In the third part of the series of articles being run by CricInfo as part of the build up to the ensuing India-Australia Tests, the author looks back on the visit of the first official Australian team, which on their way home from England, played three Test matches in 1956.
India first toured Australia in 1947-48 but it was not until 1956 that Australia made their maiden visit to India. The visitors were on their way back from England. They had been `Lakerised' during the summer and on their way to India, they stopped by in Pakistan for an one off Test only to be beaten by nine wickets with Fazal Mahmood taking 13 wickets.
The Australians then could not have been in a very confident frame of mind when they landed for the three Test series (there were to be no other games on the tour, lasting just about three weeks). The Indians on the other hand were cock-a-hoop. Only the previous season, they had scored a comfortable series victory over New Zealand. They seemed to have the nucleus of a good side. In Subash Gupte they had the best leg spinner in the world, they had two other fine spin bowlers in Vinoo Mankad and Ghulam Ahmed, they had discovered an attacking captain in Polly Umrigar and with Pankaj Roy, Umrigar, Mankad, Manjrekar, Ramchand, Kripal Singh and Hemu Adhikari around, the batting was in capable hands.
The Australians did not have a bad team but doubts remained about their confidence level following their defeats in England and Pakistan. The retirement of Keith Miller on the eve of the tour was a severe blow but Ray Lindwall was still around, though he seemed to be well past his best. He was a shadow of the once great bowler in the series against England. The spin bowling support in the form of Richie Benaud and skipper Ian Johnson seemed to hold no terrors for the Indians. The batting however in the hands of Colin McDonald, Jim Burke, Neil Harvey, Ian Craig, Peter Burge and Ken Mackay seemed to be at least as strong as India's.
However when the series was over, Australia had emerged unexpected winners and by a clear cut 2-0 margin. They won the first Test at the Corporation (later the Nehru) stadium by an innings and five runs and the third Test at Calcutta by 94 runs (both with a day to spare). Even in the drawn second Test at Bombay, Australia had the better of the game.
How did this result come about? To put it simply, the Australians raised the level of their game while the home team floundered. The batting crumbled before the pace of Lindwall and the leg spin of Benaud while the bowling of Gupte and Mankad, the two principal bowlers, was mastered, notably by Harvey who repeatedly came down the wicket, as if on roller skates. Benaud gained an ascendency over the Indian batting from the first morning of the series and this continued till the last day of the contest. He finished with 23 wickets. Lindwall, thought to be past his best, summoned up the stamina and skill to take seven for 43 in the second innings as India tumbled to defeat. Harvey played a cameo innings of 37 at Madras and a fighting 69 on a difficult wicket at Calcutta and in between hammered 140 in just over four hours at Bombay out of a second wicket partnership of 204 runs with Jim Burke, who compiled a monumental 161 in 504 minutes.
And yet the Indians did seem to be on level terms with the visitors at least till midway through the third day of the first Test. After being bowled out for 161, India did well in taking eight Australian wickets for 200. But Ian Johnson at No 9 scored 73 and along with the last two batsman Pat Crawford and Gil Langley stretched the total to 319 and suddenly the Indians were staring at a deficit of 158 runs. Psychologically, the Indians never recovered from this setback.
Indeed there was very little the Indians had to offer in the series. There was some good spin bowling in the first Test. In the second Test, Ramchand came up with a fighting 109 while Roy (79) and Umrigar who batted six hours for 78 spearheaded the rearguard action in the second innings. In the final Test, Ghulam Ahmed's bowling (7 for 49 and three for 81) was the one crumb of comfort. The series in fact heralded a turning point in the fortunes of the Australians while for India, it marked the start of a particularly depressing period.