Mallett at his menacing best

A file picture of former Australian spinner Ashley Mallett in Chennai. Mallett tormented the Indian batsmen in the Madras Test of the 1969-70 series.-PHOTO: R.RAGU

The wicket had taken spin from the very first day and Ashley Mallett took full advantage to run through the Indian batting, picking up his second five-wicket haul in the match. Gulu Ezekiel brings back memories of the final Test of the 1969-70 series between India and Australia in Madras.

The visit of Bill Lawry's formidable Australian team to India, late in 1969, produced one of the most engrossing and controversial series of all. Though the tourists won 3-1, it was much closer than the scoreline indicated.

The series had been preceded by a rather tame encounter between India and New Zealand in which the host was lucky to escape with a 1-1 verdict.

Australia had in its ranks some of the biggest names in contemporary cricket; Lawry, the left-handed opener, leading the way and backed up by stroke-players such as Ian Chappell, Keith Stackpole, Paul Sheahan and Doug Walters as well as the legendary fast bowler Graham McKenzie and off-spinner Ashley Mallet.

Ian's younger brother Greg was unlucky to miss selection and would make his debut with a bang the next season.

The series marked the debut of the one and only G. R. Viswanath whose century in his first Test — the drawn second Test in Kanpur — was the batting highlight for India.

With crowd problems in Bombay and Calcutta, and Lawry's undiplomatic ways added with umpiring disputes, the tour was full of drama and controversy.

There was great cricket to be witnessed and it was the Aussies who drew first blood when they won the opening Test match in Bombay by eight wickets.

Thanks to brilliant bowling by Bedi and Prasanna, India drew level by winning the third Test in New Delhi by seven wickets before Australia once again snatched the lead. The margin in the fourth and penultimate Test in Calcutta was a massive 10 wickets and now it was all to play for in Madras.

That India failed to wrap things up after having the tourists tottering at 24 for six in their second innings is one of Indian cricket's greatest regrets. It would have ended the series at 2-2, a fairer indication of its closeness. It could have so easily gone the other way. But in the end it was the famed Aussie fighting spirit that got them home and dry.

How did they pull off the great escape at Chepauk? It was one of Australia's less-heralded batsmen who led the way. Ian Redpath lacked the charisma and strokes of his more famous team-mates. But he certainly made up with his tenacity. Tall, gaunt and angular, it was his defence that held up the charge of the Indian bowlers. That innings of 63 with invaluable help from the tail-enders ultimately made all the difference for his side. It was Walters who held Australia's first innings together with a knock of 102. Mallett then picked up five wickets as India fell in a heap for 163 to concede a lead of 95 runs.

The Aussie collapse began late on the second day. The bowler who triggered it off was debutant Mohinder Amarnath, hero of many a battle in the decades to follow, though usually with the bat.

Having gained a considerable lead, there was just about an hour's play remaining for the batsmen to consolidate. Instead, they lost the precious wickets of Stackpole and Chappell, both bowled by Amarnath to end the day at 14 for two. It was December 25 but Christmas would be an uncomfortable one for the visitors.

The third morning (after a day's rest) had the crowd in raptures. This time it was Prasanna who had the batsmen falling like a pack of cards.

With the addition of just two runs Walters and Lawry were both foxed by the master off-spinner who next sent back Sheahan and wicket-keeper Brian Taber for next to nothing.

Sheahan's brief was to hit `Pras' off his length — and that was exactly what the bowler wanted. He was swept to the boundary and the very next delivery was smashed to the sightscreen. Lured out of his crease, the batsman was foxed by a floater and Farokh Engineer pulled off a simple stumping.

When Taber was out without scoring, Prasanna's bowling figures made for a sensational reading — four wickets for eight runs off 21 balls! The Aussies had no clue to his wiles and looked headed for a record low total.

Redpath was reprieved by the Indian fielders on three occasions and that was all he needed. McKenzie (24), Lawrie Mayne and Mallett all hung around to add useful runs and the final total of 153 was enough to set India a challenging 249 for victory.

The Indian bowlers (and fielders) had failed to apply the coup de grace with the batsmen firmly on the ropes. They would sorely rue their lapses.

Ajit Wadekar and Viswanath had been the mainstays behind India's successful run chase of 181 in Delhi. And with the pair batting on 36 and 31 respectively by the close of the third day in this Test, hopes were high among the supporters.

But it was not to be. The wicket had taken spin from the very first day and Mallett took full advantage to run through the Indian batting, picking up his second five-wicket haul in the match. This, after McKenzie had blasted out both openers the previous day.

From an overnight 82 for two, the rest of the batting folded tamely and India were shot out for 171. It was all over an hour after lunch with over a day to spare.

Both Mallett and Prasanna finished with 10 wickets in the match. But it was the Aussie who had the last laugh and proved to be the match winner.

It was to be the last series as captain for Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi (jr.), after being in charge of the team for seven years. The next year the reins were handed over to Wadekar, though Pataudi did make a brief comeback as captain four years later.

THE SCORES

India v Australia, 1969/70, 5thTest, Chepauk, Madras, 24-28 December 1969. Australia won by 77 runs.

Australia 258 (K. R. Stackpole 37, W. M. Lawry 33, K. D. Walters 102, I. R. Redpath 33, E. A. S. Prasanna four for 100, S. Venkataraghavan four for 71) and 153 (Redpath 63, Prasanna six for 74) beat India 163 (F. M. Engineer 32, M. A. K. Pataudi 59, A. A. Mallett five for 91) and 171 (A. L. Wadekar 55, G. R. Viswanath 59, Mallett five for 53).