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Gundappa Viswanath’s 114 against all odds at the Melbourne Cricket Ground coliseum

Gundappa Viswanath’s 114 against all odds at the MCG coliseum

The scoreboard speaks volumes for Gundappa Viswanath’s single-handed defiance against the might of the Australian attack in the 1981 Melbourne Test. Video grab and © Getty Images

On February 7, 1981, Gundappa Viswanath scored a magnificent hundred to help India square a series against all odds. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at yet another match-winning performance by India’s “Other Little Master.”

You have been trailing 0-1 in the series. Your opposition has one of the finest bowlers of all time, who has already taken 13 wickets from the previous two Tests, and is closing down upon being the highest wicket-taker of his country, ready to pounce upon you. He also has a raging partner. Your side is 22 for two when you walk out, and are soon reeling at 43 for three, losing your ace batsman. You are woefully out of form, having scored 69 from the previous four innings of the series. The pitch is not the best to bat on and is likely to induce variable bounce.

It was under these circumstances that Gundappa Viswanath took up his relied willow against Dennis Lillee and team; he knew that he had to deliver if India had to square the series. After Len Pascoe and Lillee took a wicket apiece, Viswanath settled down, seeing off the new ball of Lillee and Pascoe.

Then, when Greg Chappell came on, he unleashed his famous square-cut. The ball was only slightly outside the off-stump, but he swiftly shifted the balance to his back-foot, and unleashed the stroke that emitted more charisma than power, as has always been the case with Viswanath. The ball raced to the point boundary, just beating an agonising chase for the fielder.

Viswanath showed positive intent, and within no time went past Sunil Gavaskar. Soon after, though, Gavaskar edged one off Pascoe, and India was in serious trouble just before lunch. Viswanath looked unperturbed, though, and carried on the good job with Sandeep Patil.

Patil took the attack to the Australian camp – he had scored a stunning 174 in the previous Test, and he seemed to have carried the form here as well. He drove Bruce Yardley thrice to the fence to bring up the fifty. And then, for good measure, drove one straight back past Lillee that went like a rocket. Viswanath, batting with the sun hat on, he responded by steering Lillee through the slips for a three, and for a while things seemed to be under control.

It was then that Lillee struck again. He bowled a short one to remove Patil, ending his 33-ball blitz of 23. Yashpal Sharma edged one to Rodney Marsh off Lillee leg-cutter soon, and suddenly India, at 99 for five, were in trouble again. A bareheaded Kapil Dev snicked one through the slips for four to get off the mark and bring up 100 for the team.

Viswanath, who seemed to have regained his form, now cover-drove Jimmy Higgs regally through the covers for a boundary. However, Kapil tried to flick Pascoe, and found Kim Hughes at square-leg, and India lost their sixth wicket with only 115 on the board. Viswanath was on 47, his highest score of the series.

Syed Kirmani pulled and cover-drove Higgs for two fours, and quickly reached 15 while Viswanath still remained on the same score. Shortly afterwards Viswanath nudged one to short extra-cover and reached a well-deserved fifty. It had taken him 117 balls, and he had been around for 150 minutes.

Soon afterwards, Pascoe bounced one, and Viswanath could only fend it off his face; the ball flew over Marsh’s head for another four. That was perhaps the only false stroke he played in that innings. His confidence was soon restored, though, as he unleashed the square-cut yet again – this time off Lillee – and the ball raced to the point boundary. It was an exemplary stroke: the moment he saw that the ball was there to be hit, he went back and brandished his bat like a whip; there was only one possible conclusion to the stroke.

Lillee was relentless, though. He bowled beautifully with the old ball, beating Kirmani’s outside edge thrice in two overs – and finally inducing a snick with a fourth. The score was 164 for seven, and Karsan Ghavri, possibly the last batsman who could hang around, walked out. The wicket took Lillee past Graham McKenzie, and within one wicket of Richie Benaud’s tally of 248 Test wickets.

It was then that Viswanath decided to open up. He finally unleashed his famous square-drive – the stroke that had defined him more than any other – off Higgs for a four. He followed it with an innovative paddle of sorts – while still standing on his feet – to fine leg, for another four. And then, when Higgs dropped one short, he traded his finesse for power – and pulled him through mid-wicket to enter the nineties.

And then, as he drove one ever so majestically to cover-point, the batsmen ran for a couple, and as Ghavri attempted a third, Viswanath sent him back. Ghavri dived for his crease, but it was too late. Yardley’s threw to the striker’s end, Chappell collected it and threw to the bowler, and Higgs removed the bails – somewhat controversially, as the commentators thought that he had probably hit the stumps with his elbow first. Ghavri was run out for a 21-ball duck, but he had hung around to help the partnership to 26.

Higgs bowled one that came to Shivlal Yadav on the second bounce, and was dispatched to the cover fence. Chappell brought back Lillee, who attempted a yorker but ended up bowling one well outside off-stump, and Viswanath stretched out to guide the ball through the slips for another four. He was on 99 now, and India went past 200.

Then, somewhat uncharacteristically, he lofted one past cover off Higgs to reach a well-deserved hundred. As the massive Melbourne Cricket Ground crowd stood up for a standing ovation, the little man held his bat aloft and nodded curtly in acknowledgement. It had taken him 188 balls and 229 minutes, which meant that the second fifty had come off 71 balls and 79 minutes. It was his 12th Test hundred, and his first in Australia.

Though Pascoe bowled Viswanath off a no-ball, he seemed unfazed. A furious Pascoe hit Yadav on the toe that later resulted in a fracture – but he carried on batting. When Yardley came to him round the wicket, he stepped out of the crease and lofted him over for yet another boundary. Then, with his score on 114 and the team on 230, a ball finally brushed his pad and went to Chappell at first slip off Yardley; the masterpiece had come to an end. Though the replays showed that there was no edge, Viswanath, the true sportsman that he was, did not show any dissent.

Viswanath had batted like a true champion: he had countered poor form, hostile pace and virtually no support from his teammates – Kirmani’s 25 was the next highest – and had combined grace with aggression to rescue India to a score that was somewhat prestigious, and gave his bowlers something to bowl at. It was a stunning innings that later went on to define the course of the Test and the series.

What happened next?

India finally folded for 237. The Australian batsmen piled up 419 in response, Allan Border scored a hundred and both Doug Walters and Chappell crossed 75. Yadav had bravely bowled 32 overs. Dilip Doshi – as was later revealed – had gone into the Test with a fractured instep as well, and bowled a marathon spell of 52-14-109-3.

Meanwhile, Kapil had also strained a thigh muscle, and the Indian bowling looked in tatters, with Ghavri being the only one completely fit to bowl. As Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan began to rebuild with 182 runs in arrears, the former was given leg-before off Lillee by Rex Whitehead. Gavaskar, who clearly thought there was an inside edge, decided to walk off, and asked Chauhan to follow him.

Luckily, the manager – Wing Commander SK Durrani – intervened, and play got under progress. Gavaskar got 70, Chauhan 85, Vengsarkar 41, Viswanath 36 while Patil blitzed a 26-ball 36. Lillee took four wickets to go past Benaud, and India left Australia 143 to chase for an easy victory.

Kapil was completely unable to bowl that day, and Yadav was ruled out of the match. To accompany Ghavri, Doshi took the field. With the ball keeping oddly low, Ghavri removed John Dyson and Chappell off successive deliveries, bowling the latter around his legs. Doshi, from the other end, had Graeme Wood stumped, and Australia were 24 for three at stumps.

Kapil was administered pain-killing injections at regular intervals throughout the night, and he finally braved the pain and took field the next morning. The rest is history: Kapil took five for 28 on a pitch that offered variable bounce, while Doshi supported him with two for 33. Ghavri returned figures of two for 10, and India romped to victory, bowling out Australia for 83 in 48.4 overs, squaring the series.

Despite Kapil’s heroics, there was no doubt whatsoever who the Man of the Match would be. The innings of unmatched pedigree that had set up the match on day one and had allowed India to have any chance whatsoever did not really have a contender. Rarely has an Indian played an innings of such quality to equal an overseas series from being one down.

Brief score: India 237 (Gundappa Viswanath 114; Dennis Lillee 4 for 65) and 324 (Chetan Chauhan 85, Sunil Gavaskar 70, Dilip Vengsarkar 41; Dennis Lillee 4 for 104) beat Australia 419 (Allan Border 124, Doug Walters 78, Greg Chappell 76, Rodney Marsh 45) and 83 (Kapil Dev 5 for 28) by 59 runs.

(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)

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