As Australia under Pat Cummins tours India for a Test series this year, I am reminded of their exciting tour in 1959-60. I was there, cheering every four, every wicket – especially the incredible performance by India’s unconventional spinner Jasu Patel in the Kanpur Test.
This was the first major visit by Australia to India. The previous tour in 1956 was on their way home from England. Those were the days when England and Australia dreaded to tour India with a fear of contracting dysentery, cholera or hepatitis. However, since the 1970s the hygienic conditions have improved substantially with accommodation in five-star hotels. In recent times India is the place to be, with the Indian Premier League offering huge monetary incentives to cricketers.
Back to Australia’s tour of India in 1959-60. Although Australia under the leadership of astute all-rounder Richie Benaud won the five-Test series, India had the consolation of winning her first ever Test against Australia. It was in the second Test in Kanpur where an obscure off-spinner with an unorthodox action, Jasu Patel, captured 14 wickets in the match including 9 for 69 in the first innings. This was India’s first success in 10 Tests against Australia.
Four days after becoming the first captain to defeat Pakistan in Pakistan, Benaud took 29 wickets at 19.59 in five Tests and won the 1959-60 series 2-1. In eight Tests in India in the 1950s, he had grabbed 52 wickets at 18.38. Amazing! In the first Test in Delhi on 12 December 1959 he had an astonishing spell of three wickets for no run (3.4-3-0-3). Magical!
Benaud’s spell of 3 for 0, and 3 for 22 by another great all-rounder Alan Davidson, enabled Australia to roll India out for a paltry 135 in the first Test in Delhi in December 1959. Neil Harvey hit another brilliant century and the visitors amassed 468 to lead by 333.
The bespectacled Pankaj Roy scored a gritty 99. India lost her last six wickets for 19 runs as Benaud struck again to grab 5 for 76 and India lost by an innings and 127 runs with more than a day to spare. The spectators reacted to this dismal showing by the home side by throwing bottles on the field and booing the umpires.
However, 24 December 1959 proved a red-letter day for India as they defeated Australia on the newly-laid turf pitch in Kanpur in the second Test. The visitors started well, dismissing India for 152, left-arm fast-medium Davidson taking 5 for 31, and Benaud 4 for 63. Australia reached 128 for the loss of only one wicket, Colin McDonald and Harvey playing with ease, and another big win for them was on the cards.
At this stage former India captain Lala Amarnath advised India’s captain GS Ramchand to bowl Jasu Patel from the other end. The results were dramatic – Australia lost her last nine wickets for only 91 runs and was dismissed for 219, a narrow lead of 67 runs. Jasu Patel had a magical spell of 9 for 69, then the best figures by an Indian in a Test, as the match turned around sensationally.
India made 291 thanks to 74 by left-hand opening batsman Nari Contractor and 51 by Ramnath Kenny. Davidson bowled off-spin to take 7 for 93, for marvellous match figures of 12 for 124. Australia needed 225 to win but Patel struck again, capturing 5 for 55 for a magnificent match haul of 14 for 124. At the other end Polly Umrigar had impressive figures of 25-11-27-4. Australia tumbled for 105, till then their lowest total against India, and lost by 119 runs. Not an ideal Christmas present for the visitors, but the spectators were ecstatic as the series was now locked 1-1 with three Tests to go.
Jasu Patel was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri award the following month on India’s Republic Day. He became a national hero after only one Test match as he had achieved practically nothing in the past and very little in the future.
Benaud summed up in Anything but an Autobiography (1998): “When we had lost in the last afternoon in Kanpur, I walked out on to the field and shook hands with Gulabrai Ramchand, their skipper, and all my players stood at the entrance to the playing field and clapped the Indian team into the dressing-room. The whole of our team went to the dressing-room and congratulated them.”
Yet in a local Indian paper Northern Indian Patrika, Benaud and his team were carpingly criticised “for being the worst sportsmen imaginable”. Benaud was naturally furious.
The third Test in Mumbai and the fifth Test in Kolkata were drawn but Australia triumphed in the fourth Test at Chennai and won the 5-Test series 2-1.
Will Cummins’ men repeat this result this February, or will confident India take revenge?