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Saturday, December 24, 2011

India 'down under' - and the Boxing day Test at MCG

The first test between India and Australia would be played at Melbourne on 26th Dec 2011 – the expectations are running high – Sehwag is in murderous mood after that epic 219; Gambhir wanting to play a long innings, Dravid striking rich form at England and at home; expectations of 100th ton of Sachin, VVS wading his magic against Aussie – and will Zaheer & Ishant be fit enough and bowl the way they are expected to – How will Umesh Yadav perform…… before the start of the Series -  they feared Sachin in 1991 and still fear him 2011 – age has not withered him and that is a great tribute to the little master.

India have done poorly in the first Test of most tours and that is worrisome – the Indian record at Australia is not anything extraordinary.

In Australia
At Melbourne

As could be  seen only 5 wins in 22 outings and 2 in Melbourne out of 7 – but not everything is determined by statistics or history.

Chennaites would remember the famous Tests played during the Pongal time (mid January) ~ a touring Team playing a Test match in Chennai during the festive Pongal was a tradition - ~ not any longer…… but there is one tradition that continues – the Boxing day test at Melbourne.  A Boxing Day Test is more than just an event on the cricketing calendar; it has assumed the importance of a ritual. 

The match is played at  Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) located in Yarra Park, Melbourne,  home to the Melbourne Cricket Club. It is the tenth largest stadium in the world, the largest in Australia, the largest stadium for playing cricket, and holds the world record for the highest light towers at any sporting venue. The MCG is within walking distance of the city centre and is serviced by the Richmond railway station, Richmond and the Jolimont railway station, East Melbourne.  Internationally, the MCG is remembered as the centrepiece stadium of both the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games. The open-air stadium is also one of the world's most famous cricket venues.   The MCG is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register and is one of the seven wonders of the sporting world.

December 26th is celebrated down under as Boxing day – it is a public holiday there in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and some commonwealth Nations.  Some say its origin is from the Christmas carol and King Wenceslas.  Another plausible theory is that one day after Christmas, the boxes are broken open  !  In UK, there reportedly is the tradition of fox hunts in country sides which were imperiled since 2005 with Parliament banning traditional method of using dogs to kill prey.  The Americans do not seem to have adopted this.  Down under the tradition continues – a Test match hosted at Melbourne, Victoria, beginning on Boxing day – the 26th Dec ; every four years the Boxing Day Test forms part of the 5-match Ashes series with England.

By long tradition the Victoria-New South Wales Sheffield Shield match included Boxing Day at the MCG as one of the scheduled days of play, much to the chagrin of the NSW players who missed Christmas with their families as a result. In the 1950–51 Ashes series the Melbourne Test was held on the 22–27 December, with the third day's play being on Boxing  day.   In 1980 the Melbourne Cricket Club and the Australian cricket team secured the rights to play the match annually.  In 1989, a One Day International was played instead of a Test match, involving Australia and Sri Lanka, which Australia won by 30 runs.

India first played at Melbourne way back in Jan 1948 – it was a ‘8balls per over’ Six day Test which Australia won by a huge margin of 233 runs.  Donald Bradman scored a century (132) in the first innings as Australia was all out for 394.  Dattu Phadkar had the honour of claiming Bradman, while Lala Amarnath and Vinoo Mankad took 4 apiece.   Lala Amarnath captained the side.  Indians made 291 with NH Mankad making a century (116), Phadkar remained unbeaten on 55. In the second Aussies declared at 255/4 wth AR Morris and Donald Bradman making unbeaten centuries and sharing an unbroken  partnership of 223 [Aussies were 32/4 at one stage].  Chasing a target of 359 Indians buckled and were shot out for 125. 

The last time we played at Melbourne [a boxing day affair at that] – the result was even worser…  In Dec 2007 – Aussies made 343 with century by Mathew Hayden.  Kumble took 5 and Zaheer 4.  Jaffer and Dravid opened; Sachin made 62, Ganguly captaining the side made 43 – Indians were all out for a paltry 196 with Brett Lee and Stuart Clarke taking 4 apiece.   In their second essay Aussies declared at  351/7 – the target was one less than 500.   VVS Laxman made 42, Ganguly made 40  and Indians were bowled out for 161.

Of our two wins at Melbourne, the latest one came in Feb 1981 – a Test which was almost sparred by ‘smoke was coming out of my ears and I heard nothing’ comment of Sunil Gavaskar.   In Test No. 895, Indians led by Gavaskar, made 237 with a brilliant 114 by Gundappa Vishwanath.   Lillee scalped 4, Pascoe took 3.  Aussies made a massive 416.  India had the best partnership of 165 when Gavaskar was adjudged LBW to Lillee when he had nicked it on to his pads.  Chauhan went on to make 85 and Indians made 324 – a target of 143 looked simple and Kapil was not fit to bowl with a strained thigh muscle.  

But in the dramatic last session Aussie lost 3 wickets for 24.  Ghavri removed Jack Dyson; Wood was out to Doshi and Greg Chappen was out bowled by Ghavri for a first ball duck.   The next morning Kapil dev fired them out with figures of 5 for 28 bundling them out for 83 – one of the lowest movements for Australia.

Chetan Chauhan who batted so well – played in 40 Tests making 2000 odd runs but never made a century, though was closer many a times.   Chauhan was urged by Gavaskar to walk out and leave the field but the manager  Wing Commander S. K. Durrani, intervened,  and ensured that the controversial dismissal did not spoil the match.  The whole of the Series there was inconsistent umpiring always going against the Indians.   The inexperienced Rex Whitehead, who made his debut in the first Test and stood in all three matches even after Indians protested.  

The first win in Dec 1977/ Jan 1978 was different.  It was a great series in which all the 5 matches produced results.  

Indians were led by Bishan Singh Bedi; Australians brought back Bobby Simpson as some key players had joined Kerry Packer and were unavailable for National side.  Aussies secured an early 2-0 lead and the 3rd Test (Test No. 812) was at Melbourne.  Jeff Thomson was at his furious best and Indians straightaway were off to the worst imaginable start losing both the openers without a single run on board.    Mohinder, Vishwanath, Vengsarkar and Ashok Mankad took the score to 256.

Craig Serjeant made 85, while rest Dyson, Coiser, Ogilvie, Simson, Toohey, Rixon went out cheaply and were bowled out for 213.  Chandrasekhar took 6 for 52.     In the second India made an imposing 343 with Gavaskar making 118.  Set an improbable 387, Aussies mustered only 164 giving Indians their first win – a big one at that.  Chandra was the hero with another identical 6 for 52.   The accomplishment of the first win in 12 tests in Australian soil was outrightly due to Chandra’s magical figures of 12 for 104 in the match. 

Those days, an half hour capsule called ‘highlights’ would be telecast few days after the match in the night time and we clamoured seeing the Indians performance on TV – when ‘the slow-motion’ of the action – delivery, catch, run out etc., caught the attention of everybody and were the  most talked about events.  Only few households had TV sets and people would crowd in those houses to watch those half an hour capsules………

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.




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