On September 12, 1979, 32-year-old left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi recorded a six-wicket haul on Test debut after 24-year-old Allan Border beat the Madras heat with a splendid century. Jaideep Vaidya goes through the events of the Test match.
Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC) had ensured that Australian cricket was split into two when the squad arrived in India in the latter half of 1979 for their first tour in 10 years. Kim Hughes led what was called the Establishment party, one filled with rookies, to the Indian shores. The Chappells, the Lillees and the Marshs had made way for younger, inexperienced blood: the likes of Allan Border, Andrew Hilditch, Graeme Wood and Dav Whatmore. Rodney Hogg, who had taken 41 wickets in his first Test series, against England in the Ashes a year ago, was the main paceman, with Alan Hurst and Geoff Dymock for company. Jim Higgs provided the lone spin option.
India wasn’t, and still isn’t, the most alluring of tours for the western civilisation. Border, on his first tour of the tropical and exotic land, provided a colourful description in his autobiography: “For the first time you consistently face the spinning ball on very dry wickets. You have a battery of close-in fieldsmen breathing down your neck most of the time, waiting for the bat-pad catch. And as often as not, you’re fighting a bout of diarrhoea or some other wretched gastric complaint while you’re going through all this. It’s quite a challenge, I can tell you.”
The Australians were lucky in that they travelled up north to the cooler confines of Srinagar to face the North Zone in a tour match first up. After that, they jumped from the Himalayas straight into the furnace that is Madras ahead of the first Test. “Extreme heat coupled with extreme humidity is about as much as the western body can stand,” wrote Border. “Throw in the food and drink problem and you have a very good reason to give Madras a miss when you’re planning an Indian holiday.”
That being said, the Australians spent a good 10 days acclimatising themselves with the conditions. They had arrived from the World Cup in England earlier than the Indians themselves and thus were more equipped than Sunil Gavaskar’s men when the first Test started on September 11. Hughes called right at the toss and gladly put his team in to bat. Andrew Hilditch fell early after clipping a Kapil Dev outswinger straight to gully, before Border came in at one-down and stuck around with Graeme Wood for a while to take the score to 75 without further damage. It was here that a 32-year-old debutant left-arm spinner made his first entry into the record books.
After a decade of playing First-Class cricket for Bengal, two seasons with Nottinghamshire and a stint with Northumberland, Doshi, now living in Hampstead, received a telephone call from his brother in Calcutta informing him that he had been picked in the 14-man Indian squad for the first two Tests against Australia at home. Even though there was another left-arm spinner in the side in Rajinder Singh Hans, Doshi could not help but be over the moon since he felt that he “would not have been included unless I was to make the final eleven.”
Doshi flew down to India along with his young family, and the trip would begin inauspiciously after their baggage did not arrive in Bombay with them. His would be roommate Yajurvindra Singh told CricketCountry of Doshi’s plight: “He was very conscious of his clothes; he was the best dressed member of the team — very fussy about his appearance. Unfortunately, when he has called up for the match from London, his bags did not turn up. He was very disturbed and quite pissed off.”
A flustered Doshi’s mood lightened up a notch after Hughes won the toss and put India in to field, since Doshi wanted to get his hands on the ball as soon as possible. And then, with the score on 75 for one, Wood tried to pull Doshi’s quicker ball and missed, and was trapped leg-before. This brought the captain Hughes to the crease to partner young Border, who had been dropped by Yajurvindra when he had still not opened his account. The blue-blooded Indian, who carved a reputation of being one of India’s best close-in fielders, recalled: “We had strategised against Border after watching him in the nets, since we hadn’t watched him bat earlier. We noticed that he liked to flick the ball off his legs and, thus, captain Sunil Gavaskar stationed me at backward short-leg and Kapil Dev was instructed to bowl late inswing. But sometimes, when you plan something and anticipate it, anxiety creeps in. Border did exactly what we expected him to and flicked it towards me, but the ball came into my belly and went out.”
Border played a chanceless innings after that initial reprieve and ensured that Yajurvindra got all the flak possible from his teammates throughout the day. Border had scored a brilliant century against South Zone at Hyderabad just a few days ago and was well on course for another one at Madras. “Every movement he made was measured and purposeful,” noted the Australian Associated Press. “He was absolutely solid in defence and brilliant in attack. His concentration was sorely tested as he lingered 10 minutes or more on 99, trying not to be put off by the whistles, stamping and handclapping of 30,000 Indians eager to see the first century of the series. He broke the deadlock when he swung left-armer Dilip Doshi for four, his 17th of the innings.” Border thus brought up his sixth First-Class ton and second Test century, even as Australia took their score to 244 for two at stumps, with Border on 129 and Hughes unbeaten on an equally good 77.
The next day, Hughes fell after making a round 100 to end a 222-run third-wicket partnership. Hughes, who had played responsibly to reach three figures, was out to a shot he would rue. The right-hander danced down the track to Doshi trying to whack him over mid-off, but misconnected and hit the ball straight to Srinivas Venkataraghavan in the covers. This would be the start of Australia’s decline. Border would depart soon after, via a rather unfortunate mode of dismissal: Graham Yallop’s powerful straight drive off Doshi took the deflection off the bowler’s arm before crashing into the stumps, with Border backing up a bit too far. Thus, after a seven-hour marathon including 24 fours and a six, Border fell for 162 off 360 deliveries. Doshi bowled a terrific spell of five for 40 in about 11 overs, finishing with figures of six for 103; and Australia slumped from 297 for two to 390 all-out. It was a memorable debut for Doshi, who went on to take two more wickets in the second innings and record match figures of eight for 167. This set Doshi on the way to a rare record: he, Clarrie Grimmett and Saeed Ajmal are the only bowlers so far to have taken 100 Test wickets after starting their international careers aged above 30.
The match, meanwhile, was drawn after India responded to Australia’s total with 425 runs of their own, with Gavaskar, Syed Kirmani, Dilip Vengsarkar, Yashpal Sharma and Kapil all getting half-centuries. This was enough to send the match towards a draw, all but nullifying the efforts of the two protagonists — Border and Doshi. It has been said that Border’s century at Madras was the turning point of his career, a performance which really established him in the Australian side. Border wrote of it, “Despite my lack of respect for Madras as a city, I have fond memories of it from a personal achievement viewpoint…It was my highest score in a young Test career and my 222-run partnership with Hughes for the second wicket was a source of great satisfaction for us both.” Yajurvindra, the man who allowed Border the liberty to do so, agrees that the 24-year-old “batted beautifully. He played the cover drive really well and also played the square-cut brilliantly. Everyone in the team gave me a dirty look after that. He still treats me to a beer for it.”
Australia 390 (Allan Border 162, Kim Hughes 100; Dilip Doshi 6 for 103) and 212 for 7 (Andrew Hilditch 55, Allan Border 50; Srinivas Venkataraghavan 3 for 77) drew with India 425 (Dilip Vengsarkar 65, Kapil Dev 83; Jim Higgs 7 for 143).