Cricket Classics

How Lala outwitted Benaud

Monday, September 29, 2021
SK Sham
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India's first-ever Test victory over Australia, almost fifty years ago, remains fresh in the memory, as much for the dramatic manner in which it was pre-planned and achieved, as for the fact that it was my own first Test as a reporter.

The chairman of the selection committee Lala Amarnath it was who had plotted the downfall of Richie Benaud's Australians at Kanpur in 1959.

Independent India's first captain, as colourful a personality as any Indian cricket has seen, was particularly known for his odd strategy that occasionally carried enough bluff and bluster to leave his colleagues as well as his rivals flabbergasted. A classic example of this was his planning for a likely victory at Kanpur's Green Park, The main actor in this drama was a little-known off-spinner by the name of Jasubhai Motibhai Patel.

The tall and handsome Jasu Patel had not pursued the game with any great passion as do today's cricketers, even though his fastish off-breaks, especially on a wearing wicket, had trouble most batsmen in domestic cricket. As soon as Amarnath was appointed manager of the Indian team on the first tour of Pakistan in 1954-55, he had thought it fit to include the Gujarat bowler in the squad. After making an undistinguished Test debut at Karachi, Jasu hardly played for India again and was a forgotten man.

Even as he was working on a special pitch, dry ad under-prepared at one end and perfect-looking at the other, Amarnath asked the then BCCI president Ratilal Patel to send Jasu Patel to Kanpur. A surprised BCCI chief, himself a resident of Ahmedabad, sent a reply to the effect that Jasu had practically given up first-class cricket.

Amarnath's firm insistence, however, could not be ignored. Along with the rather queerly conceived wicket, Patel too was being prepared for the match. No one was allowed to see the pitch from close quarters and the media was being fed with stories of the inclusion of a mystery bowler in the Indian side.

Skipper GS Ramchand, who had lost the first Test at Delhi, was unhappy that a faded bowler was to replace a regular off-spinner in Ghulam Ahmed. All efforts of the Australians to figure out who the mystery bowler was did not succeed, as the man had last played a Test match five years ago.

The day of reckoning had a few more surprises. After all the build-up, it was the batsmen who flopped and India were bowled out for 152.

Ramchand was reluctant to bring on Jasu Patel as he was defending a low total. When Australia had comfortably moved to 70 without losing a wicket, an angry Amarnath sent a note to the skipper to immediately bring Patel on and from the end that he had suggested. It could not have made for a pleasant lip-reading, as Ramchand spoke to his senior colleagues. But he had to obey the orders of the then most powerful man in Indian cricket.

From the moment he came on to bowl, the mystery began to unravel. Jasu was almost unplayable and the Australians were bowled out for 219. The total would have been lower but for a swashbuckling 41 by Alan Davidson.

Jasu Patel ran through the side for dream figures of 9 for 69. Chandu Borde's dismissal of Norman O'Neill prevented a perfect ten for Patel.

A vastly improved Indian batting performance set Australia a victory target of 224, not difficult by any means, but the ghost of the mystery bowler continued to haunt them. All the circumspection against Jasu, led them to losing wickets at the other end to Polly Umrigar, who had figures of 4 for 27. Patel finished with 5 for 55, for match figures of 14 for 124, a record bettered almost three decades later by Narendra Hirwani who captured 16 wickets on his Test debut at Chennai against the West Indies.

Australia were bowled out for 105, leaving India comfortable winners by 119 runs.
 
The man with the golden arm played only one more Test thereafter. Tragically, the arm that had destroyed the Aussies was lost later in a car accident. It was so badly damaged that it had to be amputated. The one-Test wonder, who had helped India write a historic chapter, died a recluse in 1992.
 


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