India has opportunity to take advantage of inexperienced Australian line up for historic series win
Virat Kohli’s India will be eyeing a historic series win in Australia this summer. (AAP: Darren England)
Starting at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday, India will have its best chance to win a series in Australia since…
At this point, you would usually nominate a series or a single Test match during which India had a golden opportunity to finally triumph here.
You might come up with the two Sydney Tests in 1985/86 and 2003/04 when India arrived at the usually spin-friendly SCG with the series level, won the toss, dug in for two days (4-600 and 7-705) but couldn’t bowl Australia out twice.
But during India’s now 71-year barren spell, there is one precise moment when that precious series victory was in plain sight.
India’s long drought in Australia
- 1947-48: Australia wins 4-0 (one Test drawn)
- 1967-68: Australia wins 4-0
- 1977-78: Australia wins 3-2
- 1980-81: Series drawn 1-1 (one Test drawn)
- 1985-86: Series drawn 0-0 (three Tests drawn)
- 1991-92: Australia wins 4-0 (one Test drawn)
- 1999-2000: Australia wins 3-0
- 2003-04: Series drawn 1-1 (two Tests drawn)
- 2007-08: Australia wins 2-1 (one Test drawn)
- 2011-12: Australia wins 4-0
- 2014-15: Australia wins 2-0 (two Tests drawn)
Adelaide Oval, February 3, 1978. Day six of a Test match elongated by mutual agreement with the series locked at 2-2 so a result was virtually guaranteed.
I mean, why not?
Back then playing a sixth day wasn’t going to keep players from a lucrative appearance at a promotional event in Abu Dhabi and load management was a matter for the hotel porter, not the (non-existent) high performance unit.
Australia, ravaged by defections to World Series Cricket (WSC), had made five changes for the final Test, taking to 19 the number of players used in the five-Test series.
A first-innings score of 505 (Yallop 121, Simpson 100) justified a revamped batting order. When India were dismissed for 269 despite WSC hold-out Jeff Thomson leaving the attack with an injury after just 3.3 overs, the series seemed won.
Without Thomson, Australia captain Bob Simpson decided not to enforce the follow-on and Australia’s scratchy second-innings score of 256 set India a surely unachievable 493 to win the Test and the series.
Tim Paine is an inexperienced captain taking charge of an inexperienced team. (AAP: Glenn Hunt)
Yet against the depleted Australian attack of Wayne Clark, Ian Callen, Gary Cosier, Bruce Yardley and Simpson, the Indians accumulated steadily.
On that mutually agreed sixth day, the tourists were 6-415, the bowlers were tired and the series victory India had craved since they were put to the sword by Don Bradman’s Australians in 1947/48 seemed possible.
Alas, the moment proved fleeting. Callen broke a 72-run seventh-wicket partnership between wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani and Kharsan Ghavri and India’s long tail of veteran spinners was exposed.
India was all out for a gallant 445 and Simpson’s fill-ins won a series unexpectedly elevated and enlivened by the WSC defections.
Ball-tampering bans bring parallels with 77/78
Since the suspensions of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, the parallels between the unusual summer of 1977/78 and this series have been unavoidable.
For Australia, the absence of three batsmen hardly seems comparable to losing Dennis Lillee, the Chappell brothers, Rod Marsh and most of their hairy-chested, moustachioed and highly talented teammates.
But while some of those who took the WSC defectors’ places had fleeting Test careers and are rich fodder for cricket club trivia nights — Q. Name Australia’s top six for the first Test? A. Hibbert, Cosier, Ogilvie, Serjeant, Simpson, Toohey — the 77/78 series also revealed what now seems the astonishing depth in Australian first-class cricket.
While shooting stars such as Peter Toohey made good runs against the Indians, that the likes of Kim Hughes, Graham Yallop and Gary Cosier were not even among those lured by Kerry Packer’s chequebook says something of the talent in the Sheffield Shield — and perhaps something of the lack of relative batting depth in the same competition now.
Meanwhile, that summer a 22-year-old Allan Border was completing the then-mandatory first-class apprenticeship and made 28 and 14 for NSW in the tour match against India.
Yes, a tour match. Remember them?
Changing schedules make life harder for tourists
In 1977/78, India played four full four-day games against tough and experienced state teams before the first Test, and further tour matches between all five Tests except Melbourne and Sydney.
By the time Bishan Bedi’s team locked horn with Simpson’s replacements, they had been tested by state teams replete with battle-hardened veterans like John Inverarity and Ian Brayshaw’s West Australians and a Queensland team bolstered by West Indian star Alvin Kallicharran.
Conversely, Virat Kohli’s tourists arrived in Adelaide off the back of an array of contractually obligatory limited-overs games in various nations and a sole three-day trial against a youthful Australian XI in Sydney.
Almost unfathomable now, there was a 16-day break between the fourth and fifth Tests in January, 1978 during which India played a Northern NSW team in Newcastle, while Australia considered the Sheffield Shield form of replacements Graham Yallop, Graeme Wood, Rick Darling, Ian Callen and Bruce Yardley during the period now annexed by the BBL.
How much greater would the chances of Kohli’s team winning this series be if they had played 16 days of first-class cricket at their impending Test venues against hardened locals, rather than a few hit-and-giggles and a rain-affected scratch match?
Of course, Australia’s preparation is now similarly compromised and the loss of batting talent to the sandpaper bans is accentuated by the dearth of ready-made replacements in a weakened Sheffield Shield.
Perhaps the greatest similarity to 1977/78 is that sense of the unknown, which in turn provides a vacuum to be filled by whatever takes place on the field.
Forty years later, the twists and turns and quirks of that series are etched indelibly in the memories of those of us who saw it — Tony Mann’s century as a nightwatchman, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar’s rapid leg spin, Simpson’s remarkable renaissance, and so it went.
Whether or not India take the opportunity presented this time, let’s hope for a series that provides as many warm memories and trivia night perennials as that surprising summer 41 years ago.