India has some fond memories of playing cricket down under, a few of those are stellar victories too.

In this episode, Vijay Lokapally catches up with veteran Indian cricketer Karsan Ghavri about a particularly special victory in Melbourne in 1981 - from his own performance in the game, being received at the airport by Sir Donald Bradman, making Greg Chappell his bunny, and more.

Listen to the full episode here and read the full transcript below

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Narrator: This is Sportstar Podcasts. You're listening to India's Greatest Cricketing Victories, a special series from Sportstar where we look back at some of India's most memorable wins on the cricket field. India has some fond memories of playing cricket Down Under - a few of those are stellar victories as well. In this episode, Vijay Lokapally catches up with veteran Indian cricketer Karsan Ghavri about a particularly special victory in Melbourne in 1981. From his own performance in the game, to being received at the airport by Sir Donald Bradman, making Greg Chappell his Bunny and a lot more.

Vijay Lokapally: Welcome Karsan bhai to the Sportstar podcast. It is dedicated to the 1981 Test match at Melbourne where you had such a fabulous performance right through the series. So, to begin with, what are your memories of that series?

Karsan Ghavri: Well, I think, you know, it was the motion of the historical Test match that we played in ’80-’81 in Australia at Melbourne, when we won. The target was absolutely chaseable: 130 odd-runs or something like that. And we got the Australians out for just 81 runs because, you know, the wicket in Melbourne played a very big part in our victory… and I think, you know, that was the only time in the history of cricket between Australia and India, where we squared the series in Australia and I think that was a great achievement.

Vijay: Karsan Bhai, that was your second visit to Australia. ’77-’78 also produced great cricket. So how would you compare ’77-’78 and then this ’80-’81?

Karsan: Well, you know, ’77 was a much longer series. We had five test matches in Australia at that time, and in ’80-’81, we had only three test matches and a lot of one day games and a triangle series and all that between New Zealand, Australia and India. But the most interesting thing is, I think probably we all enjoyed the series in ‘77 because it was a much longer period, much longer cricket and it was so interesting that the first two test matches Australia had won, and the third and fourth we had won, and the last one at Adelaide, unfortunately, we lost. But I think that particular series was very remarkable and historic… The same and same as ’80-’81, because in ’81, we managed to square the series in Australia for the first time.

Vijay: Karsan bhai you had a fabulous, Before I go back to 1981 Melbourne, two questions I wanted to ask… One, what prompted you to become a fast bowler? Because you could also bowl spin very well. And your partnership with Kapil… you never allowed any opposition to have a 100-run opening partnership.

Karsan: Right from the beginning, you know, back in the school days, everyone wanted to bowl leg spin, off spin, or left arm orthodox. What is the use of a new ball? And this is how it started. Coincidentally, in one of the final matches to end my time at my high school in Rajkot… Just a day before… My captain was a fast bowler and we were playing football. And while playing football, nobody used to wear those shoes and things like that. We're playing how we used to play barefoot in our childhood. Unfortunately, my captain and the fast bowler got injured and his toe was so swollen that the next day he could not even walk nor could he wear cricket boots. So, our coach asks, “Who's going to use the new ball?” And we had no new-ball bowler in our school team and my coach just suggested, he said, “Karsan, just take 8-10-12 yards, bowl 4-5 overs and wear out the ball,” And these few overs were enough to change my life forever. I bowled 5 overs with the new ball and took 5 wickets as well. And then, my coach suggested, “Karsan, I think you should concentrate more with the new ball,” and this is how I picked it up and started bowling with a new ball.

Vijay: ...and bowling with Kapil Dev.

Karsan: Kapil Dev was much later: in ’79. I'm talking about 1966-67. Kapil Dev is a great athlete, a great all-rounder, a God-gifted cricketer and whatever he did, on his instinct or otherwise, most of the time he was right. I mean, if you pick the 1983 World Cup, nobody had hoped to even qualify. The matches against England, against Zimbabwe… they made all the difference and the entire scenario changed. He brought the how-to-win culture into the Indian side. And after 1983, the Indian team has never looked back.

Vijay: Karsan bhai, your debut was against a very strong batting line-up of the West Indies. So a little bit about your debut series, you know, bowling to all those great West Indians.

Karsan: I made my debut in 1974, on December 29 at the Eden Gardens along with Anshuman Gaekwad. Tiger Pataudi was the captain. And those days, we never used to have team meetings or anything as such. I mean, Tiger had all the plans in his head and his heart. I mean, whatever he wanted to execute, he would do it, you know, put it on the field. And, as many people know, Tiger was always with very few words. So whatever he did, everything happened, you know, on the field. You will be surprised that Anshuman Gaekwad and I made our debut at the Eden Gardens, Calcutta. On the day of the match, play was supposed to start at 9:30 and around 8:30, at the ground, when everybody is going out for a warm up, Tiger calls the two of us, and he says, “Youngsters, you guys are in the 11 and you are playing,” We never thought that we were going to be in the 11, you know. You are not prepared mentally, you’re not prepared physically. And he still insisted that we are playing and this is how it all started. You see, playing the Ranji Trophy matches we used to get a crowd of around ten thousand to fifteen thousand people, sometimes even about 20,000. But straight away, playing in a Test match at Eden Gardens, with 100,000 people watching you… It was quite scary. I personally felt like I didn't know how it's going to go and what was going to happen. And there was a big question mark. It was like an Alfred Hitchcock's film, you know. Really big suspense.

Vijay: Karsan bhai, going back to 1981. We lost the first match by an innings, but we came back strongly in the second, where Australia made 500 plus, and Mr Chetan Chauhan got a good knock and Sandeep Patil got 174. So, do you think that that innings by Patil was very crucial for the series, for the Indian come-back?

Karsan: Absolutely brilliant. Apart from Sandeep Patil’s innings. You know the way Yashpal Sharma also played his role so brilliantly and I mean, hats off to them. And Sandeep Patil was very courageous even after he got hit In Sydney by Lenny Pascoe. In the next Test match in Adelaide, he scored 175, and I think he was very brave. And he started wearing a helmet now.  Earlier, he never wore a helmet. And wearing a helmet, and when the equipment’s available, one should use them. And, in fact, before Sidney, during earlier test matches, Sunil Gavaskar had suggested to Sandeep Patil, saying, “Patil, now that all the equipment is available, please wear them and be safe,” And probably at that time Sandeep Patil was a little overconfident and he said, “Who is going to hit me on my head?” And I mean, the way he was hit in Sidney by Lenny Pascoe, it happened with the sound like a coconut being cracked open. I was right there at the other end when he got hit and it was a big “crack”. I thought, this guy is in some big-time trouble. But fortunately, everything turned out well. And by the grace of God, he was fine, even now. Thank God he didn't forget all the memories.

Vijay: ...and I believe Don Bradman came to compliment him in the dressing room?

Karsan: Yes, he did. Because whenever there was a test match or any kind of big match at Adelaide, Sir Don Bradman would definitely visit the place, visit the players, come to the dressing room and talk to everyone, especially the manager and the captain and say hello to all the players. And I think this was the tradition of Sir Don Bradman, you know. Forget the Adelaide Cricket Ground dressing rooms which he used to visit. Because he even used to come to the airport and receive the teams. That was a very big surprise to us, you know. Because irrespective of the nationality of the team, whether it's India, Pakistan, Australia, England or any team, he would come to the airport and receive the teams. And I still very distinctly remember… I went to Australia for the first time in my life in ’68-’69 as an Indian schoolboy, and Raja Mukherjee was the captain and Laxman Singh, Bharat Kunderan, Rakesh Tandon, Brijesh Patel, Mohinder Amarnath - we were a schoolboy team. Hemu Adhikari was the manager and Professor Chandrakar being the second in command and to our surprise, for the school team, Sir Don Bradman came to the airport to receive us! We got so excited to see him. We took a few photographs and I still have them with me.

Vijay: Karsan Bhai, back to 1981 Melbourne. We were under pressure because we had to square the series, which we ultimately did. But you got Greg Chappell out in both innings. So, the first innings was caught behind. How much do you remember of the said dismissal?

Karsan: I remember very distinctly, particularly in the second inning when they were chasing a very small target to win. And the previous day in our very small team meeting, Sunil Gavaskar had said, “Karu, if you are bowling and Greg Chappell comes in, the first ball has to be a bouncer. Just so you're taking him on a back foot,” So, I agreed. And unfortunately, Kapil Dev was not on the field on the 4th day. He had some kind of injury. And then on the 5 day, he came along. On the 4th day, Australia were three wickets down. I had John Dyson caught behind, and then the next ball Greg Chappell came in. I tried to bowl a bouncer, but that bouncer never came up because the Melbourne pitch had big cracks everywhere. So the delivery in which I tried to bowl a bouncer, it never came up. And Greg Chappell must have thought that it's going to be a short delivery. And it was a short delivery., but it kept very low and his leg stump was exposed. He was clean bowled in the very first ball. And after that the entire scene really changed. Dilip Doshi was very instrumental in taking wickets. And then Kapil Dev came on the 5th day and he just went through the side, because it was very difficult to score runs on that particular wicket as the pitch had cracks everywhere.

Vijay: So Karsan Bhai, would you say it was the best moment of your career? Or would you pick any other moment?

Karsan: No, I think the Melbourne Test match was the peak of my career. And then again, you when the Pakistan team came over to India after we went there in ’79 and immediately they were here, you know in five test matches where we beat them in India… I think those were the great moments in my cricketing career.

Vijay: Correct, correct. Karsan Bhai and if you have to pick one wicket which you cherish. I mean Greg Chappell, yes, or would that be the wicket you would remember? Or is there any other dismissal and any other great batsman?

Karsan: I do remember when I got Kalicharan out in Bangalore. I mean, Kalicharan was like a run-machine. And in that particular series, you know, he got a lot of runs and when I got him out… That image still comes to my mind. And when you get a wicket like Geoffrey Boycott or David Gower or Viv Richards or Javed Miandad, they are very special wickets. Prize wickets. So, I have always cherished these few wickets.

Vijay: Karsan Bhai, we always wanted to ask you, did you ignore your batting because there's a lot of pressure on you as a bowler?

Karsan: Well, I never really ignored my batting. I knew that I was capable of scoring a few runs. But of course, with the kind of number I was given, like 7 or 8 and all that, I had very little opportunity to score runs. After me, it was always guys like Bishan Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrashekar as tailenders. And they were not terrible or bad batters. But they were not capable of scoring runs. In one game, Bishan Bedi scored a 50 an absolutely amazing innings… Coming in at number 10 and scoring 50. I think it was brilliant. You could rely on Prasanna a bit, he could stay at the wicket. Forget about stroke-making and all that. He could give you a stand. But then again, me, Prasanna, Chandrashekar and Bedi… people always thought it was a long chain.

Vijay: Yeah. And just a couple of more questions, Karsan Bhai? One is, is it a fact that you were instrumental in pushing Shubhman Gill at a zonal camp in Mohali?

Karsan: Yes.

Vijay: So, what did you see in him?

Karsan: Well, I was working with BCCI as a fast-bowling coach at Mohali, Chandigarh. And one day it was drizzling a little bit. So, from our practice area, we went into just across the road and there is another big ground there. And I saw this young guy playing so well. And then I just asked my assistant coach, Puri, to find out the name of the boy. He is playing brilliantly. And we were having our U19 fast bowling camp there at that time. I asked Puri to see if this kid, probably only 12 or 13 at that time, could come and face our U19 lads. I asked a person sitting on the edge of the boundary who this kid was and was shocked when he said it was his son! So, I asked him to bring this guy to our bowling practices so that he could bat in our nets with quality pace bowlers. Because, you see, we used to call batsmen from Punjab Cricket Association and Sushil Kapoor was a great help in doing that. We called Shubhman Gill the next day, he came over and we asked all our fast bowlers to ball very normally, like, with the same kind of pace and everything. And the way he faced everyone, I think it was absolutely brilliant and we could see he had the spark, he had the ability to graduate himself into a bigger thing. He kept on working hard and I recommended his name to Sushil Kapoor. I asked him to put Gill in the U14 Punjab squad as I could see a very bright future for him. And, coincidently, the selector got convinced and they put Shubhman in the   U14 and then U16 squad. And since then, he has never looked back.

Vijay: Karsan Bhai from the time you started trying to remove the shine of the new ball… today we have so many fast bowlers. Why? How?

Karsan: Well, I think it is great news for Indian cricket, because earlier we used to have less fast bowlers. In our days, we were informed well before time that we would not be getting more than 2-3 overs to wear out the ball.   For example, in the Kolkata test, Tiger would tell us that both Madan Lal and I would be getting 2 overs each from either end. At that time, there weren’t many rules either. So suppose the ball came to Farokh Engineer, he would roll it down to first slip, who in turn would roll it down to the bowler, so that the new ball would get older quickly. That was the scenario at that time. But now, with India creating these MRF, NCA, the National Cricket Academy, I mean… The kind of job they are doing is absolutely brilliant and I personally feel at all levels, including the U16, U19, the Ranji Trophy. And with the kind of structure the BCCI has created, there is no structure in the world like the Indian one. And I feel that in our lifetime we will never be short of cricketers at any level.

Vijay: Karsan Bhai, you had such a fantastic female fan-following, did you never get tempted to act in cinema?

Karsan: No, well, that was not my objective first of all. I love to watch movies. In fact, I was offered a couple of films. But when you don’t know anything about the craft  I never wanted to make myself fool by coming on the silver screen.

Vijay: Karsan Bhai, life after you stopped playing cricket, how has been your association with the game? And what do you do nowadays and where are you based? Are you in Rajkot or Bombay?

Karsan: Personally, I think a big thank you goes to the BCCI for looking after all the cricketers, especially the past ones, you know, the former cricketers in many respects, whether somebody gets ill their monthly pension and all that. I think BCCI is doing a great job. They're doing a wonderful job. After I retired I kept on coaching the teams like Mumbai Ranji Trophy, now for 2-3 years. Then I went to Bengal, you know, for a couple of years. And then I went to Tripura a couple of years and then in 2019, just about two years ago, I was with the Saurashtra team and fortunately we won the championship. And uh, I think whichever stint I did, it was quite satisfactory and I enjoyed it.

Vijay: Where are you based now? Rajkot or Mumbai?

Karsan: I've lived in Mumbai for almost 50 years now. I mean, Rajkot is of course my birth place. I keep going there… visiting my cousins. We have a house there, but nobody stays there. But I keep on visiting Rajkot quite often.

Vijay: And final question, would you have loved playing the T20 game? Because you would have been a fantastic hit as a T20 player.

Karsan: I think I would have really loved playing T20. Not only me but cricketers from my era, cricketers like Kapil Dev or Roger Binny or Sandeep Patil, oh they would have been big stars. But you know one has to go with the floor. One has to go with the time. There are no complaints. Whatever is written in your destiny is all. And the time you play, I mean, I cherished it, I enjoyed it. I still love the game and I watch every type of cricket even today. These days I have been watching the U19 World Cup, which is happening in the West Indies. I see young guys who are doing extremely well. And I hope they beat England in the finals.

Vijay: Karsan Bhai, I'm asking you one more question. You have played with Gavaskar and Viswanath. I mean, the greatest among the greatest, right? So, how do you look at them? I mean, what is it that attracted you?

Karsan: It is very difficult to compare, but they were two different kinds of players. Sunil Gavaskar with his concentration, with his application, with his ability to stay at the crease… He was definitely a world class player. But at the same time, Mr Vishwanath was an artistic player. He was never afraid of playing shots. He was a stroke-maker. I mean, not like Gavaskar or Geoffrey Boycott. For GR Viswanath, every ball, there is a run. There are hardly any dot balls. When you look at the Pakistan side and Zahir Abbas, there are hardly any dot balls, like Vishwanath. At every single delivery, they're looking for runs. But we know Gavaskar, his technique, his temperament, his staying power and his dedication, application… Everything was so different and it is very difficult to compare these two batsmen and both of them were on top of world cricket.

Vijay: Thank you, Karsan Bhai. Thank you very, very much for sparing time. You have always been kind to the Hindu and Sportstar. So once again, thank you very, very much.

Karsan: Cheers and all the very best to you. Have a great 2022 and a very, very happy and healthy one.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to this special episode of India's Greatest Cricketing Wins. Our two previous episodes featuring Farokh Engineer and CD Gopinath are available to listen on all major podcast platforms. Do make sure to check those out as well. Subscribe to Matchpoint Paradox, so you don't miss a single episode of this series and all our regular cricket programming. Until another episode, where we turn to yet another glorious page in India's cricketing history, goodbye and take care.