The outcome of a fiercely-contested series depended on the final day’s play on February 3, 1978. Abhishek Mukherjee one of the greatest fourth-innings batting displays in the history of the sport.
After their 5-1 thrashing of the West Indians, Australia were the undisputed champions of world of cricket. Though the West Indians were on a steady ascent, there was no doubting the supremacy of the Australians. However, it was then that Kerry Packer and his wallet arrived on the scenario, and Australia lost most of their key players for several seasons.
Bobby Simpson had to be recalled in his 42nd year to lead an utterly inexperienced Australian side that had Jeff Thomson as the only player of note. The batch of youngsters, though not low on spirit by any means, were no match for the original group of stars that were playing World Series Cricket elsewhere in the same country.
It was under these circumstances that India toured Australia in the summer of 1977-78. The Australian rookies showed tremendous spirit under Simpson, Thomson bowled superbly, and after two very close wins at Brisbane (16 runs) and Perth (2 wickets), the Australians were quite comfortably placed in the series.
Then the Indian spinners came into action, and India struck back strongly with resounding victories at Melbourne (222 runs) and Sydney (an innings and 2 runs), thus creating an enormous bit of interest for the decider at Adelaide. It was decided that it would be a six-day affair.
As an aftermath of two consecutive defeats, four Australians made their debut at Adelaide, while Graham Yallop was also drafted in. Simpson won the toss and predictably elected to bat: the Indian spinners, who had bowled beautifully throughout the series, proved ineffective on the flat track. To make the situation worse, Erapalli Prasanna, the ace off-spinner, strained his back and was out of action for most of the first innings.
Taking advantage of the situation, the Australians piled on runs. Rick Darling scored 65 and Peter Toohey 60, and Yallop amassed 121. Toohey and Yallop’s partnership amounted to 120. They ran very quick singles and added to the pressure on the Indian fielders. Simpson came in and added 104 with Yallop, and batted well with the lower middle-order, and scored exactly 100. Even the last wicket partnership between Thomson and Ian Callen yielded 47. After putting up 505 on the board, it seemed that the Aussies had batted India out of the match. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar managed to pick up 5 wickets, while Karsan Ghavri managed three. Bishan Singh Bedi, the Indian captain and only other fit spinner, did not create an impact.
Thomson then produced a short burst of fast and accurate bowling: he accounted for the in-form Sunil Gavaskar, and five balls later, Mohinder Amarnath as well. He looked really menacing. But then he tore his hamstring after sending down just 3.3 overs, and was out of action for the rest of the match. Wayne Clark removed Chetan Chauhan with no addition to the score, and suddenly India found themselves at 23 for 3. India never survived those two blows from Thomson.
Dilip Vengsarkar joined Gundappa Viswanath, and the duo put up 136 runs before both fell in quick succession. Viswanath scored a sublime 89. Thereafter, it was only Syed Kirmani who resisted with 48, and Wayne Clark ran through the tail, picking up 4 wickets while Callen managed three. India were bowled out for 269, 236 runs in arrears. During the innings several umpiring decisions went against the Indians, and Bedi was quite vocal in expressing his resentment.
The Indian bowlers struck back in the second innings. Once again Darling impressed on debut, scoring 56. And Simpson repeated his shepherding role with a 51. It was later revealed that Simpson had fractured his little finger at Sydney, but did not reveal the fact. He played on with the injury, and had managed to play two crucial innings that ultimately turned out to be decisive. Ghavri and Bedi managed four scalps apiece.
A target of 493 was always a daunting, but India already had a recent 400-plus – the existing world record – chase under their belt. Their confidence was also buoyed by the fact that Thomson was still injured and would be unable to bowl. There were over two days to bat out – and India were not left with an alternative but to go for the chase.
Gavaskar began aggressively, but fell with the team score on 40. This was the first time he had failed to impress in a Test in the entire series. Chauhan hung around, but departed before stumps, and India ended day four on 101 for 2. They might have picked up a third, but Viswanath was dropped in the slips when he was only two.
Amarnath and Viswanath batted till lunch, and things looked ominous for Australia at 210 for 2. However, Simpson had already taken the second new ball, and Clark managed to find Viswanath’s edge. He had scored 73. Things seemed to be slipping away when Amarnath fell as well for 86, but Vengsarkar defied the attack, and Anshuman Gaekwad hung around as India crossed 300 for the loss of 4 wickets.
Just when it seemed that India would go into the sixth day with only four wickets down, Bruce Yardley struck twice, removing both batsmen. Vengsarkar had batted brilliantly for his 78, and India were 362 for 6 at the end of day five with Kirmani and Ghavri – both new to the crease – to resume batting the next day.
Kirmani did not give up, though. He continued to fight stubbornly on the sixth morning, and suddenly the target looked achievable. In Ghavri he found the perfect foil. As the boundaries came in, Simpson looked worried, and suddenly batting against spin seemed a lot easier than it was supposed to be.
India crossed 400, and suddenly everyone present at the ground realised that India might pull off a remarkable chase. It was then that Simpson took the third new ball, and brought back his rookie seamers – Clark and Callen. And then, with 78 runs to get, Callen had Ghavri out caught by substitute Kim Hughes. And though Kirmani reached a very well-made 50, Clark ran through his defence. The scoreboard, which had read 415 for 6, suddenly became 417 for 8, and all seemed to be over.
The Indians refused to go down, though: Prasanna and Bedi hung around and once again it seemed that India were clawing their way back into the match. Bedi, who had scored a Test fifty the previous season, was not willing to go down without a fight, and Prasanna did not look like getting out, However, Callen ended Bedi’s fight, and India had lost their ninth wicket with 442 on the board.
Chandrasekhar walked out to bat. With his reputation of having more Test wickets than runs, it was supposed to be a no-contest. However, as Prasanna meandered to 10, the scorers suddenly realised that the top ten batsmen in the line-up had all reached double figures. Could Chandrasekhar do the same and push India closer to the target?
It was not supposed to happen, though. Simpson brought himself on, bowling his 23th eight-ball over (remember, he had already scored 100 and 51 and had fielded in the slips despite having a fractured finger). Almost immediately Chandrasekhar was caught behind, and the Australians were jubilant. India had been bowled out for 445, the second-highest fourth innings score in the history of the game (though it has slipped to the third position now), and the highest in a defeat (it still remains the second-highest). It was the second time in a short span of time that India had pulled off a magnificent fourth-innings display.
Simpson had helped Australia win the rubber 3-2. The margin shows how close the series was, but if we consider the fact that Australia had won all their Tests narrowly and India had bludgeoned them in the two Tests that they had won, the result would seem even closer. However, India had let go their first opportunity to win a series on Australian soil – something that eludes them even to this day.
The Australian young brigade, on the other hand, did a brilliant job under Simpson. It was ironical that almost none of them went on to have a career of any significance.
Brief scores: Australia 505 (Graham Yallop 121, Bobby Simpson 100, Rick Darling 65, Peter Toohey 60; Bhagwat Chandrasekhar 5 for 136) and 256 (Rick Darling 56, Bobby Simpson 51; Karsan Ghavri 4 for 45, Bishan Bedi 4 for 53) beat India 269 (Gundappa Viswanath 89; Wayne Clark 4 for 62) and 445 (Mohinder Amarnath 86, Dilip Vengsarkar 78, Gundappa Viswanath 73, Syed Kirmani 51; Bruce Yardley 4 for 134) by 47 runs.