Australia in India, 2004-05

Drawing inspiration from Benaud

Dileep Premachandran

October 4, 2004

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Back in December 1959, Australia were, as they are now, the finest team in the world, having routed England 4-0 in the previous Ashes series. And when they thrashed India by an innings and plenty at the Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi, the Indian selectors knew that changes were needed to prevent total annihilation.

Three years earlier, Richie Benaud's legspin - his match figures of 11 for 105 remains the best by an Australian in India - had helped clinch victory in a hard-fought game at the Eden Gardens as Australia won their first series on Indian soil 2-0. The drawn match at the Brabourne Stadium had also been dominated by the visitors, with Burke and Neil Harvey scoring big hundreds. India's riposte had been led by Gulabrai Ramchand's 109, and three years later, he found himself leading the side against a team that could boast of the talents of Benaud, Harvey, Norm O'Neill and Alan Davidson.



Richie Benaud: spun Australia to victory in their first series on Indian soil © Getty Images
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Ramchand needed a secret weapon, and he found one in the unlikely figure of Jasu Patel, an offspinner, whose relatively undistinguished career was thought to be almost over at 35. Patel's quirky action flummoxed the Australians, and despite Davidson bowling superbly for match figures of 12 for 124, it was Patel - with 9 for 69 and 5 for 55 - who spun India to a historic 119-run victory.

It was to be an engrossing five-match rubber, decided at the Corporation Stadium in Madras where Les Favell's only Test century inspired an innings-and-55-run triumph. But Benaud's men were more than just a great side, and despite touring conditions that were nothing like as comfortable as they are now, they won admirers everywhere for the manner in which they conducted themselves.

Honours were shared five years later, as another Australian win at Chepauk was offset by a tremendous rearguard action from Chandu Borde at the Brabourne as India eked out a two-wicket victory. Bill Lawry made significant contributions with the bat on that tour, batting with typical cussedness against the spin of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Bapu Nadkarni, but it would be as captain that he would garner the headlines five years later.

Unfortunately for Lawry and Australia, their 3-1 triumph would be overshadowed by the public relations disasters that dogged the tour at every step. A controversial umpiring decision on the penultimate day at Bombay - Srinivas Venkataraghavan was adjudged caught behind after his flail at an Alan Connolly delivery had missed the bat by about a foot - resulted in rioting in the stands, and projectiles being thrown at the Australians after Lawry refused to lead his team off the field.

Australia won that game by eight wickets, and after a draw in Kanpur, the teams proceeded to Delhi where Bishan Singh Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna bowled India to victory despite a marvellous 138 from Ian Chappell. India were left to score 181, and Ajit Wadekar saw them home with an accomplished unbeaten 91. It was all to play for when the teams arrived at the Eden Gardens, but sadly - not for the last time in the stadium's annals it must be said - events off the field would cast a pall of gloom over what happened in the middle.

A surge in the demand for tickets caused a stampede on the final day, and India's meek capitulation led to further unruly behaviour in the stands. After Lawry had a mid-pitch altercation with a local photographer during a hold-up in play, Australia knocked off the 39 needed for victory. But any thoughts of celebration were stifled by the anger of the local population which pelted the Australia team bus as they left for the airport.



Bill Lawry fought hard for victory, but lost the respect of the Indian population © Getty Images
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A 77-run win in Madras clinched the series 3-1, but Lawry's team for South Africa - where they would be routed 4-0 by Ali Bacher's side - having won few admirers. They haven't won in India since. The golden generation that followed never toured India, thanks to the vagaries of the international schedule and World Series Cricket, and as a result, Indian spectators never got the chance to watch the likes of Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rodney Marsh in action.

After a weakened Australian team was pummelled 2-0 in 1978-79, India had to wait until 1986 for the next group of Australian visitors. Despite being rated as one of the poorest teams to leave Australian shores, Allan Border's men left their mark, with the first Test in Madras ending in the most dramatic of ties.

With India needing 348 on the final day, Greg Matthews trapped Maninder Singh leg before in the final over to steal the limelight from Dean Jones, who had batted over eight hours in oppressive heat and humidity for his 210 before being taken to hospital to be administered a drip.

The rivalry intensified in the 1998 when Australia - who had been thrashed in a one-off Test at Delhi in 1996 - were routed in Chennai and Kolkata, before they salvaged some pride with a Michael Kasprowicz-inspired coup at Bangalore. Sachin Tendulkar gave Shane Warne nightmares, smashing 155 (191 balls) at Chennai and following up with an awe-inspiring 177 (207 balls) at Bangalore.

In 2001, even he would be eclipsed by VVS Laxman, who matched and then eclipsed Ian Botham's Headingley heroics of 1981 with a glorious 281 at Kolkata after India had been asked to follow-on. Thrashed out of sight in Mumbai after Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist had slammed imperious centuries, India were down and out at the Eden Gardens despite Harbhajan Singh's first-innings hat-trick. But Laxman and Rahul Dravid, who made 180, gave their team the kiss of life, and another devastating spell from Harbhajan, backed up by the legspin of Tendulkar, on the final afternoon saw Australia surrender a match that they should at least have drawn.

And though Hayden battered his way to a splendid 203 in the decider at Chennai, a Tendulkar hundred gave India the buffer they needed as Harbhajan, with 15 wickets for the match and 32 for the series, spun Australia out. Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath bowled magnificently on the final afternoon with India needing only 155, but Harbhajan was on hand at the finish, with Sameer Dighe, as India closed out the most celebrated series victory of modern times.

Steve Waugh, who had carved out a gutsy 110 in front of an adoring crowd at Kolkata, would retire two years later, and his dreams of crossing what had been called Australian cricket's final frontier would remain unfulfilled. When Adam Gilchrist and his men take to the field on Wednesday, they will need to draw inspiration from Benaud and his team of long ago, who not only mastered Indian conditions, but did so without antagonising the locals like Lawry was to a decade later.

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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