When Oz conquered the ‘Final Frontier’
India Vs Australia has always been a trying series, for both the players as well as the spectators. Although the Australians have struggled to beat India in their homeland in the recent past, the encounter between the arch-rivals has always been fascinating. One such hard-fought series between the two nations took place in 1969. What made that series a burning affair is the fact that the action took place both on and off the field with at least a couple of games of the five-match series being marred by crowd trouble.
Although Oz won the battle 3-1, the series was a much more closely contested affair than the scoreline suggests. All in all, it was an enthralling battle between the Australian batsmen and India’s great spin-trio of Bedi, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan.
Despite losing the toss in the opening game at Bombay, Australia went on to clinch the match easily, thanks to a magnificent ton by Keith Stackpole. However, the gentleman’s game took an ugly turn in the home team’s second innings when Venkataraghavan was given out caught behind by Brian Taber off Alan Connolly even as the batsman had clearly missed the ball by a long distance. The incident sparked off violent protests from the large crowd and within moments, bottles and stones were being thrown at fielders. Stands were set on fire and the last two wickets fell amidst billowing smoke with even the scorers having trouble in watching the proceedings.
After a couple of players were hit by objects thrown from the stands, police decided to ring the ground and the touring side was asked to stay in the middle even after the end of the innings. After a while, the players were escorted into the dressing room and then inside the shower rooms as stones were pelted at the windows.
The last day of the Test, surprisingly, saw more than 20,000 spectators turning up to watch the Australians chase down a modest target of 64 with ease and thus take a 1-0 lead.
After the second Test at Kanpur ended in a dreary draw, the action came down to Delhi. India recorded a seven-wicket win with the spinners weaving a web around the Aussie batsmen and Ajit Wadekar scoring a resilient 91 in the final innings.
After a practice game, the series headed to the troubled city of Calcutta, which had been hit by a large influx of refugees from the neighbouring country. To add to the trouble, the Australian team hotel was surrounded by a huge mob, which was objecting to the presence of Doug Walters in the side as they wrongly believed that he had served for the Australian forces in Vietnam.
On the fourth day of the Eden Test, the problem compounded when there was a stampede caused in a rush to get tickets that left six people dead and several injured. Things did not improve inside the ground either as stone pelting by the crowd held up play for 15 minutes.
With India desperately needing to win the final Test at Madras to secure a draw in the series, a large crowd had gathered to cheer the home side at the Chepauk stadium. But, as it turned out, batsmen let India down yet again, and the game ended in a disappointing 77-run loss for the Indians.
After the explosive series, an exhausted Australian contingent travelled to South Africa where they were pounded 4-0 and even went on to lose the Ashes later on in the year. India, too, made some changes in their squad to beef up the batting line-up by bringing in Gundappa Viswanath and Sunil Gavaskar. Pataudi was sacked as the skipper and replaced by Ajit Wadekar.