In­dia’s best chance in 70 years


In 1947, just a few months af­ter Nehru had an­nounced In­dia’s Tryst with Des­tiny, the first cricket team from in­de­pen­dent In­dia set out for a tour of Aus­tralia. In­dia could not have cho­sen a tougher as­sign­ment, for fac­ing it were Don Brad­man’s soon­to­be­la­belled In­vin­ci­bles. Brad­man scored 715 runs and Vi­jay Hazare an­swered with 429. A young Vi­noo Mankad piled on 306 runs and took 12 wick­ets. Lala Amar­nath, cap­tain­ing the side, picked up 13 vic­tims. But in the end, it was no sur­prise that an in­ex­pe­ri­enced In­dia was com­pre­hen­sively out­played and lost the five match se­ries 0­4.

The 0­4 re­sult was re­peated a few times in the en­su­ing decades – in 1967 un­der Tiger Pataudi, in 1992 un­der Mo­ham­mad Azharud­din and un­der M. S. Dhoni in 2012. Sachin Ten­dulkar’s 1999 side did a mite bet­ter at 0­3, Dhoni re­deemed him­self with a 0­2 re­sult in 2014 and Anil Kum­ble came away with an hon­ourable 1­2 re­sult against a for­mi­da­ble Aussie out­fit in 2007.

In­dia’s best re­sults thus far have been the 1­1 split un­der Su­nil Gavaskar in 19■0, 0­0 un­der Kapil Dev in 19■5 and the 1­1 achieved by the Sourav Gan­guly­led team in 2003.

Seventy years af­ter the first tour, as Vi­rat Kohli takes the world’s top­ranked Test side Down Un­der, he will be acutely aware that his­tory is firmly against his side com­ing back vic­to­ri­ous. But for the first time in its his­tory, In­dia is car­ry­ing five world­class fast bowlers to Aus­tralia, each bowl­ing con­sis­tently at well over 140km per hour. To­gether, they have proved as for­mi­da­ble on juicy South African and English pitches as on be­nign In­dian ones. The spin at­tack is bol­stered by the pres­ence of one of the best wrist spin­ners in the world to­day, Kuldeep Ya­dav. And R. Ash­win has a point to prove over­seas, most of his 333 wick­ets hav­ing come at home.

De­trac­tors will tell you that the re­cent tours of South Africa and Eng­land showed up In­dia as pa­per tigers. It is true that the team has largely flat­tered to de­ceive over­seas, but writ­ing them off on the ba­sis of those re­sults would be pre­ma­ture and ill­ad­vised. The harder pitches in Aus­tralia are likely to suit the bat­ting styles and abil­i­ties of the In­dian bats­men far more than the ex­tra­or­di­nary lat­eral move­ments of English pitches.

And this time it is in­deed dif­fer­ent. Four decades ago, it was Packer. This time, it is Sand­pa­per.

In 1977, the Kerry Packer ‘cir­cus’ was steadily spi­ralling out of the con­trol of the Aus­tralian Cricket Board, and Bis­han Bedi’s In­dia was greeted with rare en­thu­si­asm. With all the main play­ers other than Jeff Thom­son un­der con­tract to Packer (he would join the fol­low­ing year), the Aussies brought 42­year old Bobby Simp­son out of re­tire­ment to cap­tain the side, a role he had last per­formed a decade be­fore. Lead­ing a strong In­dian side against a com­bi­na­tion largely com­posed of re­tirees and debu­tants, Bedi knew it was In­dia’s best chance to win a se­ries in Aus­tralia. He picked up 31 wick­ets in the se­ries, the high­est for ei­ther side. And yet de­spite some won­der­ful in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance in­clud­ing Gun­dappa Viswanath’s 473 runs, Simp­son led his team from the front, scor­ing 539 runs and en­sur­ing a 3­2 se­ries vic­tory.

Fast for­ward 41 years and the sit­u­a­tion In­dia finds it­self in is not en­tirely dis­sim­i­lar.

Without the two pil­lars of mod­ern Aus­tralian Test cricket, Steve Smith and David Warner, banned fol­low­ing the ball­tam­per­ing scan­dal ear­lier this year in South Africa, the odds might have just been tilted in favour of Kohli’s team.



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