From left: Graham Dowling, Dayle Hadlee, Bruce Taylor (all © Getty Images), Bob Cunis (photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
From left: Graham Dowling, Dayle Hadlee, Bruce Taylor (all © Getty Images), Bob Cunis (photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

October 20, 1969. With the series levelled 1-1, India and New Zealand arrived in Hyderabad for the final Test. Dayle Hadlee, Bob Cunis, and Bruce Taylor ripped apart India twice in the Test on a pitch that provided assistance thanks to inept groundsmen. However, the same staff failed them again when they failed to remove water from the pitch cover, forcing New Zealand captain Graham Dowling to undertake the task himself. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the day when the Hyderabad ground-staff added a permanent blot to Indian cricket.

The 1967-68 home series against India had been an embarrassing series for Graham Dowling’s New Zealand. Not only did they lose 1-3, they also achieved the ‘feat’ of becoming the first team to lose a home Test and series at home. It could not have been a great feeling.

There was a sense of déjà vu in the first of the 3 Tests when they paid a return trip the following season. They secured a 73-run lead at Bombay, but Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi himself led the challenge, top-scoring with 67. Set to chase a mere 188, New Zealand collapsed against Bishan Singh Bedi and EAS Prasanna, who bowled 63.5 of the 69.5 overs in the innings between them, taking all 10 wickets.

But New Zealand hit back at Nagpur. Mark Burgess scored 89, and both Dowling and Bevan Congdon bettered 60. This time the left-arm spin of Hedley Howarth and the off-breaks of Burgess helped secure a 52-run lead. Glenn Turner stretched the Indian target to 278; the hosts, clueless against Howarth and off-spinner Vic Pollard, collapsed to 109.

Uncut version

The teams moved to Hyderabad for the decider. Dowling opted to bat on a pitch that looked conducive to spin later. Strangely, Dowling he left out both Pollard and Bryan Yuile. India went in with two all-rounders — Abid Ali and debutant Eknath Solkar — and the trio of Bedi, Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan.

New Zealand went to lunch at 82 for no loss. They added 106 in 158 minutes before Dowling was run out for 42. That was the break India needed, and Prasanna took the New Zealand batsmen out one by one. From 106 without loss they reached 166 for 9, Bob Cunis and Howarth adding another unbroken 15 before stumps.

Prasanna claimed 5 for 51 while Murray top-scored with a 228-minute 80, scored out of 128 during his stay at the crease.

It rained in Hyderabad on Thursday, which meant not a single ball was bowled. What they did not realise was that the grass grew to an alarming extent the day after, which was the rest day.

Ideally, under such circumstances, the grass should have been mown off. But the groundsmen did not do the same, and the pitch, was green when the covers were removed. To make things worse, there were two prominent patches — at the centre of the pitch and near the popping crease at the pavilion end.

MV Nagendra and Sudhendu Bhattacharya, the umpires, showed up on the third morning, and for some reason, ordered the grass to be cut. Dowling intervened, for obvious reasons, for there was no way he was going to compensate for ineptitude of the ground-staff.

NS Ramaswami, however, posed a different view in The Indian Express: “The law is, thus, clear that the pitch should be mown on Friday, the rest day. If, for some reason, this was not possible, it should certainly have been on mown on Saturday. It is strange that this too was not done.”

But Ramaswami was probably wrong, for there was no reason that the grass could not have been cut on the rest day. Anyway, let us move on.

Thus, as Wisden reported, India “had to bat on a pitch uncut for three days.” Bedi and Prasanna sent down a maiden apiece when play resumed half an hour late. Pataudi turned to Abid Ali, who had Cunis caught at leg-slip by Solkar. New Zealand did not add to their overnight 181.

India were up against Cunis, Bruce Taylor, and Dayle Hadlee, and a first-innings of 181 that looked several times larger. Pataudi opted for the heavy roller.

Despite that, the pitch was probably not as poor as India batted. “It gave the pace bowlers more psychological than practical assistance,” commented Wisden. NS Ramaswami opined that “India cannot plead a difficult pitch for their failure.”

Hadlee and Taylor took new ball. Abid Ali fell played an “ambitious stroke” and was bowled before the spectators had fully settled down from the mid-innings break.

To their credit, wicketkeeper KS Indrajitsinhji and Ajit Wadekar batted for an hour, but could add a mere 16 to the total. Then the collapse began. Nos. 4, 5, and 6, ML Jaisimha, Pataudi, and Ambar Roy, all fell for ducks, as did No. 8 Solkar.

Indrajit tried to hook a good-length ball that also kept low and was trapped in front. Wadekar was bowled by pace. Pataudi fell two balls later when Hadlee made one take off from a length: Murray juggled with the ball before catching it properly.

Jaisimha fended Cunis to gully. Roy tried to cut a length-ball and edged it to wicketkeeper Ken Wadsworth. And Solkar edged one to Murray, this time at second slip.

None of them had reached double-figures. The score read 28 for 7. The spectators sat, stunned, unable to fathom what was going on. All 7 wickets had been shared by the three fast bowlers.

More than the demons in the pitch or excellent bowling, the batsmen had themselves to blame. Some of the shot selection was certainly questionable. Lala Amarnath wrote: “The Indians must learn a lesson from the New Zealand opening batsmen, who showed discipline and fine judgement in leaving the outgoing ball alone.”

Ashok Gandotra, the Brazil-born exquisite strokeplayer, put up some resistance in the unlikely company of Venkat. Despite his renown with bat, Venkat had seldom delivered at the highest level, but he rose to the challenge on this day.

The pair saw off Hadlee, Taylor, and Cunis. Dowling tried out Congdon’s medium-pace before turning to Howarth, and was rewarded immediately. Gandotra was caught-behind first ball. Ten minutes later Prasanna was cleaned by Hadlee. The score read an astonishing 49 for 9 when Bedi joined Venkat.

Bedi took the initiative, going after the bowling. Venkat batted more sensibly than most top-order batsmen. They added 40 in 71 minutes, Venkat scoring 25, Bedi 20, before the latter was caught at short-leg off, of all people, Congdon. India were bowled out for 89 in 54.2 overs, 10 minutes before close of play.

The three New Zealand seamers supported each other beautifully. Hadlee bowled the ball off a good pace, and was the most hostile of the trio. Cunis, whose surname had triggered the Alan Gibson (Alan Ross, as per some sources) comment “Cunis, a funny sort of name: neither one thing nor the other,” was relentless, forcing batsmen to make mistakes. And Taylor played the perfect foil, not letting anything away.

The finished with remarkable figures: Hadlee 17-5-30-4, Taylor 10-2-20-1, and Cunis 14-7-12-3. With Howarth and Congdon also providing crucial blows, New Zealand did not allow India an inch.

Riot in Hyderabad

As Venkat and Bedi returned after the fall of the last wicket half an hour before stumps, a boy from the stadium rushed out to congratulate them. It is not very clear why he did the same. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by the last wicket nearly doubling the team score.

Unfortunately, one of the policemen present of the ground chased him with a stick, and even hit him, causing him to fall down. The crowd retaliated with stones, slippers, and even firecrackers. They even set fire to the section of the stadium near the scoreboard.

The boy was admitted to Sarojini Eye Hospital, but things did not stop there. The crowd hit back, injuring the Deputy Commissioner of Police as well as several officers and constables.

Then it spread. The first attack was on the State Public Works Department. A shopping arcade near the stadium was mobbed. They went for the buses, smashing windows in eight of them.

Late at night, well after the violence subsided, the Police Commissioner issued a statement. He expressed regret, adding that stern action was being taken against the officer whose blows had triggered it all.

The slow over-rate

You could not blame Pataudi for slowing down the over rate the morning after. Dowling batted for over four hours for his 60. Once again there was an impressive opening stand that amounted to 45. An unfit Glenn Turner arrived at No. 10, adding a crucial 31 with Taylor for the ninth wicket.

New Zealand finished the day on 175 for 8, a massive 267 ahead. To their credit the Indians bowled accurately, conceding a mere 2.13 an over. The wickets were shared between Abid Ali, Prasanna, and Bedi. On a pitch that had aided the New Zealand seamers to a great extent on Day Three, Solkar did not get a bowl.

“Moral victory for New Zealand”

The Indian Express ran the above headline the day after. They had every reason to.

Dowling declared overnight. The target was definitely beyond India’s reach, more so with dark clouds looming on the horizon. They had to play for a draw.

Once again Dowling held back the brilliant Cunis, opening with Hadlee and Taylor. Abid Ali paid him back, going for an expansive cover-drive and edging to Howarth.

For some reason Indrajit decided to counterattack. Cunis had come on meanwhile, and Indrajit hooked him brilliantly for four. Shortly afterwards he tried an encore and was caught at short-leg. The attempt eluded logic.

Jaisimha was caught brilliantly by Taylor at short-leg off Hadlee. It was his second duck of the match.

Wadekar had edged Hadlee to a now-fit Turner at first slip, who grassed the chance. Thus reprieved, he cover-drove Hadlee for four, but did not last as Hadlee had him caught-behind.

Pataudi, uncharacteristically cautious to begin with, took 21 minutes to get off the mark. He hit Hadlee for four, but Cunis trapped him leg-before when he tried to flick one and missed.

India slumped to 44 for 5. Roy and Gandotra offered dead bats to everything. Roy remained on nought for 14 minutes, but Gandotra, for some inexplicable reason, stepped out off Burgess. Wadsworth missed the stumping.

India went to lunch at 48 for 5. With the sky getting darker and darker they probably still had a chance, provided the two youngsters clung on.

Roy battled for 53 minutes for his 4 before poking one to Wadsworth off Hadlee. Cunis, having bowled a long, unchanged spell before lunch, was rested, but that hardly mattered, as Hadlee and Taylor maintained the pressure.

Wadsworth erred for a second time when he dropped Solkar off Hadlee. With time Solkar grew in confidence, driving and hooking Hadlee for two fours.

Then Dowling recalled Cunis, who struck almost immediately: the ball was straight, deceiving Gandotra, who had batted sensibly for 64 minutes for his 15, hitting timber.

Solkar and Venkat continued to play for rain, which eventually came down with India on 76 for 7. It had drizzled during lunch, but this was a genuine burst, living up to the weather forecast of “a few showers”.

It lasted for only 25 minutes, but it was a serious downpour. “We could see rain blotting out the landscape and the hills in the university area,” reported Ramaswami.

The fun began once the rain stopped. Nagendra and Bhattacharya made their way towards the tarpaulin-covered pitch. By then the ground was basking in “hot sunshine” (Wisden).

Water had accumulated on the tarpaulin, and the procrastination on behalf of the groundsmen to get things going was evident. Wisden reported: “No real effort was made to get play started again. Instead of the covers being removed, a few workers with rags, some of them women, were given the task of removing the water from the covers and although there were official denials later, it looked very much like a deliberate go-slow policy.”

The Indian Express had a less stern view: “When the rain ceased, the environs of the pitch were waterlogged, and there was another big area under water on the practice square. An army of workers, male and female, took a hand, but the work was necessarily slow, having to be done cautiously.”

The crowd booed, even to the tone of “New Zealand zindabad (long live New Zealand)” and “down with the Indian team.” Things probably reached a new, unprecedented level when some in the east stand “indulged in demonstrations and antics” in protest of the attitude of the groundsmen.

When Pataudi and Dowling walked out to inspect the conditions, the crowd broke into a chant of “shame, shame, Pataudi”. The Indian captain was almost lynched by an obviously aggrieved crowd. One must remember that Pataudi played for Hyderabad at this stage of his career.

Riot police got ready with tear gas, but thankfully there was no need for it. However, for some mysterious reason, some vehicles were stoned after the match got over.

While this was over-the-top, the lack of urgency was evident.

Then Dowling took things in his own hands. He took his shoes and socks off and did his utmost best to remove water from the tarpaulin. All his teammates joined in full enthusiasm.

Referring to the effort of the New Zealand fielders, Ramaswami made a curious statement in his report: “It is arguable whether all this was permissible. But the question is perhaps academic now. I have no wish to add to the controversies that developed during the Test.” The Oval Test of 1968 had probably slipped his mind.

However, when the tarpaulin finally came off, it was spotted that water had seeped into the two patches mentioned above — at the centre of the pitch and near the popping crease at the pavilion end. The match was called off at 4.45 PM.

Aftermath

Later that day, BCCI Secretary Srinivasan Sriraman told in a press conference that the umpires had submitted a report on the proceedings of the final day, mentioning that Dowling had been “interfering with them in the discharge of their duties.” One wonders whether a similar report would have been submitted about Pataudi.

Dowling told in the press-conference that “two-thirds from the original number of 25” of the ground-staff was actually employed that day. He even pleaded to the BCCI representative and local star Ghulam Ahmed to hasten things up, but it had fallen on deaf ears.

Following a discussion with New Zealand Cricket Council, the matter was put to rest.

New Zealand did not have to wait long for their maiden series win overseas. They beat Pakistan in Pakistan in month’s time, but that is another story.

Brief scores:

New Zealand 181 (Graham Dowling 42, Bruce Murray 80; EAS Prasanna 5 for 51) and 175 for 8 decl. (Graham Dowling 60; Abid Ali 3 for 47, EAS Prasanna 3 for 58) drew with India 89 (Dayle Hadlee 4 for 30, Bob Cunis 3 for 12) and 76 for 7 (Dayle Hadlee 3 for 31, Bob Cunis 3 for 12).

Best batsmen: Srinivas Venkataraghavan (India) and Bruce Murray (New Zealand).
Best bowlers: EAS Prasanna (India) and Bob Cunis (New Zealand).
Best fielders: Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (India) and Ken Wadsworth (New Zealand).

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