In 1947-48, Australia became the first country where Independent India toured for a Test series. Since then, the teams have met in 98 Tests across 26 series. Here are some relatively obscure facts from India-Australia matches.
The first Australian team visited India (and Ceylon) in 1935-36. They played four unofficial ‘Tests’, winning two and losing two. With 86 wickets at a ridiculous 6.81 apiece on the tour, Ron Oxenham was their star bowler. One of the running jokes behind his success was his surname, which was supposed to make him undesirable to both Hindus (who did not consume oxen) and Muslims (prohibited to have ham).
The Fazal incident
Twenty-year-old Fazal Mahmood was selected for the Australia tour of 1947-48. However, on his way back from the camp at Poona, a Hindu mob attacked their train. They wanted Fazal and were intercepted by CK Nayudu, who was brandishing a bat. Fazal had little option but to settle down in Pakistan. He later became their first great bowler.
The fastest Padma Award
India beat Australia for the first time at Kanpur in 1959-60. With 9/69 and 5/55, Jasu Patel was the hero of the Test – at that point the best innings and match figures by an Indian. So significant was the win that in a few months’ later Patel (along with Vijay Hazare) became the first cricketer to be honoured with the Padma Shri.
Richie Benaud routed India with match figures of 8/76 at Delhi during the same series. His first-innings figures read 3.4-3-0-3, still a world record for most wickets in a Test innings without conceding a run. Nobody else has taken even 2/0.
Australia were playing South Zone on the 1969-70 tour. EAS Prasanna missed one from Alan Connolly. Wicketkeeper Ray Jordon, standing up, knocked a stump. Prasanna was given out bowled. Later, captain Bill Lawry thought whether Jordon should replace the out-of-form Brian Taber. Prompt came the response from vice-captain Ian Chappell, who had seen the Jordon incident: “If you are going to pick Ray Jordon in the Australian cricket team, please don’t consider me for selection.”
Patil and Pascoe
Len Pascoe could generate steep bounce off great speed, and was known for hitting batsmen even since grade cricket, often bowling in tandem with Jeff Thomson. He hit Sandeep Patil on the head in the 1980-81 Sydney Test, but Patil came back to slam 174 at Adelaide. But the injury affected Pascoe psychologically (“I had lost the will to bowl aggressively anymore and I was to retire soon after”).
A Sunny feat
Sunil Gavaskar had scored hundreds at Brisbane, Perth, and Melbourne in 1977-78. He followed this with two more in 1985-86, at Adelaide and Sydney. This made him the first overseas cricketer to score at all five Australian major grounds (Alastair Cook has emulated this).
The second tied Test match, at Madras in 1986, was played in sweltering heat, which famously sapped all energy out of Dean Jones during the course of his famous 210. Greg Matthews found a novel way to combat this. He wore two sweaters while fielding. To quote Steve Waugh, Matthews theorised that “nomadic herders in the desert wore woollen coats because they kept the cool air in.” It must have worked, for Matthews’ match numbers read 44, 5/103, 27*, and 5/146.
Three to tango
Two Tests later, India declared on 517/5 at Bombay. Sunil Gavaskar scored 103, Dilip Vengsarkar 164 not out, and Ravi Shastri 121 not out. This was the first instance of three local batsmen scoring hundreds in the same Test innings.
King of the jungle
On a trip to an animal orphanage in Harare, a lion’s urine drenched Steve Waugh and Justin Langer. Australia then won 16 Tests in a row, and the two men marked the incident as a lucky charm. They visited the Alipore Zoo ahead of the famous Kolkata Test and waited to get themselves drenched again. Unfortunately, they got thwarted thanks to superhuman efforts from Harbhajan Singh, VVS Laxman, and Rahul Dravid. Their streak screeched to a halt.
Harbhajan picked up 32 wickets in three Tests during the 2000-01 home series. His teammates combined to take another 17. None of them took more than three wickets; and among specialist bowlers, Zaheer Khan was the only one to play more than one Test match. Three left-spinners – Rahul Sanghvi, Venkatapathy Raju, Nilesh Kulkarni – got selected once each and never played Test cricket again.
Ajit Agarkar had scored ducks in each of his last five Test innings on the 1999-00 tour (including four golden ducks). He returned in 2003-04, when he finally got a run. He immediately raised his bat to celebrate the occasion, to which the crowd responded with laughter and applause.
“Loose change” arrives
In the Brisbane Test of 2014-15, a substitute fielder dove forward to take a magnificent one-handed catch to help Nathan Lyon claim Varun Aaron. This fielder, Marnus Labuschagne, played against India when they toured four years later. And going into the Test series, he is third-ranked Test batsman in the world.