Published on December 20th, 2018 | by Arunabha Sengupta4
The story of India at Melbourne – Part 1🕓 Reading time: 5 minutes
Over the years MCG has not really been a happy hunting ground for the Indian cricketers. They have lost as many as 8 of the 12 Tests they have played here, winning just 2. This series provides a brief outline of the previous Tests played by India at the venue…..
1947-48 (1) Australia won by 233 runs
It was a motley group of talented cricketers of limited international exposure who arrived in Australia to take on the might of Don Bradman’s Australians. As skipper Lala Amarnath put it, “We are here to learn”.
The trials of the side were compounded by the fact that the best batsman of India, Vijay Merchant, was unavailable for the tour. The result was predictable, a 4-0 trouncing with one Test drawn primarily due to weather. Bradman amassed 715 in the series at 178.75. Ray Lindwall, Bill Johnston, Ernie Toshack, Ian Johnson and Keith Miller fought each other for the wickets.
There was drama as well. With Vinoo Mankad running Bill Brown out when the batsman backed up too far. Bradman got his 100th First-Class century. And Vijay Hazare provided the glimmer of joy for the visitors by scoring two hundreds in the same Test.
Already one down in the series, India ran into the Bradman phenomenon in the third Test match at MCG. The Sydney Test had been tantalisingly poised when rain made further play impossible.
With Bradman hammering 132, with Lindsay Hassett getting 80, Australia amassed 394 in the first innings. It was perhaps less than they had once looked like getting, coasting on 268 for 2. But Amarnath and Vinoo Mankad checked the Aussie juggernaut with four wickets apiece.
Also watch: Video: Australia gun down India
Mankad followed that up with a delectable hundred, adding 124 for the first wicket with Chandu Sarwate. But after that, it was only the sterling all-rounder Dattu Phadkar who could fight back on a rain-soaked pitch. With India 9 down for 291, Amarnath declared the innings to get the best out of a sticky.
Bradman responded by inverting the batting order. By the time he himself walked out at 32 for 4, three of the batsmen out being tail-enders, the pitch was better behaved. Young Arthur Morris proceeded to an impressive hundred, while Bradman rollicked along to his second century of the match. He was still unbeaten on 127 when he declared at 255 for 4, perhaps more out of mercy than cricketing concerns. 359 was, in any case, a tough ask, and the Indian innings never got going. With Johnson and Johnston ripping the heart out of the innings, the visitors collapsed to 125 all out. Defeat by 233 runs.
1947-48 (2) Australia won by an innings and 177 runs
The Indian team did not have to wait too long to play their second Test at Melbourne. The series returned to the magnificent venue for the fifth Test match. India were already 3-0 down.
Bradman did let them off relatively easily this time. It was his last innings on Australian soil, and the idea had definitely been to score a century. But when on 57 he tore a muscle under the ribs and had to retire.
Bill Brown, however, went on to hit 99 and the teenaged Neil Harvey stroked his way to 153. When the innings was closed at 575 for 8, and Lindwall bowled Sarwate for a duck, a complete rout was on the cards.
However, the following morning Mankad underlined his claims to being a world-class all-rounder, hitting another hundred from the top of the order. Vijay Hazare and Dattu Phadkar were among the runs again, and India totalled 331. But that was not enough to avoid follow-on. Asked to go in again, they capitulated to 87 all out as, for the final time in the series, the Australian bowlers competed with each other for the wickets once again.
The series was lost 0-4, and the nightmarish association with the Melbourne Cricket Ground had begun.
1967-68 Australia won by an innings and 4 runs
It was 20 years later that India visited the Australian shores again. And the experience was no different this time. It was in fact worse. Australia won all the four Tests played. This time, not even the weather intervened to provide some solace.
Having been outplayed at Adelaide, it was a rather despondent team that arrived in Melbourne to take on Bobby Simpson’s men in the second Test. And it did not help that Garth McKenzie started running through the side almost as soon as they started batting. Captain Nawab of Pataudi walked in at 25 for 5 and played a superb innings of 75, but McKenzie’s 7 for 66 restricted India to 173.
Australia took an 18 run lead … before they lost their first wicket. The old duo of Bill Lawry and Bobby Simpson hammered hundreds. And Ian Chappell, walking in at No 5, hit 151. EAS Prasanna impressed one and all with 6 for 141, and Chappell adamantly maintained that he was the best ever off-spinner of the world. He generally went by what he saw, hence Jim Laker and Hugh Tayfield remained unknown quantities, but it spoke a lot of the Indian offie’s brilliance. However, his efforts notwithstanding, the Australian total of 529 meant another uphill struggle for India in the second innings.
There were some highlights in the Indian second essay. Ajit Wadekar made 99 before falling to Simpson’s leg-break. Pataudi scripted another delightful knock of 85. But as McKenzie completed his 10-wicket haul, India lost with a day and a bit to spare.
1977-78: India won by 222 runs
Bobby Simpson was the captain yet again when India played Australia in 1977-78. But, there was a huge, huge difference.
Simpson was 42 and had been hauled out of retirement because of the Kerry Packer revolution. The best Australian cricketers had all signed up for the alternative universe of World Series Cricket. Even the second layer of talent had been poached.
A group of rather mediocre talents remained to represent Australia in the series that would be the showdown between the traditional and the commercial. It was not India vs Australia. It was Test cricket vs the Kerry Packer Circus. From the top flight of cricketers, only Jeff Thomson remained, back from a major operation, hardly the force he had once been.
Yet, India managed to lose the first Test, and then the second … and eventually the series 2-3. Such paltry were the coffers of Indian success those days that often this 2-3 scoreline against a pedestrian side is still hailed as a success story.
But when India played the third Test at Melbourne, they finally tasted success in Australia. For the very first time. For a while that looked a dream far far away. Especially when they lost two wickets without a run on the board, with a fresh Jeff Thomson removing Sunil Gavaskar for a duck. They recovered to 254 for 6 due to some resolute batting by Mohinder Amarnath, Gundappa Viswanath, a young Dilip Vengsarkar and Ashok Mankad. And then they lost the last four wickets for two runs.
But the pitch aided the fastish leg-spin of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, and apart from Gary Cosier and Craig Serjeant, none of the batsmen had any clue about the fare dished out by the champion leggie. His 6 for 52 stopped Australia at 213.
With Thomson injured and unable to bowl for a long period, India made merry in the second innings, Gavaskar getting a hundred and Viswanath another half-century. Faced with an unrealistic 387 run target, the Australians struggled against the spin of Chandrasekhar and the Indian skipper Bishan Singh Bedi. The captain finished with 4 for 58 and Chandra repeated his first innings figures to perfection with another haul of 6 for 52. The result was a comprehensive win by 222 runs.
The sides were locked 2-2 going into the fifth Test at Adelaide and India made a desperate effort to overhaul a huge 493 run target. At 415 for 6 it still looked gettable, but they ended at 445. The series was lost 2-3.