-wicket stand yielded 43 runs as the pressure started to mount. In the first innings, leg spinner Mann had bowled beautifully to take 3-12 but on the fourth day, he was proving expensive. Simpson himself tried his leg spins, but went for 22 runs in four overs.

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So he had to rely on his fast bowlers and here they just managed to bail him out. Hurst dismissed Kirmani, and then Thommo trapped Chandrasekhar LBW for a duck to ensure victory.

India was bowled out for 324, just 17 runs short of their target and would have to wait another 43 long years to record their first ever Test victory at the Gabba.