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Continuing in our India-Australia flashback series, here is a brief summary of the 1969-70 Bombay Test

Friday, October 03, 2021

Aussie master class at Brabourne

SK Sham

The 1969-70 season was a hectic one for India with eight Test matches being played at home in just three months. Quick on the heels of the visit of Graham Dowling's popular New Zealand side for a three-Test series, came the Australians. The team led by Bill Lawry was strong all-round outfit, with Ian Chappell and Doug Walters, Stackpole, Redpath and Paul Sheahan making up a formidable batting line-up.

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 first Test was played at Mumbai's Brabourne Stadium with a great air of expectancy. But just before the toss, Vijay Merchant, chairman of the selection committee, brought Subrato Guha, the Bengal medium-pacer, who was in the eleven names announced the previous day, before the media and announced "This young man has agreed to stand down in favour of off-spinner Venkataraghavan in the best interest of the team," with Guha sheepishly looking on.

It was all well again, but not so for the Indian team, from the moment Nawab of Pataudi won the toss and elected to bat.

There was no hint of a collapse to follow the way. Dilip Sardesai and Farrokh Engineer had batted at the top. But their dismissals led to a chain reaction. Young Ashok Mankad, making his Test debut, coming in at No. 3, not only faced the hostility of fiery Graham McKenzie and Allan Connolly, but also a form of sledging so patented by Ian Chappell and never seen in India before. He held steadfast at the crease and gained in confidence when he was joined by his skipper. Pataudi and Mankad put on 145 runs for the fourth wicket.

Both played some fluent strokes, as they countered the mixed attack of pace and spin of John Gleeson, unorthodox and deceptive, and the off-spin of tall Ashley Mallet. It was particularly delightful to watch "Tiger" Pataudi step out to the spinners. He was all elegance. In his company, Mankad displayed immense confidence. Pataudi fell five short of a century and Mankad made a gallant 74. No one else came to the rescue and India were bowled out for 271.

Not that the strong Australian batting showed any great consistency. Nevertheless, a century by hard-hitting Keith Stackpole and a knock of 77 by the pencil-thin Ian Redpath enabled the Aussies to gain a lead of 74 runs. India's spin trio of Prasanna, Bedi and Venkataraghavan shared the spoils, with Prasanna taking 5 for 121.

India fared more miserably in the second innings. The batsmen were just coming and going except for Ajit Wadekar (46), who showed great resistance. He got some support from 9th man Venkataraghavan. The two looked like they would give the total some respectability. But something astonishing happened when the Tamil Nadu off-spinner was dismissed under what surely was one of the most glaring errors of judgment by an umpire.

Connolly had bowled a big outswinger to Venkat who unsuccessfully flashed at it. There was apparent daylight between bat and ball. Wicket-keeper Taber reached out to hold the ball in front of first slip and up went a loud appeal. Umpire Shambu Pan raised his finger. Venkat, shocked that he was given out, looked reluctant to leave the crease but had to eventually walk. He was batting at the pavilion end, where the commentators' box was situated.

Former Delhi pace bowler Devraj Puri was at the microphone. He commented thus: "Venkataraghavan has been given out by umpire Shambu Pan, caught behind. As it appeared to me, the bat was nowhere near the ball."

Those days, the transistor radios of all sizes and shapes had come into vogue and many spectators had carried their portable sets to the stadium. The crowd, first from the East Stand and then the North, reacted spontaneously and started hurling rubbish and then soft-drink bottles on the ground. Bon-fires were lit at several places in the stands. Members on the first and second floors of the clubhouse started throwing chairs onto the ground. In the smoke-filled and a totally chaotic atmosphere, the umpires called off play, with India on 114 for 8.

A.G. Rajadhyaksha, the Inspector-General of Police. Maharashtra, who was one of those watching the match from the clubhouse, directed his officers to get extra force. The policemen who were retaliating by throwing the bottles back into the concrete stands, which injured a few spectators, were told to lay off and move into the stands instead and drive the crowd out.

India were eventually out the next day for 131 and the Aussies knocked off the 63 runs required for victory for the loss of two wickets. The victory came as a great anti-climax to a Test match that had promised a lot.

As a fall-out of the riotous situation at the Brabourne Stadium, the Cricket Club of India issued a press note that blamed the commentators for inciting the crowd by their uncalled for comments. Four of them, Devraj Puri, Saradindu Sanyal, Suresh Saraiya, doing his first Test commentary, and expert Madhav Manrti, were banned from entering the commentators box in the clubhouse premises. The ban lasted for almost two years. Suresh Saraiya had to submit a letter of apology before he was permitted to do commentary again from the CCI. Only one more Test match was played at the Brabourne Stadium thereafter – the fifth and final Test against the England team led by Tony Lewis.