Ashes is steeped in tradition but India versus Australia Test matches are bound by emotion. If Ashes is the best what Test cricket can offer its fans, then Border-Gavaskar Trophy has potential to better the best. In an era where Test cricket fights for survival, the rivalry between India and Australia has only blossomed in the past 75 years. As the two cricketing giants gear up to what promises to be a rivetting four Test series beginning in Nagpur, PTI looks back at some of the iconic matches that the Baggy Green played in India.
1969: Fire and Riots in CCI stand
With the scoreboard reading 89 for seven in their second innings, India needed a miracle to save the first Test versus Australia at the Brabourne Stadium.
Syed Abid Ali’s dismissal brought Srinivas Venkataraghvan into the middle with Ajit Wadekar running out of partners at the end.
Their eighth wicket partnership on day four was building into something substantial before a controversial caught behind call from umpire Shambu Pan to send Venkatraghavan in the dressing room triggered one of the scariest of incidents in India-Australia Test history.
Radio commentator Devraj Puri was not convinced that Venkataraghvan had hit it and with India in dire straits at 114 for eight, the crowd behaviour turned ugly with chairs and soft drink bottles being thrown around in the stadium. However, fear set in among the players only when they saw flames in the stands.
Iconic Australian cricket writer Ray Robinson, who witnessed the violence from the CCI press box, went on to write about the infamous incident in his book “The Wildest Tests”.
“A seething mass of people flung their weight against the wire mesh barricade in front of the East Stand. As it rocked, the Australians watched in alarm, ready to bolt for the clubhouse if it gave way.
“Picking up bottles, policemen flung them back over the wire. As the bottles smashed on the concrete, showers of broken glass quickly drove the crowd away. The stands were cleared while the fires were put out,” he wrote.
Despite the situating seemingly out of control, Australia captain Bill Lawry wanted to get on with the game and India ended the day at 125 for nine.
Set a small target of 64 runs on day five, Australia secured a comprehensive eight wicket win to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series. The visitors went on to win the series 3-1.
1986: Tied Test and Vikram Raju’s dreaded finger
The iconic game in Madras is best remembered for late Dean Jones’ double hundred in “inhuman” conditions and umpire V Vikramraju’s contentious lbw call that effectively ended his career.
With India on course to chase 348, left-arm spinner Ray Bright brought Australia back into the game with three wickets, leaving a well set Ravi Shastri and number 11 Maninder Singh to get the final four runs.
India could only get three to tie the game as off-spinner Greg Mathews, who finished with 10 wickets in the game, trapped Maninder in front of the stumps. Maninder was sure that he had not hit the ball but the umpire had his made call and only for the second time in Test history, a game was tied. Vikramraju never got to officiate in a Test again.
Besides the sensational outcome of the game, Jones’ 210 in extreme hot weather ended up being the most defining knock of his career. With the temperature touching 40 degrees with 80 percent humidity, the late Australian batter went on to bat for more than eight hours to take his team to 574 for seven.
It is well documented that Jones got very sick during the innings and eventually had to be taken to hospital as he was severely dehydrated. In fact, he threw up right in the middle of his innings.
“I don’t think they would play today in those conditions,” World Cup winning captain Steve Waugh, who was part of the game, recalled the playing conditions in a chat with ABC years later.
“I’d say they would claim it was harmful to your health. It really was quite ridiculous when you look back on it. It really was so hot and so humid that you’d step outside and it was like walking into a furnace,” Waugh said.
2001: Harbhajan, Laxman and history
Steve Waugh’s Australia had won 16 Tests on the bounce before reaching India in 2001 to conquer the “final frontier”.
After a 10-wicket win in the opening Test, Australia were well on their way for a series win, which could have been their first in India since 1969-70 before VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid forged a partnership for the ages.
After scoring 445 in their first innings that included a hat-trick from the young Harbhajan Singh, Australia enforced the follow on by dismissing the hosts for 171.
At 232 for four in the second innings, the Indians needed a miracle and that was provided by Laxman and Dravid who amassed a 376-run stand to help their team to a mammoth 657 for seven. Set an improbable 384, Australia were folded up for 212 with Harbhajan stretching his match tally to 13 wickets. Laxman, Dravid and Harbhajan went on to become greats of the game with their performances at the Eden Gardens being celebrated till date.
The Australians in that line-up were sore about Indian umpire SK Bansal. In fact before the last wicket fell, late Tony Greig famously said on air: “Harbhaajaan being brought from umpire Bansal’s end.”
2005: When Nagpur track gave a Gabba like feel
Australia were finally able to capture the “final frontier” in the next series in India three years later under Adam Gilchrist’s leadership.
Out of the four Tests in that series, the Nagpur game gets talked about the most and predicably so.
With Australia leading 1-0 after the win in Bengaluru and a draw in Chennai, the visitors were presented a golden opportunity to take an unassailable series lead in Nagpur.
The curator left a lot of grass on the wicket much to the delight of the skilful Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie.
While erstwhile skipper Sourav Ganguly and spinner Harbhajan Singh pulled out due to injuries, there were a few senior players, who felt that the skipper had pulled out after curator left a thick layer of grass on alleged instructions of a senior BCCI office bearer who called shots at the state unit.
It was the time when Jagmohan Dalmiya started losing his grip on BCCI and there were rumours that it was his anti group’s handiwork to teach him a lesson by not giving Ganguly his choice of track.
Ganguly and Harbhajan sat out of that game and in his autobiography, opposition opener Matthew Hayden claimed that nature of the pitch contributed to their sudden withdrawal from the game.
“The curator, a famously single-minded character with no love of the Indian hierarchy, ignored pleas to shave the deck and left a healthy covering of grass. It reminded me of Gabba (In Brisbane). To have that sort of wicket for the deciding Test of an away series – particularly in India – was the most pleasant surprise imaginable,” Hayden wrote in ‘Standing My Ground’.
“When Ganguly and Harbhajan went out to see the deck a couple of days before the game, they looked like farmers inspecting crops after a hail storm. We predicted neither would play, and they did not.
“Ganguly withdrew with a leg-muscle injury that flared up suddenly, and Harbhajan had an even more sudden dose of food poisoning. We put their ailments down to acute cases of ‘greentrackitis’,” Hayden added.
An angry Harbhajan after publication of Hayden’s book had told PTI that he felt that the opener was smoking some kind of weed to make up such false stories. PTI BS KHS KHS
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