The 1977-78 series between Australia and India was played in the midst of one of cricket’s most testing periods. The Kerry Packer episode had hit international cricket and a host of star players from most of the leading countries had become part of the ‘circus’, thus finding themselves out of their respective national sides.
Thus the Australian side for this series had many established names missing, but on home soil and under the captaincy of the back-from-retirement 41 year-old Bob Simpson, they proved to be a formidable unit especially against an Indian side not accustomed to winning abroad.
For India, led by Bishan Singh Bedi, this was perhaps their best ever chance to secure a maiden series triumph in Australia. Not only were they the only team not to be affected by the Packer exodus, but they also boasted of an experienced side with most players in the prime of their career.
As was the norm in Australia those days, this series featured eight-ball overs. The first Test at Brisbane ended in a thrilling 16-run win for Australia, who were defending 340. In the second Test at Perth, India were left to rue again as the hosts chased down 339 to win by two wickets.
India fought back admirably in the next two Tests, winning by 222 runs (in spite of being 0/2 on the first day) and an innings and two runs at Melbourne and Sydney respectively. The stage was thus set for a mouth-watering deciding fifth Test at the Adelaide Oval, and it did live up to the expectations. This six-day Test was played between January 28 and February 3, 1978.
With India coming into the game on the back of consecutive wins, this was a golden chance for them to record a historic victory. Australia gambled by making five changes to their eleven. These included four debutants – openers Graeme Wood and Rick Darling, off-spinner Bruce Yardley and pace bowler Ian Callen.
Graham Yallop, playing his first Test in two years, scored 121 on the first day to lay the platform for Australia’s big total (source – heraldsun.com.au)
Simpson won the toss and elected to bat on an easy pitch. The debutant openers impressed with a solid 89-run stand before Syed Kirmani stumped Wood off Bhagwath Chandrasekhar. Darling went on to compile 65 in his first Test innings. The next two batsmen Graham Yallop – who was back in the side after two years – and Peter Toohey continued the accumulation, cashing in on a below-par bowling display.
The pair put on 120 for the third wicket. Toohey was out for 60, but Yallop marched on to his maiden Test century. He added a further 104 for the fourth wicket with Simpson before Mohinder Amarnath’s medium pace snapped him for 121. Australia ended the first day at 353/5 with Simpson and Steve Rixon at the crease.
The two overnight batsmen went on to add 69 for the sixth wicket on the second day. Simpson rallied well with the lower order, which made vital contributions to aid the captain’s quest for his hundred. He scored his tenth and last Test century and was out for exactly 100 to Karsan Ghavri.
The tenth-wicket pair of Jeff Thomson and Callen further frustrated the visitors by adding 47 as Australia ended at a highly satisfying total of 505. Chandrasekhar bowled with heart to finish with 5/136. India had a woeful start in reply, as they lost three wickets for no run to totter at 23/3.
Thomson removed Sunil Gavaskar and Amarnath in the same over while Wayne Clark sent back Chetan Chauhan. This brought together the wristy Gundappa Viswanath and the reliable Dilip Vengsarkar, and the two put the innings back on track with a century stand. They ensured that India ended the second day at 131/3, with Viswanath unbeaten on 79.
The fourth wicket partnership stretched to 136 on the third day before Viswanath was out caught behind by Rixon for 89, giving Callen his first Test wicket. Seven runs later, Vengsarkar became Callen’s second victim as he too was caught behind, for 44. Anshuman Gaekwad and Kirmani put on 50 for the sixth wicket, but the lower order failed to help add to the total.
The last five wickets fell for 53 as the innings wound up at 269. Clark (4/62) and Callen (3/83) were the pick of the bowlers. Australia were clearly in the dominant position with a cushion of 236 runs as they began their second innings. Bedi’s left-arm spin sent back Wood early, but Darling (56) scored his second half-century of the match as he added 67 with Yallop for the second wicket.
Australia ended the third day at 103/3 as Bedi added two more to his kitty. The day was marred by Bedi’s outburst at the umpires, as the Indian captain felt that quite a few decisions were going against his team. Early on the fourth day, Simpson (51) combined with Gary Cosier for a 65-run fifth-wicket stand. But wickets fell at regular intervals as India attempted to make some sort of a comeback.
The innings ended at 256 in the second session. Bedi picked up 4/53 while Ghavri made short work of the tail to finish with 4/45 (7/138 in the match). India thus needed a gargantuan 493 runs in fourteen hours to win the Test and the series. The record fourth-innings winning total at that time was India’s 406/4 against the West Indies at Port-of-Spain two years ago.
In all probability, India’s only option was to bat out the time and secure a draw. Gavaskar and Chauhan began steadily, but with the score at 40, the former edged one behind off Callen. Chauhan followed soon after, falling to Yardley. India ended the fourth day at 101/2, with Amarnath and Viswanath at the crease.
Amarnath and Viswanath began strongly on the fifth day as they showed that India were not going to go down without a fight. The two ground the Australian bowlers in a third-wicket stand that fetched 131 runs. With the score at 210, Yardley provided the breakthrough for the hosts as he accounted for Amarnath, who made a composed 86 – the innings’ top score.
Vengsarkar joined Viswanath and the two took the score to 256, whereupon the fourth wicket fell in the form of Viswanath, who was dismissed by Clark for 73. Vengsarkar battled on and gave Australia plenty to ponder about, as he dominated a 67-run fifth-wicket stand with Gaekwad.
At 323/4, India were threatening to give themselves a real chance of victory. But Yardley caught Gaekwad off his own bowling, and then with the score at 348, got the big wicket of Vengsarkar, who hit one straight to Simpson to end his innings of 78 on a disappointing note. India ended the fifth day at 362/6.
Australia were again in control as the final day began, but another small twist remained. Kirmani, who had made 48 in the first innings, dug in again. He found a partner in Ghavri and the two gave Australia some nervous moments in their 67-run alliance for the seventh wicket. With the score at 415/6, Clark castled Kirmani (51) with the new ball.
Two runs later, Callen removed Ghavri to extinguish the last sliver of hope that India had. Erapalli Prasanna and Bedi tried to narrow down the margin by adding 25 for the ninth wicket. Callen (3/108) dismissed Bedi while Simpson finished off the game by scalping Chandrasekhar, caught behind.
India’s valiant effort ended with the score at 445, giving Australia a well-deserved 47-run win. Yardley, who picked up wickets at key stages, returned 4/134. A thrilling series ended in Australia’s favour by a margin of 3-2. Australia’s decision to make five changes in the eleven paid off very well, as all the four debutants as well as comeback man Yallop made vital contributions.
India’s ordinary bowling on the first day eventually cost them a rare overseas series win and by the time they began to fight back in the second dig, Australia were already in a safe position. At that time, India’s total of 445 was the highest ever fourth-innings total in a lost cause. Since then, it has fallen second on the list, behind New Zealand’s 451 (in pursuit of 550) against England at Auckland in 2001-02.
Not only was Simpson the winning captain, but he also ended as the highest run-getter of the series, with a tally of 539 at 53.90 with two hundreds and two fifties. His opposite number Bedi finished as the highest wicket-taker, with 31 wickets at 23.87.
On their next tour to Australia in 1980-81, India drew the Test series 1-1 and later repeated the result in 2003-04. However, a series win in Australia still remains elusive, and is likely to be so over the next few years.