Gallant bowling not enough to cover up for brittle batting

Partab Ramchand

February 20, 2001

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The fourth Australian team to visit India in 1969-70 came riding a wave of success. In the preceding two years, they had routed India 4-0 `Down Under', drew the series in England to retain the Ashes and then comfortably defeated the West Indies 3-1 in a five match series in Australia. Their chief strength was obviously going to be their batting. A line up that started with skipper Bill Lawry and Keith Stackpole and continued with Ian Chappell, Doug Walters, Ian Redpath and Paul Sheahan bode ill for the Indian bowlers. But the bowling too seemed to be in capable hands and with the pace of Graham McKenzie and Alan Connolly and spin of Ashley Mallett and John Gleeson, the visitors had a balanced attack.

India approached the series with some trepidation. For one thing, the Australians looked to be a pretty formidable side. Secondly, just before the contest commenced, India had just about drawn a three match series against New Zealand with great difficulty. Thirdly, the chairman of the selection committee Vijay Merchant had made it clear at the start of the season that he was going to experiment with youth. The Indian captain MAK Pataudi was not totally in agreement with Merchant on the issue. He reckoned that it was because of this experimentation - the selectors had tried out six new players in three Tests - that India had come close to losing a series to New Zealand for the first time. Merchant however was determined to carry out his youth policy for the series against Australia too. He did temper this policy by bringing back players like Dilip Sardesai and Chandu Borde but he also gave Test caps to Gundappa Viswanath and Mohinder Amarnath, while persisting with most of those who played first against New Zealand.

In the event, the final result - a 3-1 win to Australia - might not be termed surprising. The Indian bowling, chiefly in the hands of the spin trio of Prasanna, Bedi and Venkatraghavan, time and again did their best to hold the strong Australian batting line up in check. On a couple of occasions, they even skittled them out for low scores. But the problem was the Indian batting which never lived up to its reputation. A line up that consisted of Farokh Engineer, Ashok Mankad, Ajit Wadekar, Viswanath, Pataudi, Ambar Roy (or Ashok Gandotra) and Eknath Solkar should have performed better. But they lacked consistency. Wadekar lived up to his reputation, Viswanath and Mankad exceeded expectations but the failure of Pataudi, Engineer and Roy to come good cost the Indians dearly. Also, Chauhan, Borde and Gandotra failed in the limited opportunities they had.

But where the batting generally failed, the bowling, especially the duo of Bedi and Prasanna, covered themselves with glory. With the new ball attack virtually non existent, the two spin artists had to carry a big load. Pataudi gave them a lot of bowling and both responded gallantly. Prasanna continued from he left off in the 1967-68 rubber. That time he took 25 wickets in four Tests. This time he made it 26 from five. This included a nine wicket haul in shaping India's victory at New Delhi and a ten wicket haul in the final Test at Madras, which however went in vain. Bedi took 21 wickets. He too grabbed nine wickets at New Delhi and then had to trundle on his own in taking seven for 98 - his best analysis in 67 Tests - at Calcutta. Venkatraghavan was underbowled but where he was given a fair opportunity - at Madras, for example - he showed he could be a pretty handy bowler.

Actually, the Australians had chinks in their armour and these were ruthlessly probed and exposed in the series against South Africa which followed immediately. The bowling was not that strong to bowl out India twice in a match three times. On Indian pitches, the wings of McKenzie and Connolly should have been clipped and when Gleeson was dropped after the third Test, the spin bowling was in the hands of rookie off spinner Mallett. But the spineless Indian batting saw Mallett pick up 28 wickets in the series including a ten wicket haul in the final Test at Madras. Except when conditions helped him at Bombay and Calcutta, McKenzie was never the bowler of old. Proof of this came about in the series against South Africa when his lone wicket in three Tests cost him 333 runs. But helped by the brittle Indian batting, McKenzie finished with 21 wickets.

The Australian batting however lived up to expectations. Even in the face of sustained pressure from the spinners, Chappell, Stackpole, Sheahan, Walters, Redpath and Lawry made valuable runs. Only Redpath and Lawry did not make centuries in the series. But even these two came up with valuable contributions at vital stages.

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