A thriller it was

DILIP SARDESAI... his glorious innings pulled India out of the rut.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

In March 1965, India and New Zealand, regarded as the `dull dogs' of international cricket, played out a FASCINATING Test of fluctuating fortunes that eventually ended in a tense draw, writes GULU EZEKIEL.

India and New Zealand were not particularly famed for playing attractive cricket in the 1960s. But at Bombay's Brabourne Stadium in March 1965 they played out a fascinating Test of fluctuating fortunes that eventually ended in a tense draw.

Neither country had won a Test match abroad when they met in 1965, and along with Pakistan they were known as the `dull dogs' of international cricket. That tag would persist till the 1970s, which dawned as a golden age for all three teams.

This was New Zealand's second tour of India. They had been beaten 2-0 on the previous visit in 1955-56. Ten years later, they started off the series confidently, and the first and second Test matches in Madras and Calcutta ended in honourable draws.

New Zealand skipper John Reid was running a temperature at the start of the Bombay Test, and after winning the toss, he retreated to bed. Future captain Graham Dowling then held the innings together with a sedate and technically sound century as the Kiwis finished the first day on 227 for 5 following the fall of Vic Pollard to the last ball of the day.

The wicket at the Brabourne Stadium had been re-laid with two layers of bricks. The earlier placid track had produced nine draws out of 11 Tests, but just six months earlier on the new wicket, India had beaten Australia in a thrilling encounter. Now once again the added bounce helped balance things as it gave assistance both to pace and spin bowlers and another result was on the cards.

Ramakant `Tiny' Desai relished the surface and returned his best Test figures of 6 for 56 with his lively medium pacers. New Zealand was all out for 297 by lunch on the second day and this was when the drama began to unfold.

Dick Motz, Bruce Taylor and Bevan Congdon combined to scythe through the Indian batting in next to no time. In front of a packed and stunned crowd, India crumbled to 88 all out in a mere 33 overs. It was the lowest score by any side on Indian soil and for the first time against New Zealand India was forced to follow on.

Taylor had made a sensational debut in the previous Test in Calcutta with a century and a five-wicket haul. Once again he proved to be India's nemesis and his figures of 5 for 26 were great reward for hard toil in the merciless heat. So immense was his effort that Taylor collapsed on the field and had to be carried off. In the dressing room, he lost consciousness and a desperate physiotherapist worked frantically to get him back on his feet. He returned refreshed after tea, having broken the back of the Indian batting with 3 for 11 in five overs before his collapse. Now he polished off the tail with only Chandu Borde (25) and Farokh Engineer (17) reaching double figures.

India was 209 runs behind and Reid had to think hard before asking them to bat again. His pace bowlers were exhausted but there was just a brief period of play before close on the second day. Engineer, opening with Dilip Sardesai, fell to Taylor as India limped to 18 for 1. That meant 16 wickets had fallen in one day for just 176 runs. The bowlers were right on top and with two days to go (the Test was of four days duration), the home side had its back to the wall. A real battle for survival loomed.

When Taylor struck early on the third day to remove Salim Durrani without a run being added to the overnight score, a shocking defeat was very much on the cards for India. Now came the amazing turnaround. New Zealand having dominated the Test for over two days was turned back by a determined batting effort led by Sardesai (200 not out).

Taylor, the Kiwi hero also might well have been responsible for victory slipping out his team's hands. He dropped Sardesai at slip on 20 off Congdon and the opener would make them pay heavily for the lapse.

The first stage of the rescue act featured Sardesai and M. L. Jaisimha (47). The stand, worth 89 runs, gave a touch of respectability to the Indian total. But when Pollard claimed Jaisimha's wicket at 107 for 3, there was still a mountain to climb for the host batsmen. Borde, who was the only Indian batsman to show any confidence in the first innings debacle, once again displayed his mettle with a fighting century. His partnership of 154 for the fourth wicket with Sardesai took India past the first innings deficit and gave fresh hope of avoiding defeat.

Still, at close of the third and penultimate day with the total reading 281 for 5, the lead was only 72 runs and a tense final day was in the offing. Sardesai was batting on 97 having played the sheet anchor role the whole day while scoring 91 runs. At this stage, survival was the key and Sardesai was the man the team was looking to, to salvage a draw.

Nothing could budge Hanumant Singh (75 not out) and Sardesai the next day. The latter picked up the pace after crossing his century and his final 50 came in only 42 minutes. Skipper Pataudi declared at 463 for 5 as soon as Sardesai reached his double century. There were just 148 minutes of play left in the match and the target of 255 appeared academic. There was nothing in the pitch either to suggest what would happen next.

In hindsight `Tiger' would be criticised for not closing the innings earlier. But no one present at the ground could have guessed what the final twist to the tale would be.

Bitterly disappointed at their inability to ram home their early advantage, the Kiwi batsmen began to fall in an alarming manner.

Suddenly the Test, which seemed set for a draw, burst into life as India's spinners, largely ineffective in the first innings, made deep inroads into the rival batting. Three wickets were down for next to nothing and then the young leg-spinner B. S. Chandrasekhar struck three quick blows. The crowd could hardly believe their eyes and the Indians were cock-a-hoop as the scoreboard read 46 for 7. And to think that just 48 hours earlier, defeat appeared imminent for India!

It took a defiant Taylor to scatter the field and save the day for New Zealand. Having taken eight wickets in the match, he now launched a mini counter-attack with four boundaries. His score of 21 may seem insignificant, but was enough to help his team draw the Test, finishing at 80 for 8.

India certainly came out with the honours at the end. The visiting team's morale was broken and in the fourth and final Test in New Delhi New Zealand was beaten by seven wickets. The Kiwis, thus, lost the series 1-0.

Only eight years later would New Zealand win its first Test abroad. India's first away success would come in New Zealand three years later.

THE SCORES

India v New Zealand, 1964/65, 3rd Test: Brabourne Stadium, Bombay, March 12-15.

New Zealand 297 (G. T. Dowling 129, R. W. Morgan 71, V. Pollard 26; R. B. Desai 6-56) and 80 for 8 (B. S. Chandrasekhar 3-25) drew with India 88 (C. G. Borde 25; Taylor 5-26) and 463 for 5 decl. (D. N. Sardesai 200 n.o., M. L. Jaisimha 47, C. G. Borde 109, Hanumant Singh 75 n.o.; Taylor 3-76).