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Syed Kirmani becomes only the third night watchman in Test history to score a century

Syed Kirmani

Syed Kirmani © Getty Images

On this day in 1979, India completed their first series victory over Australia, with a comprehensive innings win. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the Test match in which Syed Kirmani scored a century as a night watchman and a depleted Australian side was thoroughly outplayed.

Having lost the second match of the series at Kanpur by 153 runs, Australia – depleted by huge migration to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket – needed to win the sixth and final Test at Bombay to square the series.

However, Sunil Gavaskar put paid to their hopes by first winning the toss and then putting on 193 for the first wicket with his trusted partner Chetan Chauhan. The pitch promised turn, but Peter Sleep and Jim Higgs did not really have it in them to test the solid Indian line up. They sorely missed Bruce Yardley, ruled out due to injury.

Gavaskar batted for five hours, mixing immaculate patience with occasional aggression, slowly and surely taking the match away from the Australians, and brought up his 22nd hundred. However, when the part time left-arm spin of Allan Border got rid of Dilip Vengsarkar and Gavaskar in quick succession towards the end of the day, the terrors of turn that awaited the visitors loomed large.

India finished the first day on 231 for three, Gundappa Viswanath at the wicket with night watchman Syed Kirmani.

The next morning Australia forced their way back into the match. Higgs induced Viswanath into hitting one back to him, and then Rodney Hogg quickly skittled out Yashpal Sharma and Mohinder Amarnath with short balls – the latter falling on his stumps.

Kapil Dev and Kirmani added 46 before Higgs got the all-rounder caught close in, and at 327 for seven, the promise of a large total seemed destined to remain unfulfilled.

But then came an unexpected and highly-invigorating partnership. Kirmani, the ever busy and determined customer, refused to give his wicket away, and Karsan Ghavri, a valuable player who could bowl both left-arm pace and spin, suddenly uncovered his hidden talents with the willow.

Ghavri had always been a useful late order batsman, but had managed just one fifty from 27 Tests before this. Now, he gave signs of his attacking instincts as he flayed the attack to all parts of the ground, slamming three sixes and 12 fours and raced to 86 in just 99 deliveries. The partnership added 127 runs for the eighth wicket when Ghavri skied Geoff Dymock into the outfield. Kirmani was a stroke away from his century.

Shivlal Yadav dutifully held fort as the Indian wicket-keeper reached his century in just over five hours, an innings full of intelligent application. It was just the third century by a night watchman in the history of Test cricket. This was an apt response for India because Tony Mann had struck a century for Australians as a night-watchman against them just two seasons earlier.

Gavaskar declared at 458 for eight at the fag-end of the second day. When the teams were resumed after the rest day, the pitch increasingly favoured the spinners.

There were two moments of controversy. Andrew Hilditch was not very happy to be given run out, and captain Kim Hughes showed the red mark on his sleeve to demonstrate he had not played the ball that was caught by Vengsarkar at silly point. However, Yadav’s four for 40 and Dilip Doshi’s five for 43 restricted Australia to a measly160.

Following on, they lost openers Graham Yallop and Hilditch, quickly removed by opening bowlers Ghavri and Kapil Dev respectively.

Border and Hughes now batted with grim determination and saw them through to the end of the third day, and well into the fourth. It was just 20 minutes from lunch when Hughes holed out, trying a hook off Kapil. Dave Whatmore was trapped leg before and Rick Darling retired hurt, struck on the head by a bouncer. Kapil and Doshi ran through the rest of the batting and Australians ended their second innings at 198.

The margin of win was as fittingly round as comprehensive – an innings and 100 runs. India clinched the series 2-0, their first triumph over an Australia side.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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