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On January 2, 1956, India managed to draw a Test match against New Zealand at Kolkata after conceding a 204-run lead in the first innings. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at that game with Chandu Patankar, the man who kept wickets for India in that match.
In the 1950s, India were still taking its firsts steps after independence. On the cricket field, they were gradually making progress having recorded their first Test victory in 1952 against England. In those days, Test matches were few and far in between and nearly four years after their maiden win, India had managed only two more victories — against Pakistan to win the series. Thus, when the New Zealanders arrived for their maiden tour to India in 1955-56, India were eyeing those victories and knew that they had a good chance as the tourists weren’t too strong.
The first Test between India and New Zealand was at Hyderabad, which was a drawn affair. India then won the second Test at Mumbai by an innings and 27 runs. The third Test at Delhi was drawn. The two teams then moved to Kolkata for the fourth Test, which started on December 28, 1955. Chandu Patankar, the wicketkeeper was making his Test debut in that game, coming in place of Naren Tamhane. Having represented India in a few games against the Commonwealth sides, this was his first experience in the Test arena.
On Day One, India won the toss and chose to bat. However, they kept losing wickets, starting with Nari Contractor’s with the score on 13. In the top six, only Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad scored in the 20s, with the rest falling in single digit scores. Patankar recalls, “The ball does move a bit in the morning at Kolkata and it happened then. There wasn’t much in the wicket, but we didn’t bat all that well.”
India slipped to 88 for seven when Patankar walked out to bat to join Jayasinghrao Ghorpade. Both of them helped India recover a little and took them past 100. “We didn’t find it too difficult to bat and there was nothing wrong in the wicket. We tried to stay there and build a partnership. This was New Zealand’s first tour to India and they didn’t have any recognized bowlers as such.”
On 125, Ghorpade was bowled by Jack Alabaster for 39. Patankar was to follow soon as he mistimed one shot and was bowled. India were ultimately bowled out for 132 and New Zealand commenced their innings on the first day itself.
What was the mood in the Indian camp? Patankar says, “We were confident of doing well as we had great bowlers in Vinoo Mankad and Subhash Gupte. Bert Sutcliffe and John Reid were their main batsmen.”
The tourists did manage a big partnership upfront with Reid (120) scoring a ton and Jeff Guy getting a 91. They took New Zealand to 239 for two, before Gupte came into play. He trapped Guy leg-before to end the partnership and spark a collapse. Gupte then ran through the line-up with his leg-spin, with GR Sunderam and GS Ramchand taking the other two wickets. New Zealand were bowled out for 336 with Gupte recording figures of six for 90.
For Patankar, it was a bittersweet outing. He took three catches and effected one stumping. However, he missed one catch and that did cost him. “One of the New Zealand batsman got a top-edge and it went high in the air. Being the wicket-keeper, I called it. However, it was swirling as it came down. I was looking up and moving to my right and left. In the end, I lost sight of it and dropped it.”
Having bundled New Zealand out on Day Three i.e. December 31 (December 30 was a rest day), India commenced their second innings 204 runs behind. Although they lost Mankad early, Contractor kept them in play with his 61. At the other end, Pankaj Roy was sowing the seeds of a big knock. “Pankaj failed in the first innings and him not scoring in Kolkata was a tragedy,” Patankar says with a chuckle. It was with that intent that Roy went on to forge a strong partnership with Vijay Manjrekar (90). The 144-run partnership helped India take the lead before Roy was dismissed for 100.
When Roy was out, India were 263 for three. Polly Umrigar was dismissed for 15 and then Ramchand walked in. He continued to rally India and they finished Day Four (January 1, 1956) on 301 for four with Manjrekar on 76 not out and Ramchand on 10. The game had been saved thanks to this monumental effort of batting for almost one-and-a-half days.
Manjrekar was dismissed for 90 the next day and Ramchand continued to battle time and went to his ton as India crossed 400 and declared at 438 for seven. New Zealand now had to bat out 34 overs to finish the game with an improbable target of 235.
However, New Zealand were jolted as they kept losing wickets at regular intervals. Gupte trapped Sutcliffe leg-before with the score on eight. Guy was then bowled by Dattu Phadkar for a duck. Noel McGregor then helped them recover and took them to 37, before Phadkar struck again and dismissed Gordon Leggat. Mankad then had McGregor for 29 with the score on 42. New Zealand lost two more wickets before the innings finished at 75 for six. It was quite a turnaround for India as they were in a spot of bother after the first innings, but came back to give the tourists a scare.
But, India knew victory was out of sight. “There wasn’t much time after we had declared. We did have them at 75 for six, but 34 overs were not enough to get a win. Perhaps Ram (Ramchand) could have continued batting has we not declared.”
What happened next?
- Roy and Mankad put up that world record 413-run opening stand in the next Test at Chennai as India won the game by an innings and 109 runs. They won the series 2-0.
- Patankar never played another Test for India as Tamhane returned for the next at Chennai. He says, “I cursed my luck that I had dropped that catch. Had I taken it, it would have been five dismissals in the first innings for me. Then we used to be judged by the mistakes than what we used to do and competition was tough. Nevertheless, I am lucky that I did get to play Test cricket.”
India 132 (Jayasinghrao Ghorpade 39; John Reid 3 for 19) and 438 for 7 decl. (Pankaj Roy 100, Vijay Manjrekar 90, GS Ramchand 106*; Johnny Hayes 2 for 67) drew with New Zealand 336 (Jeff Guy 91, John Reid 120; Subhash Gupte 6 for 90) and 75 for 6 (Noel McGregor 29; Dattu Phadkar 2 for 11).
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