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The fifth Indian team to visit Australia for a Test series surpassed its predecessors only in that it finished the tour (excluding the World Series Cup matches) unbeaten. But its merit is more exactly reflected by the fact that, for the first time in three tours, India failed to win a Test match - and that at a time when Australia were reckoned to be at their weakest ever.
It was to the disadvantage of the Indians that the tour was very short, and this handicap was the more severely felt because rain interfered with every first-class match save the first, against South Australia, which the tourists won. Little practice was gained from the second against Victoria, the only other fixture before the first Test, the weather taking its toll on every day. The one remaining state game, against Tasmania, between the first and second Tests, was abandoned without a ball being bowled. That scope for practice was so limited was an encumbrance which the Indians brought on themselves by asking for an abbreviated itinerary, preferring to play earlier in a one-day competition in Sharjah.
Just prior to this series, India had lost a rubber to Sri Lanka while Australia were beaten by New Zealand. In some eyes, therefore, the series was seen as a contest for international cricket's wooden spoon. And often the quality of both teams' play merited such a tag, Australia particularly plumbing low depths.
India's main batsmen scored abundantly. Sunil Gavaskar was the most prolific, registering two centuries and averaging 117.33 in the Tests. However, except for Krish Srikkanth and, once, Mohammad Azharuddin, the others did not fit their rate of scoring to the side's needs. In the last Test the first three batsmen all hits hundreds, but so slow were Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath over their record second-wicket stand that Kapil Dev had to promote himself to make up lost time.
Kapil Dev took eight wickets in the first innings of the opening Test. But otherwise the Indians' bowling strength was centered on their two finger spinners, Ravi Shastri and Shivlal Yadav, and one of the reasons for India's inability to convert their superiority into wins was the loss of form of their young leg-spinner, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. Inadequate as it was, India's young bowling was made to appear even less effective by sub-standard fielding. In contrast, Australia's fielding on the ground was neater and more athletic. But they too dropped catches in plenty, and the tone of their out-cricket was lowered by the limitations of Wayne Phillips as wicket-keeper.
Indeed, Australia revealed many weaknesses. The middle-order batting, after Allan Border, was never dependable. However, David Boon, promoted to open, filled the position with distinction, scoring two hundreds. Border was only a short way behind him in the final aggregates. Greg Matthews, resilient and more mature, proved another batting success with two match-saving innings, including a century. Inaccurate at the start of the series, the Australians bowled with improving tidiness and discipline. But their attack lacked a cutting edge. The only bowler to yield an impressive return was the newcomer, Bruce Reid, left-arm fast-medium, who bowled an excellent line and, using his height (6ft 8in), extracted a menacing degree of bounce.
With the pitch docile, rain intervening often, and catches going down, the first Test was drawn. The loss of all play after tea on the final day denied India almost certain victory in the second Test, after which Kapil Dev, India's captain, claimed that they were deprived also by poor umpiring. Such setbacks notwithstanding, India could have clinched the match had they batted more positively, and had Kapil Dev not erred tactically during the last-wicket stand between Border and Gilbert in the second innings. His reluctance to attack Border gave Australia breathing space in terms of time and runs. The scorecard would suggest that the third Test, too, was within India's reach, and indeed they did have a chance on the last day. They would have been better placed to seize it if, again, they had kept an eye on the clock while batting on the second day.
INDIAN TOUR RESULTS
Test matches - Played 3: Drawn 3.
First-class matches - Played 5: Won 1, Drawn 4. Abandoned 1.
Win - South Australia.
Draws - Victoria, Australia (3).
Abandoned - Tasmania.
Non first-class matches - Played 14: Won 7, Lost 7. Abandoned 1. Wins - Victoria Country XI, New Zealand (3), Australia (2), Australian Country XI. Losses - Australia (5), New Zealand (2). Abandoned - Australian Capital Territory XI.
Match reports for