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. Here is a brief outline of the previous Tests played by India at the venue. This is the second of the three-part series…..
Also Read: The story of India at Melbourne – Part 1
1980-81 India won by 59 runs
Packer was past. At least the parallel universe of World Series Cricket. Otherwise he was very much there, and cricket telecast had never been this good.
With the end of World Series Cricket, the greats of Australia were back in the side. Yet, strangely, struggling through the entire stretch of the three-Test series, India managed to return with honours shared. All because of the final innings at Melbourne. Yes, the ground does have a few happy memories as well.
Strange indeed, because the depleted side of 1977-78 had beaten them 3-2.
India had been battered at Sydney, Greg Chappell’s 204 outscoring their identical 201-run efforts in the two innings. At Adelaide, Sandeep Patil had scripted a fascinating 174 but it had taken a nerve wracking half an hour of survival by Karsan Ghavri and Shivlal Yadav to ensure that India scraped through with a draw with two wickets to spare.
As Dennis Lillee and Len Pascoe tore through the top order to leave them gasping at 99 for 5 and then 115 for 6, indications were that the saga of defeats at Melbourne was about to be resumed.
However, Gundappa Viswanath, not in the best of form in recent times, turned the clock back and essayed a magical 114. It took India to the border of respectability, to 237.
It looked far less than sufficient, though, with Allan Border slamming a hundred and Greg Chappell and Doug Walter getting 70s. It did not help that Kapil Dev retired from the attack with a strained hamstring early in the innings. With Ghavri and Dilip Doshi shouldering most of the bowling, Sandeep Patil chipped in with two late wickets. But with 419 on the board, Australia led by a mammoth 182-run margin.
Things finally started to look a bit brighter for India when captain Sunil Gavaskar began demonstrating some indications of form. Till then he had had a torrid tour. On the fourth morning, the openers were still there and they had all but wiped out the deficit. Chetan Chauhan was essaying another of his gutsy efforts. Gavaskar had just reached 70, and the total was on 165.
And then Lillee’s delivery thudded into the Indian skipper’s pad. The finger went up, the Australians celebrated. Gavaskar was aghast, claiming that he had got an edge. The great fast bowler walked up to the diminutive master and helpfully pointed out the mark on the pad indicating where the ball had hit. And suddenly Gavaskar lost it.
Perhaps something was said, perhaps the disappointment was too great. He beckoned Chauhan and started walking off the ground together. It dangerously looked as if India were forfeiting the match.
Thankfully, better senses prevailed. Wing Commander Shahid Durrani, manager of the Indian side, walked to the pavilion gate, asked Chauhan to stay there on the ground and sent in the next man Dilip Vengsarkar. It was Durrani who pacified the irate Gavaskar. The match went on.
Chauhan ended with 85, Vengsarkar got 41, and the Indians managed 324. That meant 143 to win. A paltry target at best.
Kapil Dev was not on the ground on the fourth afternoon when Australia started their innings. He was still nursing his serious hamstring injury. Karsan Ghavri opened the bowling with Sandeep Patil. Shivlal Yadav had a broken toe and Dilip Doshi a fractured instep. The most hopeless of situations.
And then it happened. Ghavri got John Dyson to snick and it was 11 for 1. The next ball to Greg Chappell was short but did not rise. Committed on the backfoot, eager to hook, the great man was bowled round the legs. Seven runs later Doshi had Graeme Wood stumped. Australia ended the day tottering at 24 for 3.
That night there was a dinner party for the visiting side hosted by an Indian doctor living in Melbourne. It was during this event that Kapil informed Gavaskar that he would bowl the following day, no matter how much it pained. After several pain-killing injections and ultra-sound treatment, he proceeded to do just that.
At 40, Doshi castled Kim Hughes. After that Kapil ran through the side. 16.4-4-28-5. One of the greatest bowling efforts in Indian history. Only the ninth wicket did not fall to him. He thought he had got Len Pascoe leg before, but the umpire did not agree. The batsman waited pensively for the verdict, marginally outside his crease. And from silly point Dilip Vengsarkar threw down the stumps to make it 79 for 9.
Four runs later, Kapil trapped Jim Higgs leg before. India had pulled it off, a miraculous 59-run win. The series was squared 1-1.
1985-86 Match Drawn
India had already won at Melbourne in 1977-78 and 1980-81. Every ounce of reason and logic suggested that 1985-86 would mark a hat-trick of wins. But, they were denied. By the elements, but more so by themselves.
The great names of Australian cricket had all left … all but Allan Border. There was no Lillee, Marsh or Chappell, no Doug Walters, no Len Pascoe, no Jeff Thomson, not even Kim Hughes. It was a weak side, the weakest since the Packer era. They were a team under reconstruction. Many of the players who would become great names, later on, were just about to embark on their respective Test careers.
And after a boring draw at Adelaide, they struggled at Melbourne, on a track that surprisingly helped the three Indian spinners. Ravi Shastri and Shivlal Yadav had them in all sorts of trouble from Day One. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan had by then lost most of his mojo, but even he prised out skipper Border and a very young Steve Waugh. The hosts gasped at 127 for 6. But then the bowlers struggled to get rid of the tail, and a hundred by the eccentric Greg Matthews took the Aussies to 262.
India got off to a rollicking start with Krishnamachari Srikkanth blasting 86 from 89 balls. For the next day and a half, they consolidated, with Vengsarkar scoring a sedate 75 over almost five and a half hours, Shastri 49 in four. Skipper Kapil hit 55 in good time, and India were all out on the fourth morning for 445.
By the end of the fourth day, Shastri and Yadav had all but wrapped it up. Australia were 228 for 8, only 45 ahead, Border battling alone on 98, with the only rank tail-enders Bruce Reid and Dave Gilbert yet to be dismissed. Things would have ended earlier had Ray Bright not been allowed to stick around for over an hour and a quarter.
The following morning Yadav got Reid early enough. But Gilbert, with some help from the umpires, proved rather difficult to dislodge. And Kapil was happy to spread the field to Border, and when to push your fielders to the fence in a ground as big as MCG, it often results in easy twos. A publication later branded Kapil’s field setting as quixotic.
The Border-Gilbert stand lasted five minutes short of two hours, and by the time the Australian skipper was stumped off Yadav trying to push for a single, he had amassed 163.
Still, India had two sessions to knock off the 120 to win. There was a weather warning, but Srikkanth had already shown how to score quickly in the first innings. It surely would be over quickly.
One would think so. But the Indians decided to ignore the threats of rain. Srikkanth was relatively quick, getting 38 off 61 balls. In fact, compared to the rest of them, he was positively electric. Gavaskar crawled to 8 from 54 deliveries, batting for an hour and 8 minutes, before being castled by Reid. Mohinder Amarnath spent 40 minutes at the crease and remained unbeaten on 3 at Tea. In that session, India managed to score 60 runs, for the loss of two wickets, in 25 overs.
And then the rain came pelting down. The match was drawn. Due to some ridiculous approach by the Indian batsmen.
The slow approach backfired at Sydney as well. 334 for 1 at the end of the first day, they took all of second day to get to 600. By the time the collapse was triggered on the fifth day by some incisive spin bowling, it was way too late. Australia played out time with 6 wickets down in the second innings. The series ended in a 0-0 stalemate.
1991-92 Australia won by 8 wickets
By now the Australians had turned the difficult corner and were on the way to becoming the strongest side in the world. In fact, on form, the attack of Craig McDermott, Bruce Reid and Merv Hughes ranks as one of the best ever if we take their retrofitted ICC Ratings into account.
Thus, the days of nightmare returned with a vengeance. The series was lost 0-4.
India, led by Mohammad Azharuddin, lost at Brisbane by 10 wickets, and moved to Melbourne for the second Test. As had happened in the first Test in both the innings, the new ball proved too difficult to negotiate. The top half of the batting made way fewer runs than the second. From 109 for 5, India was hauled to 263 by a gutsy rear-guard effort by Kiran More and Venkatpathy Raju. But Bruce Reid’s left-arm deliveries with their slanting angles proved too difficult for the top order to handle.
Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar did do their best to pull it back India’s way. But Geoff Marsh, Dean Jones and Ian Healy contributed with half-centuries and the stubborn tail ensured that the lead was stretched to 86. By the end of the third day, India had just about wiped out the deficit, but had lost five wickets in doing so.
The fourth morning saw an interesting association. The veteran 35-year-old Dilip Vengsarkar gamely resisted the fast bowlers. At the other end was the 18-year-old prodigy Sachin Tendulkar. That 62-run partnership was probably the only bright spot for India in the match.
But then Tendulkar stepped out to off-spinner Peter Taylor and hit high into the wind. Allan Border got under it. The challenge was over. Australia lost just a couple of wickets in getting to the 120-odd run target.