Cricket Classics

Great Indian deeds but no returns

Thursday, November 06, 2021
SK Sham

Never has an Indian team to Australia dominated a series so completely and yet returned home empty-handed. This had happened to Kapil Dev's 1985-86 side.

The squad had returned to Australia, just months after winning the World Championship of Cricket title against all-comers, an achievement that was equated to the winning of the World Cup. It boasted of one of the strongest batting line-ups ever fielded by India, easily comparable to the present side. Sunil Gavaskar, Krish Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohd Azharuddin, Ravi Shastri and Kapil Dev made up a veritable bulwark.

The batsmen delivered almost every time, so did the bowlers for whatever they were worth, yet somewhere the team lacked motivation and the unity of purpose. All three Test matches were drawn. Leaving the first at Adelaide aside, which was destined for an inevitable draw, India should have won the next two at Melbourne and Sydney.

Of course, the weather had a hand to play, especially at Melbourne, That, however, ought not to have been taken as a major factor in Australia's escape from defeat.

In utter frustration, Kapil blamed it all on what he termed as "biased" umpiring. In reality, he ought to have put the blame more on his own men, who, sadly enough, appeared to play for personal glory.

First Test – Adelaide
The match started with happy tidings for Gavaskar, who had come to Australia after bettering Don Bradman's record of 29 Test centuries. Sir Donald, who had retired from public life, had made just this one exception to make a public appearance, He specially came to the Adelaide Oval to felicitate the Little Master.

The highly-elated Gavaskar redoubled the celebrations by hitting a brilliant 166 in his inimitable style to take India to 520 in reply to Australia's 381.

Earlier, it was the turn of Kapil to set a record by capturing eight wickets in Australia's first Innings, a feat which no Indian bowler had achieved Down Under.

A lead of 139 was of no great avail to India as time had run out.

Second Test – Melbourne
A great chance of victory was allowed to slip from India's grasp, as much due to the late intervention of rain, as to a total lack of enterprise on the part of the batsmen. Spin appeared to be the Aussies' bug-bear, as they were dismissed for 262. Shastri, a very popular figure after his heroics earlier in World Series that had earned him the "Man of the Series" title and an Audi car, had figures for 87.

Once again, a sprinkling of useful contributions, including 86 by Srikkanth and 55 by Kapil, enabled India to score 445, for a big lead of 183 runs.

Skipper Allan Border's 163 boosted Australia's sagging innings and they managed 308. India were left with a modest victory target of 126. There was, however, a great caution attached to it. The weatherman had predicted rain in the afternoon and all newspapers and TV channels had forecast rain around 4-00 pm.

India had to get the runs at hell-bent-for-leather fashion, which batsmen like Srikkanth and Kapil were quite capable of. But, except for Srikkanth, no batsman showed any urgency. Kapil also did not promote himself. Amarnath and Vengsarkar jut plodded on unmindful of the impending showers. India finished at a miserly 59 for 2 in the 25 overs that were possible to be bowled in the time before the rain came. India's hopes had gone down the drain.

Third Test – Sydney
The impact of India's tremendous batting strength was felt by Australia in a big way. Made to follow on, they just about managed to save the Test and the series.

India never had it so good as the first three batsmen, Gavaskar, Srikkanth and Amarnath notched up centuries. There was a touch of the divine to Cheeka's century, his first in Test cricket.

Gavaskar, who had scored 166 in the first Test at Adelaide, came up with another brilliant knock of 172. As in the West Indies, he seemed to enjoy batting in Australia. What is more, is the great encouragement and timely advice that he gave Srikkanth, who was in his usual aggressive mood, hitting leg-spinner Bob Holland for 24 runs (2 sixes and 3 fours) in one over. They put on 191 runs for the opening partnership, of which Srikkanth's share was 116.

Gavaskar was not done yet. He put on a stand of 224 for the second wicket with Amarnath (138). He was eventually out going for a big hit against Holland. Having learnt a few bitter lessons at Melbourne, Kapil promoted himself and hit a breezy 42. Azharuddin too did not waste much time and his quick 59 enabled India to declare at 600 for 4. It was David Boon's century that helped Australia reach respectability against the wiles of Shivlal Yadav and Ravi Shastri. Australia, however, followed on 204 runs behind.

What one saw thereafter was a grim battle for survival. All the batsmen were completely tied down by Yadav and Shastri, Of the 77 overs that the home team faced, as it held on to reach 119 for 6, 34 were maidens. Yadav, who opened the bowling with Kapil, bowled 22 of these and Shastri a dozen. Between them, they had captured 14 of the 16 Australian wickets that fell in the match. How they had craved for just one more to end the resistance of either Richie or Bright to open the door for victory.

First Test at Adelaide - Match drawn
Second Test at Melbourne – Match drawn
Third Test at Sydney - Match drawn