It took a lot to get Bhagwat Chandrasekhar angry. Caricature by Austin Coutinho
It took a lot to get Bhagwat Chandrasekhar angry. Caricature by Austin Coutinho

January 28, 1976. The usually good-natured Indians of the 1970s lost their cool against some blatantly poor decisions from umpires Dennis Copps and Robert Monteith at Eden Park. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the day the calm Bhagwat Chandrasekhar lost his temper.

Indian cricket fans remember the Eden Park Test of 1975-76 for EAS Prasanna’s 8 for 76 — the best figures by any Indian bowler overseas. It was a dry pitch that promised turn, but Indian captain Bishan Bedi, pulled out of the Test. India went in with Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan to go with Prasanna, while New Zealand drafted in Derek O’Sullivan alongside Hedley Howarth.

New Zealand were off to a good start. After Madan Lal and Mohinder Amarnath sent down the customary overs to take the shine off, acting captain Sunil Gavaskar turned to Chandra and Venkat, and shortly afterwards, Prasanna.

The hosts looked comfortable at 110 for 1 with John Morrison and Bevan Congdon going strong, but both Chandra (6 for 94) and Venkat (3 for 94) kept striking at regular intervals. New Zealand were eventually bowled out for 266.

India lost the debutant Dilip Vengsarkar early. Surinder Amarnath, another debutant, walked out, and played an innings of one-of-its-kind belligerence. He was dropped thrice, dominated the 259-minute stand of 220, smashing 124. In the process he joined his father Lala: they still remain the only father-son pair to score hundreds on Test debut.

Gavaskar duly got his hundred on captaincy debut; Mohinder batted patiently for his 64; and the tail came handy, taking the score from 275 for 6 to 414. Congdon followed his 54 with 5 for 65. The 148-run lead looked sufficient as the Indian spinners came out, smacking their lips in anticipation.

New Zealand lost their first two wickets to quality fielding: Gundappa Viswanath, not the fittest man on the ground, leapt in the air to Morrison at mid-wicket. Then Madan Lal, one of the finest fielders of the side, was shifted to mid-wicket with Glenn Turner on strike; he ran backwards to take a catch; second blood to Prasanna. New Zealand were 39 for 2.

Umpiring errors and a quiet man’s rebuke

Congdon came to the rescue, as did John Parker; and umpires Dennis Copps and Robert Monteith rose to their support. One leg-before after another was turned down; bat-pad catches were ignored; and the pair batted on.

Bowlers and fielders got frustrated. Gavaskar wrote in Sunny Days: “Bat-pad catches were smilingly turned down, and leg-before wicket appeals by us might have been stupid. Once when I took a catch the found it negatived [sic], the entire team was stunned.”

Congdon and Parker batted on amidst chants of “home rules apply, boys” from the crowd. The diligent Venkat stuck to his role of the stock bowler and stuck to a tight line; Prasanna’s patience was legendary; and Chandra, never known to have lost temper till then, persisted.

Parker eventually fell for 70. From 161 for 2 the hosts were reduced to 182 for 8, though not before several more erroneous decisions that went the hosts’ way. Congdon made another 54, his third major contribution in the Test.

Ken Wadsworth and Richard Collinge showed some character, adding 32 for the ninth wicket before the latter became Prasanna’s eighth wicket. Chandra ran in. Wadsworth was on strike. The stumps were flattened. Then it happened. “Chandra — never one to lose his cool, but here frustrated beyond endurance — shot back,” wrote Vengsarkar, much later, on Rediff.

It must be noted here that Chandra was one of the gentlest men to have taken field. An ardent fan of the soulful voice of Mukesh, Chandra would fly to his funeral later that year. One of the quietest men on the field, seldom did he lose his temper, especially on the ground. He would finish his career without an enemy.

This, of course, was different. As the stumps lay spread-eagled, up went Chandra in a vociferous appeal — the fiercest shriek a Mukesh fan admirer could let out, that is. The confused umpire (it is not clear who it was) responded with “he is bowled”.

What followed has gone down as one of the most famous lines in the history of Indian cricket. Chandra asked: “I know he is bowled, but is he out?”

With a mere 68 to chase, Gavaskar took charge and finished things off in an hour. It was India’s first overseas Test victory since The Oval, 1971.

What followed?

– Bedi was back for the second Test at Christchurch, a six-day rain-washed affair that ended in a draw. New Zealand obtained a 133-run lead, but when stumps were drawn, India were 255 for 6. Richard Hadlee then blew India away at Wellington with 4 for 35 and 7 for 23: bowled out for 220 and 81, India lost by an innings.

– India did not win another Test on New Zealand soil till 2008-09.

– After being appointed full-time captain, Gavaskar scored 205 and 73 in his first Test. He failed in the next Test, but followed it up with 107 and 182* in the one that followed. Thereafter it tapered out, and his average of 143.60 as captain petered out; he finished with 50.72.

– It remained Gavaskar’s only hundred against New Zealand. He played 5 more Tests, and scored 241 from them at a mere 30.12.

– Just like his father Lala, Surinder did not score another hundred.

– The West Indians’ response to poor New Zealand umpiring in 1979-80 was not as polite: Colin Croft shoulder-barged into Fred Goodall, and Michael Holding kicked the stumps out of the grounds in protest.

Brief scores:

New Zealand 266 (John Morrison 46, Bevan Congdon 54, Ken Wadsworth 41; Bhagwat Chandrasekhar 6 for 94, EAS Prasanna 3 for 64) and 215 (Bevan Congdon 54, John Parker 70; EAS Prasanna 8 for 76) lost to India 414 (Sunil Gavaskar 116, Surinder Amarnath 124, Mohinder Amarnath 64; Bevan Congdon 5 for 65) and 71 for 2 by 8 wickets.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)