February 18, 2001

When Jasu Patel wrought the miracle at Kanpur

The miracle at Kanpur, as the totally unexpected Indian victory was hailed as, was the highlight of the Australian tour of India in 1959-60 as the author recalls in the fourth part of the series of articles being run by CricInfo as part of the build up to the ensuing India-Australia series.

It was supposed to be a battle between unequals. On one side was a team which had won eleven of its last 16 Tests and lost none. On the other was a team which had lost eleven of its last 13 Tests and winning none. And yet when the five Test series ended, the result was Australia 2, India 1, drawn 2.

That was the unexpected result of the 1959-60 series between the two countries. When the Australians landed in India, they were hailed as one of the strongest teams to visit these shores. They were the leading side in the world having conquered, in the past three years, India, South Africa, England and Pakistan. India on the other hand, had over the same period lost badly to Australia, West Indies and England. Now they were asked to take on the Australians who were bristling with confidence. Led by the shrewd Richie Benaud, the side had players of the calibre of Neil Harvey, Norman O'Neill, Colin McDonald, Alan Davidson, Ken Mackay, Ray Lindwall, Les Favell, Wally Grout, Ian Meckiff and Lindsay Kline. It was an outfit that had an invincible tag around it.

On the other hand, Indian cricket was in turmoil following a series of heavy defeats. They seemed to be lacking in every department - batting, bowling, fielding and captaincy. Also, there seemed to be a lack of fighting spirit. Certainly it did seem that we were ill equipped to take on the Aussies.

That India lost two of the matches was no surprise. That India drew two Tests honourably was perhaps a matter of congratulations. But the fact that India did manage to win one Test - incidentally the first defeat Australia suffered under Benaud's captaincy - was indeed a miracle.

More than 40 years later, the miracle at Kanpur, as that victory was hailed, still remains one of India's most notable Test triumphs. Old timers' eyes still glisten with pride when they remember those five unforgettable days, which culminated on Christmas Eve. Even a new generation of cricket lovers, not even born then, are quick to realise the significance of that historic triumph.

The selectors had sprung a surprise by naming Gulabrai Ramchand as captain. An experienced cricketer with aggressive instincts, the Bombay all rounder turned out to be an inspired choice. He led capably, his confidence level boosted by the victory at Kanpur. The selection committee, headed by Lala Amarnath also tried out a number of young players as part of the rebuilding process and almost all of them did well. And then there was the masterstroke, authored by Amarnath, of playing Jasu Patel at Kanpur. Patel was then 35, had played just five Tests in the preceding five years and his career was generally considered over. But he was brought out of semi retirement and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history. Patel finished with 14 wickets for 124 including a bag of nine for 69 in the first innings to wrought the Kanpur miracle.

That victory by 119 runs came a week after India had been routed by an innings and 127 runs in four days in the first Test at New Delhi. That result in fact was thought to have set the pattern for the rest of the series. And yet thanks mainly to Patel, India quite astonishingly, made it to Bombay for the third Test with the rubber level at one match all. And the series stayed that way with India pulling off an honourable draw at the Brabourne stadium. In the fourth Test at Madras, however, slipshod batting saw India defeated by an innings and 55 runs. But India salvaged honour again by earning another draw in the final Test at Calcutta.

There were many factors that led to India performing creditably in the series. Ramchand's captaincy was certainly one. He handled a generally depleted Indian attack adroitly and the Australian run machine was consistently held in check. The batting of Nari Contractor was a revelation. He showed he had arrived on the scene in a big way by compiling 438 runs including a century. Chandu Borde, Abbas Ali Baig, Ramnath Kenny, ML Jaisimha and Nadkarni all come up with valuable knocks when it mattered most. The bowling was never really collared and a never say die attitude pervaded throughout the series. This was reflected in the fact that India did so well despite not being at full strength. Vijay Manjrekar missed the entire series following a knee operation, Polly Umrigar was injured midway through the third Test and missed the last two, Ramchand himself was hopelessly out of form and pace spearhead Ramakant Desai played in only three Tests.

Really there was something very positive about the Indian triumph for there was little about the Australians' performance that did not befit their reputation. Harvey and O'Neill got two centuries each, Favell got one and Mcdonald, Mackay and Burge were among the runs. Grout proved to be a world class wicketkeeper and Benaud and Davidson got 29 wickets each. Only the support bowling of Mackay, Kline, Lindwall and Meckiff did not live up to expectations. But that in no way lowers the significance of the Indian achievement in the series.

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