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In 1969-70 India found a few gems in an otherwise acrimonious battle with Aussies

Thursday, October 02, 2021

The coming of Vishy and the spin quartet

SK Sham

The 1969-70 series between India and Australia could best be described as the good, bad and the ugly of cricket, a gentleman's game otherwise.

It provided an important landmark in India's Test history, as the series marked the coming together of India's fabulous spin quartet of Bishen Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagawat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghan. It provided a potent striking force to India's bowling and it was to carry out its destructive reign for almost a decade before it gradually disintegrated.

Australia's tour of India, 1969-70

Bombay Test - Aus won by 8 wkts

Kanpur Test -  Match drawn

Delhi Test - Ind won by 7 wkts

Calcutta Test - Aus won by 10 wkts

Madras Test - Aus won by 77 runs

Australia won the series 3-1

The series also saw the emergence of Tiger Pataudi as a shrewd captain, who for, the first time in the annals of Indian captaincy, had his wishes overriding those of the selectors'. He was able to make the then chairman of selectors Vijay Merchant to change the already announced playing eleven on the morning of the match. Merchant was forced to do it in quite a cryptic manner, saying "Medium-pacer Subroto Guha has sportingly decided to stand down in favour of off-spinner Venkataraghavan for the sake of the team."

Apart from the top quality spin quartet, the series saw the emergence of another player who was to become a legend. The second Test at Kanpur marked the debut of Gundappa Viswanath, and what a debut it was.

India had lost the trouble-ridden first Test at Mumbai by eight wickets. Skipper Bill Lawry preferred to play safe and the second at Kanpur was drawn. A little known young batsman from Mysore, as the Karnataka team was then known, Viswanth was out for a "duck in his debut innings. In the second knock, however, he quickly got into his strides and the strokes that flowed from his bat were a sheer delight to watch. The exquisite square-cut and the stylish flick to midwicket, off his toes, were the pick of them, as he kept his date with destiny and scored a century on Test debut.

The dapper little batsman, a classicist in every sense of the term, was to dominate the Indian batting with Sunil Gavaskar for over a decade. It may sound strange but, despite the fact that these two played so many Tests together, they were involved only in a couple of big partnerships. But each in his own way, raised the Indian batting to great heights.

Australia went to Delhi maintaining its one-nil lead in the series. The Feroz Shah Kotla wicket had never been known to have favoured spin and yet it was some great bowling by Bedi and Prasanna that helped India to record a resounding seven-wicket victory.

Australia won the toss and made first use of the wicket. They ran smack into the wiles of Bedi and Prasanna. Ian Chappell stood amidst the ruins, scoring a brilliant 138 out of a total of 296. Bedi and Prasanna captured four wickets each.

The Indian batsmen fared even worse. Despite Ashok Mankad's gallant knock of 97, India, with 223, trailed the Aussies by 73 runs.

The advantage of the big lead appeared to vanish quickly, as without wasting any time, Pataudi had Bedi and Prasanna operating from either end. They proved deadlier than in the first innings. Australia were bowled out for 107, of which Bill Lawry made made 49. Bedi had figures of 5 for 37 and Prasanna 5 for 42.

Ajit Wadekar's 91 made sure that that India hit the requisite 181 runs for victory for the loss of only three wickets.

When he had gained a sizeable first innings lead, skipper Bill Lawry had said that he would finish the match in four days and go fishing on the fifth. The match did get over in four days, but it was not Lawry but Tiger Pataudi (as a newspapert cartoon depicted) who was sitting by the riverside with the hook, line and sinker.