A Brisbane classic of the '60s
A quick scroll through the comments on articles on ESPNcricinfo show that both India and Australia are viewed by many of their critics as "home-town bullies". To a large extent, the raw statistics support this notion. Interestingly, this home-and-away discrepancy is probably most obvious when the two teams play each other. Australia's record in India is not impressive, with 12 wins since 1956 and 19 losses. India's in Australia is dismal, with only five wins since their inaugural visit in 1947-48 and 28 defeats.
However, such a simplistic view of the statistics does not always tell the full story, and India have had a number of close losses. Their recent defeat in Adelaide by 48 runs nearly saw India pull off a great victory and a massive upset. It was reminiscent of the third Test of the 1967-68 tour, when India nearly brought about their first win in Australia.
India's first tour of Australia was in 1947-48, and the home team dominated with four massive victories and one draw. The second visit was not for another two decades, and the first two Tests followed the script: India were beaten by 146 runs in Adelaide, and then thrashed by an innings in Melbourne.
However, the third Test, in Brisbane, featured a much-improved performance by India, and it would ultimately be the first of many close losses over the years. At this point, the Indian team was not highly regarded in Australia, with local players and fans both already looking ahead to the upcoming 1968 Ashes in England. The Australian selectors made a number of changes to the team that had dominated in Melbourne, apparently to trial some potential new players. The captain, Bob Simpson, who was retiring at the end of the season, stood down and was replaced by Bill Lawry, to give him some experience as a leader. Doug Walters returned, after being unavailable during most of 1966 and 1967 due to a compulsory two years of conscripted National Service. There were changes also to the pace attack that had performed well in the first two Tests.
Australia's fast-bowling stocks during the late 1960s were not strong. Graham McKenzie operated with support from skilful bowlers who were strictly medium-pacers, such as Alan Connolly and Neil Hawke. Fearsome pace, as demonstrated previously by Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller during the 1950s, and soon to re-emerge with Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in the 1970s, was not commonplace.
Even so, after taking ten wickets in the Melbourne match, McKenzie was left out in Brisbane. The decision caused far more outrage than Simpson standing down. Lawry, left without his main strike bowler, was not impressed, and he described the decision as "a joke". The man who would succeed Lawry as captain, Ian Chappell, said it "was a disgrace to leave McKenzie out". The Australian bowling attack for Brisbane was hardly fearsome, with David Renneberg supporting Connolly, along with the friendly medium pace of allrounders Eric Freeman and Walters, complemented by the "mystery" spin of John Gleeson.
With the local team still somewhat unsettled, Indian captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi chose to send Australia in to bat on a pitch that would be seen now as a typical Gabba deck. While it reportedly had a green tinge to it, which undoubtedly led to India's decision to bowl, it was a good batting track and Australia's openers encountered few difficulties.
Ian Redpath, who moved up the order to replace Simpson, fell before lunch for 41. The top six batsmen all made starts without going on to make a century. The total of 379 was a solid if not outstanding effort. Walters top-scored with 93 in his first Test innings since February 1966. The Indian bowlers all performed economically but without great penetration. Their bowling was largely based around spin options, with Erapalli Prasanna, Bishan Bedi and Bapu Nadkarni toiling away for a combined 4 for 219 off 75 eight-ball overs.
Although the absence of McKenzie would have been appreciated by the Indian batsmen, Renneberg and Freeman quickly reduced the tourists to 3 for 9. A fine partnership of nearly 130 between Pataudi and Rusi Surti started a recovery. However, it was ML Jaisimha who helped india reach 279.
Called up as a last-minute replacement for this Test, Jaisimha walked onto the field literally within hours of arriving in Brisbane. He defied his lack of exposure to local conditions and scored an excellent 74 before falling to the part-time spin of Bob Cowper. In spite of Jaisimha's defiance, India still faced a sizeable deficit of 100 runs, and few spectators believed there was any evidence to indicate that the drubbings in the first two Tests would not be repeated.
The Australian second innings initially followed a similar pattern to the first. All the top six made double figures, but again none went on to make a century. However, this time the lower order failed to push the score on to a position of dominance. The last five batsmen all struggled against the offspin of Prasanna, with wicketkeeper Barry Jarman's 9 the highest score. Gleeson, Connolly and Renneberg contributed just 1 run between them, while Prasanna finished with 6 for 104 off 33.4 overs. At 240 for 4, Australia would have expected to set India a target of near 500. However, their late collapse saw India setting out in chase of 395.
They were again off to a poor start. Opener Farokh Engineer fell to Renneberg for a duck, after having made 2 in the first innings. When Syed Abid Ali was caught behind off Connolly to leave India at 3 for 61, a comprehensive victory to Australia appeared imminent.
The lack of spectators was one of the main disappointments in this match, with a total attendance across the five days of just 18,895. This figure was the lowest in Brisbane's Test history, and in fact was the poorest total for an Australia Test since 1888.
As in the first innings, Pataudi and Surti again stabilised the innings. They put on nearly 100 runs, but when Surti was bowled by Cowper to leave India at 191 for 5, Lawry would have felt reassured that victory was at hand. Jaisimha then played one of the great fourth-innings knocks in Test history, and one that has sadly been often overlooked.
Initially with the support of Chandu Borde, who made 63, Jaisimha attacked the Australian bowling with considerable gusto. The final four Indian batsmen only made seven runs between them, but they supported Jaisimha to take the score past 350. India required another 40 runs when Jaisimha was the last man out, having made a century. India had fallen just short, and had caused new Australian captain Lawry considerable headaches. There are reports that Lawry and Don Bradman, one of the national selectors, had a heated exchange after the match about the decision to leave McKenzie out
Sadly, India's strong performance was not repeated in the fourth Test, in Sydney, where Australia won by 144 runs. Nonetheless, in Brisbane, India had proved that they could genuinely compete, and on their following tour they managed to record their first Test victory on Australian soil. The final result of 4-0 to Australia means that many casual observers will fail to recognise just how close India came to having a 3-1 scoreline coming into the final match of the '67-68 series.
Internationally, Jaisimha didn't manage to repeat his heroics. His century in Brisbane was the last time he passed 50 in Tests. His amazing innings has been largely forgotten with the passing of time. Hopefully Virat Kohli's centuries in Adelaide and Melbourne in this series will not similarly be overlooked in times to come.
Stuart Wark works at the University of New England as a research fellow