A feather in Tiger's cap

M.A.K. Pataudi... the only captain to have led India to a series victory in New Zealand.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

India's 3-1 VICTORY over New Zealand in the 1967-68 series was decisive. And there was both elation and relief back home that the nation had finally made the breakthrough on foreign soil after 36 years, writes GULU EZEKIEL.

With the Indian team having won the series in the West Indies recently, the time is right to look back at the first instance of a victory on foreign soil.

It was on the 1967-68 twin tours to Australia and New Zealand under the captaincy of Mansur Ali Khan (Nawab of Pataudi Jr.) that India went through extreme highs and lows. The lows came first as the team suffered a 0-4 loss to Australia.

It was then onto New Zealand — India's first visit to the country. The team put the disappointing series against Australia behind and romped home 3-1. It was the first time in 36 years that India had won a Test match on foreign soil, let alone a series rubber.

New Zealand's captain Graham Dowling set a national record with an innings of 239 in the second Test at Christchurch. The other Kiwi hero was pace bowler Gary Bartlett who also set a record with 6 for 38 in the second innings, as India were beaten by six wickets.

It would, however, turn out to be his final series as the controversy over his bowling action raged during the tour.

India's bowling, which depended heavily on the spinners, found the slow pitches in New Zealand much to its liking.

Bishan Bedi, E. A. S. Prasanna and Bapu Nadkarni had a great tour though medium-pacers Abid Ali and Rusi Surti too chipped in with useful wickets.

The slow tracks in turn took the sting out of the Kiwi attack, which had some accomplished pace bowlers in its ranks.

The highlight of the tourists' performance was their excellent fielding. Indian teams had never been renowned for their catching abilities. But Pataudi was perhaps the first captain to lay special emphasis on what had for years been a neglected aspect of Indian cricket, and it paid rich dividends. "What pleased me most about the Indian team's performances towards the end of this tour was the big improvement in our fielding. I am something of a fanatic on this subject," wrote Pataudi in his autobiography Tiger's Tale.

It was in the first Test at Dunedin in February 1968 that India won for the first time abroad in 43 matches. It was a close encounter till the end of the third day with India eking out a lead of just nine runs after New Zealand, batting first, had scored 350. Dowling's 143 turned out to be the only century of the match.

But it was not enough as Prasanna, carrying on from his magnificent form in Australia, grabbed six wickets in the second innings. The Kiwis collapsed for 208 and India reached the winning target of 200 early on the fifth day with five wickets in hand. Wadekar, with 80 and 71, was the top scorer in both innings.

The two sides went into the third Test at Wellington with the series level at 1-1. Dowling won the toss and batted first on a pitch that afforded assistance to the seam bowlers on the first day.

This time it was left-arm medium-pacer Rusi Surti who came into his own, picking up three of the four wickets to fall — the fourth was a run out — on a day shortened by bad light. New Zealand finished the opening day at 147 for four.

Mark Burgess (63 overnight) fell early on the second morning to Prasanna, who then ran through the rest of the line-up to finish with five wickets. New Zealand was all out for 186. In reply, India scored 326, which was built around Wadekar's maiden Test century.

It would turn out to be the only three-figure knock of his career. The elegant left-hander had fallen for 99 in the Melbourne Test a couple of months earlier, but now made amends with 143, including 12 boundaries. The first innings lead of 141 runs proved decisive as India's spinners struck again.

Nadkarni was the pick this time, claiming six for 43. New Zealand's second innings total of 199 meant India had to score only 59 runs to take the lead in the series, and this was easily achieved by the tourists for the loss of two wickets.

Prasanna continued to be New Zealand's nemesis in the fourth and final Test at Auckland. He took eight wickets in the match for a total of 24 in the series. Bedi had 16 wickets, followed by Nadkarni with 14.

Pataudi's 51 was the top-score in India's first innings total of 252, which was good enough for a lead of 112 as the New Zealand batsmen had no clue to India's spin. However, it was Surti who struck first, removing openers Dowling and Bruce Murray.

Surti then shone with the bat, exhibiting delightful footwork. He came down the pitch to the bowlers, but was unfortunate to be out on 99. It would end up as his highest Test score.

Pataudi declared on 261 for five with Chandu Borde unbeaten on 65. The target of 374 proved too much as New Zealand crumbled for 101. India won the Test by 272 runs.

Victory could not have been more decisive and there was both elation and relief back home that India had finally made the breakthrough on foreign soil after so many years.

Though New Zealand was not among the top teams in the world at that time, to put things in perspective, no Indian side has ever again won a series in New Zealand. In fact, after all these years, the lone Test victory came in 1976 — in a series that was drawn 1-1. In that context, it was a notable achievement and another feather in `Tiger' Pataudi's cap.