As India gets set to face Australia, we look back to the first notable victory recorded by a team representing independent India. It came a few months after independence, at Sydney, against an Australian team featuring Don Bradman, Keith Miller and Neil Harvey. In a match best remembered for another record by Bradman.
The Indian cricket team that arrived in Australia to play five Test Matches in 1947-48 was the first to represent Independent India – the country had achieved independence just a few months ago. But not too much was expected of it. India had played a total of ten Test Matches, all against England, and had lost six, winning none. There had been moments of sporadic brilliance, inspired by the likes of Vijay Merchant, Lala Amarnath, Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh (his 6-35 at Lord’s in 1936 helped dismiss England for 134 after India had been skittled out for 147, stunning many, before another Indian capitulation in the second innings handed England the match), but by and large the Indians were seen as “soft opponents” – capable of putting up spirited resistance but not really the type to beat the top teams. The World War and Partition had also deprived the newly independent country of key players, none more so than the brilliant Mohammad Nissar, who was perhaps the first great Indian fast bowler (contrary to myth, India’s seam and swing bowlers packed quite a punch in its early years).
Boys against men?
The 1947-48 tour of Australia was notable for many reasons. It was the first time a team representing independent India would play in an official series. It was also the first time India would be playing Australia in a Test series – in fact the first time India would be playing anyone other than England (South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies and Australia had Test status – Pakistan would join the Test club in 1952). And what a team it was going up against – Australia were considered the world champions of cricket and Don Bradman had shown that the World War had not taken the edge off his run scoring prowess with a very successful series in England. And accompanying him in the Aussie ranks were the likes of Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Arthur Morris, Ernie Toshack, Lindsay Hassett and Ian Johnson.
India had a few good players of its own – Vijay Hazare was considered a world class batsman, skipper Lala Amarnath combined dogged determination with the bat with clever medium pace and well, there was talk of a new all-rounder called Vinoo Mankad (short for Mulvantrai Himmatlal Mankad) – he was not just a very clever left-arm spin bowler but was also considered good enough to open the batting. But the likes of Vijay Merchant, Rusi Modi and Mushtaq Ali were absent. Set against what Australia possessed, the first cricket team representing independent India was given about as much chance of surviving as an ice cube in an oven.
Not quite…well, not always!
However, any thoughts of the Indian team being cannon fodder for the mighty Aussies had to be speedily revised as the tour got underway. Mankad scored a fifty and took 5-68 in a draw against Western Australia, and then held Bradman’s South Australian side, with centuries from Lala Amarnath and Mankad offsetting one from the Don himself. Amarnath followed this up with a double century against Victoria as India once again did not wilt in the face of supposedly superior opposition.
Normal service, however, seemed to have been restored when a New South Wales side featuring Morris, Toshack and Miller hammered the Indian team by an innings and 48 runs. So when the Indian team went up for a four-day match against an Australian XI at Sydney featuring Don Bradman, Bill Brown and Keith Miller, expectations were not high.
Taking on the Don!
On 14 November, 1947, India’s captain Lala Amarnath won the toss against Don Bradman and opted to bat first. Will Johnston dismissed Mankad early, but then Chandu Sarwate and Gul Mohammad dug in to take the score to 81 before Sarwate fell for 32. This brought the man many considered to be India’s best batsman, Vijay Hazare, to the crease and together with Gul Mohammad, they took the score to a formidable 161-2. However, they were dismissed in quick succession (Mohammad for a well-made 85), and when Amarnath himself went for 10, the collapse that many cynics had predicted, duly happened. With the score at 229-9, last man Jamshed Irani (who was better with wicketkeeping gloves than with batting ones) came out to bat, and the Australian XI openers started getting mentally ready to bat towards the end of the day.
They had, however, not reckoned for the gutsiness of Gogumal Kishenchand and Irani, who hung on not only see off the day at 292-9, but then proceeded to frustrate the Aussie bowlers on the second morning. The score was 326 when Dooland trapped Irani for 43, with Kishenchand unbeaten on 75.
The Indian revival continued. Sohoni dismissed Bill Brown for 8, but this brought Bradman to the crease. Already considered the best batsman of his era, he was being called the greatest of all time by many, thanks to an ability to amass runs at will. And he now stood at the verge of another achievement – a hundred first class hundreds. He had ninety nine going into the match and many consider the Indian attack perfect for him to reach the landmark. Keith Miller joined him when Hazare ran out Rex Rogers to leave the Australian team 31-2.
Battered by Bradman
What followed was absolute mayhem as both Bradman and Miller took the attack to the Indian bowlers. Bradman started cautiously but then changed gears as he got past fifty, outscoring the normally more ebullient Miller. And then the moment came – Bradman was at 99. Amarnath threw the ball to the man who had until the Don’s run cascade been the hero of the day, Kishenchand. Bradman had never played him before and treated him with due caution before pushing him to mid on to set off for the run that gave him his hundredth hundred. It remains one of the most famous photographs of Bradman.
The record done and dusted, Bradman raced ahead scoring merrily, and Miller too accelerated. By stumps they were both gone, Bradman for 172 scored in under three hours, and Miller for a more measured 86, but Ron Hamence and a teenager called Neil Harvey carried on the carnage, and by stumps the Australian XI was sixteen ahead of the Indian score at 342-4.
Pulling back through Kishenchand and Sohoni
It was expected that the hosts would build on their lead the next day. However, they were surprised by the medium pace of Srirange Sohoni. Four wickets fell for just two runs, three of them to Sohoni, as the Australian XI was reduced to 348. A few late blows from Morgan Herbert took them to 380, but their final lead of 54 was not a particularly daunting one.
And it seemed even less daunting as India’s openers Mankad and Sarwate knocked it off and took the score to 69 before being separated. Sarwate batted well for the second time in the match, scoring 58, but the rest of the Indian top order did not cash in on good starts, and the visitors found themselves at 175-5 at stumps, with the hero of the first innings Gul Mohammad in the pavilion, as well as Hazare and Amarnath. The lead was 121. Hope however, remained in the form of the resolute Hemu Adhikari who was batting on a patient 23 and Khanderao Wagnekar who was on 7.
Rangnekar was dismissed early on the final day, but this brought in the man who had been the thorn in Australia’s side in the first innings. Kishenchand once again batted with skill and patience, and added 55 for the seventh wicket with Adhikari, who finally went for 46. Irani was unable to repeat his first innings heroics and was run out for a duck, but Sohoni, perhaps inspired by his bowling, batted more gutsily and chipped in with a handy 31. Kishenchand duly brought up his second fifty of the match and was batting on 63 when Amarnath declared the innings at 304-9, leaving Australia a target of 251 to make in about two and a half hours.
Even in those days of brisk over rates (bowlers got through eight ball overs in about three to four minutes), this was quite a tough target. The Australian XI however decided to have a go at it, and got off to a flying start, and Sohoni was literally hit out of the attack. India, however, were looking for wickets and got the breakthrough when Rogers played on a delivery by Mankad. Four runs later, Brown had joined him in the pavilion, run-out in a most peculiar manner.
The Australian opener had been backing up well before the bowler bowled in an attempt to steal runs. Mankad warned him a few times, but when he did not desist, he ran in to bowl and then whipped the bails off, with Brown a few feet out of his crease. The method of dismissal would attract a lot of controversy when Mankad would repeat it in the Third Test later on (the batsman, ironically, was Brown again), and would be christened “Mankaded” but in this match, it did not quite generate as much heat.
Bradman and Miller, India’s chief tormentors in the first innings, were once again together and once again seemed in the mood for mayhem, but this time they had to contend with a wily Mankad on a final day wicket. Miller was lured out of his crease and stumped for 13 and the Don was caught by Sarwate for 26. At 91-4, the visitors suddenly sensed an upset. To their credit, the Australian XI did not stop attacking. Neil Harvey who had turned 19 a month ago, batted brilliantly, but Mankad kept wreaking havoc at the other end, dismissing batsmen with endless variations of spin and pace. At 130-7 (with six wickets having gone to Mankad, and the other one run out by him), the Australian XI seemed to be out for the count, when Bruce Dooland joined Harvey.
The pair flogged 66 runs in almost even time to bring the hosts back into contention, but with about 40 minutes to go and another 55 runs needed, India came right back into contention with the two men who had played the biggest roles in their revival – Kishenchand caught Doolan off Mankad for 31, breaking the stand. Only seven runs more were added to the total, and when Sohoni caught Johnston for 2, India had secured a stunning win with about half an hour to go. Yes, the Australians had played their part by going for the runs instead of hanging back and grinding out a draw, but there was no doubting who the hour of the 47-run victory was – he had been hit for 84 runs in his 12 (8-ball) overs, none of which had been maidens (there were no maidens at all in the Australian second innings, such had been the intensity of the chase), but he had also finished with a staggering eight wickets. He would torment teams for years to come and emerge as one of the game’s greatest all rounders, starting the ‘spin era’ in Indian cricket.
The match is remembered by most cricket experts as the one in which Sir Don Bradman reached the mark of a hundred first class hundreds.
But it was also the day when an independent India won its first notable cricket match. And Vinoo Mankad showed the world how dangerous India – and Indian spin – could be.
(India, alas, could not replicate its performance in this match in the Test Matches and was roundly beaten 4-0 in the five Test series. Bradman scored 715 runs at a typically staggering average of 178.75 and Lindsay Hassett too average above 100 in the series. For India, Vijay Hazare scored 429 runs – only Bradman got more – and Vinoo Mankad scored 306 runs with two hundreds and was the second highest wicket taker for his team, with 12 wickets.)