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India's third tour of Australia was not seen to suffer from competition by the newly-established World Series Cricket. The Australian public soon gave its vote to the traditional game and, overall, the Test matches drew bigger attendances than on the Indians' previous visit, in 1967-68. Only in Perth, the newest of Australia's Test venues, were the crowds of disappointing size.
Both Australia and India responded magnificently to the challenge of WSC and to the enthusiasm of those who watched and followed the Test matches. The tourists kindled the flame of public interest by winning every State game leading up to the first Test.
In what turned out to be a fascinating series, Australia won the first two Tests, but both in desperately close finishes. In each of them, also, fortunes ebbed and flowed intriguingly from day to day, sometimes from session to session. Moreover, both sides batted attractively and bowled positively. Hence, the series was made.
Then India won the third and fourth Tests, both more decisively than Australia had won the two preceding encounters. The two-all situation set up the series for a glorious finish, and the finale was indeed dramatic and exciting. Australia won the six-day final Test on the last day after India, in an heroic second-innings recovery, had made a record losing score of 445.
Even before it was dismembered by Packer, the Australian side had looked a poor collection during the tour of England in the summer of 1977. Obviously, the hurriedly rebuilt teams that Australia fielded were of moderate class, and much credit for Australia winning the series under these circumstances is due to the inspiring leadership and personal achievement of Bobby Simpson who, at 41, came out of a ten-year retirement to aid Australian cricket in its worst crisis ever.
His experienced and able captaincy was not Simpson's only contribution to Australia's success. His proven expertise in playing spin bowling made him the pillar of Australia's batting.
Even before his retirement, he had an outstanding Test record against India, and he enhanced it by scoring 539 runs in this series, with centuries in the second and fifth Tests and two other innings in excess of 50. Significantly, the two Tests Australia lost were the only ones in which the veteran did not come off.
Simpson's influence on the series extended beyond his tactical success and the accumulation of runs. He instilled in his young team a feeling of pride in wearing the baggy green cap and also re-introduced all the decent, old-fashioned values traditionally associated with the game.
Under Simpson, the Australian side conducted themselves on and off the field with impressive dignity, were smartly dressed, and were courteous to all. The Indians, also, were admirable in this respect.
From the Australian point of view, the biggest gain of the series was the arrival on the Test scene of 23-year-old Peter Toohey, from New South Wales. As capable of brilliant, versatile strokeplay as of disciplined, technically sound defence, he looked the most outstanding Australian batting prospect since Greg Chappell.
He came second only to Simpson in the aggregates and averages, with 409 runs, and although he did not make a century in the series, he played five innings for over 50, three of which reached the 80s. In addition, he fielded outstandingly well.
Two of Toohey's bigger innings were remarkable for the adverse circumstances in which they were played. In his very first Test innings, he mounted a spectacular assault when he was rapidly running out of partners; and at Sydney, in the fourth Test, he batted with immense authority for 85 in spite of being handicapped by a badly injured ankle. One can think of few batsmen over the years, from any country, who have measured up as well to the Indian spinners as this small, compact player.
Wood, Darling, and Yallop all distinguished themselves in the deciding Test, the only one in which they played. Their collective success emphasised the selectors' misjudgement in not playing left-handers in the earlier Tests, except for Mann who was picked mainly as a leg-spinning all-rounder. Mann, too, made a hundred in the second Test.
None of the other main batsmen was sufficiently consistent, not even those, like Cosier and Serjeant, with past Test experience. Indeed, but for stubborn efforts in crises by wicket-keeper Steve Rixon - who also kept wicket splendidly - and repeated heroics from the tail-enders, Australia would have lost the series.
The most evident failing of Australian batting in all games - Tests and state matches - was that the emphasis on pace bowling in recent years have caused the loss of the art of playing spin of quality. The Indian spinners would have had just as good a tour had they had to contend with all the batsmen removed from circulation by Packer.
Of the State sides, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland were all subdued by the Indian spinners. Only Western Australia coped with them on a firm, fast pitch at Perth. Tasmania, newly admitted to the Sheffield Shield competition, made additional history by beating the Indians. But this shock win, at Hobart, was due mostly to the collapse of the Indian batting on a green pitch of dubious quality.
With Packer having signed up almost the whole crop of fast bowlers from the previous season, the Australian attack lacked depth and depended heavily on Jeff Thomson and Wayne Clark who, between them, took 50 Test wickets; 22 and 28 respectively.
Thomson, on occasions, recaptured all his speed and hostility, never more so than in his opening onslaught in the fifth Test, at Adelaide, but then he broke down after delivering only 27 balls - and capturing two wickets.
Thomson has always bowled well at Adelaide, but the city seems to have a jinx on him: he has finished only one of four Tests he has played there without suffering a physical mishap. In 1974-75, against England, he injured his shoulder while playing tennis on the rest day; in 1976-77, against Pakistan, he collided in the field with Alan Turner and suffered another shoulder injury which all but ended his career.
Clark, a 24-year-old fast-medium bowler from Western Australia, bowled an excellent line and length, even though called upon to do a lot of work. He invariably broke through with the new ball and had a splendid record of dismissing Gavaskar, the principal danger to the Australians.
When Thomson was injured in the deciding Test, Australia were well-served by another quickish seamer in Ian Callen, of Victoria, who took six wickets in his maiden Test. His efforts were particularly note-worthy for, on the last day, when India were staging a remarkable rearguard action, Callen took the field and bowled long spells despite having had a high temperature during the night.
Another valuable contribution to the decisive victory came from the seasoned Western Australia all-rounder, Bruce Yardley. Besides scoring 22 and 26, he bowled his off-breaks accurately and tirelessly to take four for 134 during India's marathon second innings. The only finger spinner Australia utilised in the series, Yardley should undoubtedly have played earlier, as should have Yallop.
One of the glaring weaknesses of the Australian out-cricket, as during the previous English summer, was their catching in the slips. Simpson, one of the greatest slip fielders ever before his retirement, took some superb catches, but missed a high proportion.
As for the Indians, they performed well above the form they showed in their last series, against England the previous winter. In some respects, they were unlucky to lose. However, for a side containing a very small proportion of players who had previous experience of Australian conditions, they were fortunate that, after a dry spring, the pitches lacked their customary pace.
One had anticipated before the start of the tour that India would be almost solely dependent on Gavaskar and Viswanath for their runs. And, indeed, they were the highest scorers in Test matches, with aggregates of 450 and 473 respectively, and with averages of above 50.
Gavaskar hit three centuries in nine innings, but only once made a two-digit score in the first innings of a Test match. Viswanath, who surprisingly did not make a single hundred, came into his own after India were two down in the series.
However, some of the other batsmen benefited from playing on firmer pitches than at home. Mohinder Amarnath reached an unexpectedly high stature as a batsman during this series. Batting at number three, he almost always arrived in difficult situations and batted with great heart.
Chauhan was useful when he found the discipline and patience to bat within his limitations. Vengsarkar was consistent and attractive to watch, but did not quite learn the art of building a big score. Wicket-keeper Kirmani not only had a great series with the gloves, but repeatedly made useful scores in the lower half of the order.
Possibly the injuries to the elder Amarnath, Surinder, which kept him out of the series and compelled his return home midway through the tour, could have made the difference between victory and defeat. His replacement, Gaekwad, should have been in the touring party in the first place, but when he did join the side it was too late for him to add strength to the Test team.
Of the Indian bowlers, the three seamers, Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath, and Ghavri, all bowled well at times, but India suffered from not having a single bowler of anything approaching genuine pace. Hence all depended on the spinners.
Day in and day out, Bedi was the outstanding member of the quartet. He took 54 first-class wickets on the tour and 31 in the Tests. Chandrasekhar was slow in touching his peak, and by the time he did Australia had gone two up in the series. However, he won the third Test, at Melbourne, taking 12 wickets in the match, and he was also prominent in India's victory in the fourth, at Sydney.
Prasanna, now 37, was prone to injury. He was either not fully fit or, when he was, Bedi and Chandrasekhar were carrying all before them, leaving Prasanna little to do. Only in the second innings of the Sydney Test was the off-spinner's old genius in conspicuous evidence.
Test matches - Played 5: Won 2, Lost 3.
First-class matches - Played 11: Won 6, Lost 5.
Wins - Australia (2), South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland.
Losses - Australia (3), Western Australia, Tasmania.
Minor matches - Played 8: Won 6, Drawn 2. Wins - South Australian Country XI, Southern New South Wales Country XI, Queensland Country XI, Western Australia Country XI, Tasmania, Northern New South Wales Country XI. Draws - Australian Capital Territory, Geelong District.
Match reports for
1st Test: Australia v India at Brisbane, Dec 2-6, 1977
2nd Test: Australia v India at Perth, Dec 16-21, 1977
3rd Test: Australia v India at Melbourne, Dec 30, 1977 - Jan 4, 1978
4th Test: Australia v India at Sydney, Jan 7-12, 1978
5th Test: Australia v India at Adelaide, Jan 28-Feb 3, 1978