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Wanderings in India: Australian Perceptions

Chapter 5

Australia–India Cricket

A Bridge in Cultural Relations

Bernard Whimpress

There is little question that cricket in both India and Australia is the fruit of Empire. Yet, in both countries, it has become the national game. It is also a game that is playing an important bridging role between the cultures of these two nations. Australia’s cricket roots are the backyard and the beach, where it is now often played with plastic bats and stumps, or with refuse containers serving as the wicket. In previous times it was the cobbled back lane or the macadamised road, the bat a piece of paling, the wickets made from half a fruit case or a kerosene tin. Six and out was an undisputed law of the game. India’s cricket roots are the gully or the maidan. The gully could be a narrow walled lane in a big city, safe from traffic, the pitch being a road made of stone chips and coal tar; the wicket is three vertical lines painted on a wall. Mumbai’s maidan is the most famous in the world, a parkland strip where the grass struggles to stay alive amid the constant clamour and bustle of a myriad of cricket matches which overlap each other in an atmosphere teeming with colour and excitement (Bose 1986:73–77). The cricketing cultures of the two nations are distinctive.

Australia’s first main cricket contact with India in 1935–36 was shaped by the turbulence of cricket politics. The Maharaja of Patiala’s Team of Australian Cricketers, an ageing side, was organised by the former Victorian and Middlesex all-rounder Frank Tarrant and led by former Australian captain Jack Ryder. The Australian Board of Control set severe conditions on the tour, the main ones being that the word ‘Australia’ should not be used and that no games should be designated as Test matches. The Board also insisted that Tarrant could only select players who had retired or were not required for selection in the Sheffield Shield competition.

Using who knows what authority, the Australian Board also banned Bill Woodfull, Bill Ponsford and Allan Kippax, even though they had all retired from first-class cricket so that Tarrant’s selection task took six months. Mihir Bose in A History of Indian Cricket (2002:96) describes the process as having an element of comic opera about it, as, apart from Ryder who was 46, the team included Charlie Macartney, 49, Bert Ironmonger, 48, Ron Oxenham, 44, and Hammy Love and ‘Stork’ Hendry, who were both 40. Despite this the tour proved both a playing and social success with the team winning 11 and drawing nine of its 23 matches, 17 of which were first-class. Four ‘Test’-style matches against All-India sides resulted in two wins apiece. At the end of the tour Ryder predicted that India would one day be a force in world cricket (Harte & Whimpress 2003:364–367; Williams 2007/8:13).

India was not a destination Lindsay Hassett’s Services side desired to visit after playing five ‘Victory Tests’ in England in 1945. They were desperate and scheduled to return home. Instead, from late October to mid-December they were thrust into a ten-match tour of the subcontinent, under pressure from Australian External Affairs Minister Dr Bert Evatt. The tour included three unofficial Tests. Six games were drawn with the Australians winning two and losing two matches. There was more turbulence and team dissent. The tour was seen as a reward for India’s war effort and aided the Red Cross and local hospitals (Harte & Whimpress 2003:389–390; Woodward 1994:74).

The Australian side included some excellent players besides Hassett himself, especially Keith Miller, Cec Pepper, Keith Carmody and Stan Sismey. Australia had the best of a drawn Test at Bombay, but the second Test at Calcutta was staged in a revolutionary atmosphere. In a provincial lead-up game between the Services side and East Zone, play took place amid a political riot with troops firing on students. The Calcutta match was drawn but the final Test in Madras saw centuries to Lala Armanath and a double century to Rusi Modi, which enabled India to win its first representative series (Bose 2002:146–147).

Armanath led India’s first team to Australia in 1947–48, but the side suffered from the absence of two of its star batsmen, the original captain Vijay Merchant and Rusi Modi, as well as vice-captain Mushtaq Ali and talented fast-medium bowler Fazal Mahmood, who was based in Pakistan following Partition (Williams 2007/8:15). The Indian side opened solidly with three draws against state teams, but the rot set in after confronting Ernie Toshack on a sticky wicket in Brisbane in the first Test. Toshack took 11/31 (5/2 and 6/29) in that game and the Australians had no difficulty in winning the series four nil with one draw. Without Merchant and Mushtaq Ali, India lacked a pair of opening batsmen. Mankad opened with Chandu Sarwate and in five Tests their partnerships were 0, 14, 2, 17, 124, 10, 6, 0, 3 and 0. They had no answer to Ray Lindwall, Miller and Bill Johnston, leaving aside Toshack.

The Indians were also in awe of Don Bradman and some players were said to be honoured if he made a century against them. He obliged with six, four in the Tests. He also reached important milestones. His 100th first-class century was posted for an Australian XI at the Sydney Cricket Ground in November 1947, and his only post-war double century (201) was made in the Adelaide Test of 1948. Bradman never played in India, but that did not prevent him attaining a god-like status. Perhaps his absence made the Indian heart grow fonder.

Tour schedules were irregular in the 1950s and 1960s. Australia’s first tour to India came in October 1956 when three successive Tests were played after the English tour. The Australians also played one match on matting in Pakistan at Karachi. It was expected that India might have had the advantage after the Australians demoralising loss in England. Instead, Australia won the first match in Madras, drew the second in Bombay and won the third in Calcutta. The man who stood out for the first time as a bowler, with 23 wickets, was Richie Benaud. He would return as captain three years later.

Australia’s first full tour in 1959–60 was arduous, combining five Indian Tests with three in Pakistan. India had its first win in the second Test at Kanpur where off-spinner Jasu Patel took 14/114, but Australia took the series two to one with two draws. Benaud and Alan Davidson were dominant with the ball. Overriding their success, however, was the emphasis given to the team casualties down the years. Fast bowler Gordon Rorke and opening batsman Gavin Stevens contracted hepatitis, which confirmed prejudices that India was a dangerous place to visit. Bose makes the point, however, that All India Radio brought a greater awareness of Australian cricket to India with broadcasts of the 1960–61 Australia–West Indies series running from 6 am until lunchtime (Bose 2002:233).

A third Australian tour in 1964 was again tacked on to an English tour and the matches were played at the worst time of year—in September and October. However, Indian perceptions were that Bobby Simpson’s team had just won the Ashes and at least the Australians (unlike the English) always sent their strongest teams, with leading players like Miller, Lindwall, Neil Harvey, Benaud, Davidson and Wally Grout having toured the country in the 1950s (Bose 2002:234). This three-Test series was drawn one all, Australia winning the first game at Madras, losing the second at Bombay, and drawing the third in Calcutta. India’s captain, the Nawab of Pataudi, emulated his father by making a century in his first appearance against Australia in the first match.

Pataudi led India’s second team to Australia 20 years after the first in 1967–68 and the result statistically was even worse, as the team lost all four matches. Simpson’s retirement meant a captaincy handover to Bill Lawry midway through the series. Three of India’s greatest spin bowlers, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Erapally Prasanna and Bishen Bedi, toured together for the first time but only Prasanna, with 25 wickets, made a real impact.

Two years later, on Lawry’s Indian tour, Prasanna and Bedi were leading the home attack with 26 and 21 wickets although they were bested by Australian off-spinner Ashley Mallett who took 28 wickets. Australia won the series three to one with one draw, the last series victory for Australia on the subcontinent for 35 years, but controversies plagued the tour.

In the first Test in Bombay a riot occurred at the Brabourne Stadium. When a decision was given against all-rounder Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan (Venkat) in the second innings, hessian surrounding the tennis courts behind the East Stand was set on fire, but skipper Lawry insisted that play go on. It did, with bottles and chairs being thrown onto the ground. On the fourth day at Calcutta in the fourth Test a riot occurred during the morning over a shortage of seats and six people were killed. The match ended in mayhem and stones were thrown as Lawry hit the winning runs the crowd threw stones. In running off the field Lawry was alleged to have beaten a photographer when, in fact, he pushed him away and he fell. Disturbances also continued late on the fourth day of the final Test in Madras, with broken bottles, chairs and bricks being thrown onto the field. Play ended with small fires raging around the ground as the home side collapsed (Bose 2002:246–247; Beecher 1970:45, 47).

Australia–India series bookended the Packer interregnum. Forty-one-year-old Simpson returned to Test cricket after a ten-year break, making over 500 runs and leading Australia to win by three matches to two in the 1977–78 home series. Sunil Gavaskar made three second-innings hundreds in the first three Tests, but Bedi and Chandrasekhar proved an even greater menace with 59 wickets between them. Kim Hughes took the last full tour to India in September and October 1979, but although he and Allan Border scored 500 runs, Australia lost the six-Test series in which India won two Tests with other four drawn. Gundappa Viswanath also made 500 runs for India and Dilip Doshi took 27 wickets in his debut series.

India drew a series in Australia for the first time in 1980–81, ending the series with one win, one loss and a draw. After losing the first Test in Sydney by an innings, it fought hard to secure a draw in Adelaide and snatched victory in Melbourne where Kapil Dev’s 5/28 bundled Australia out for 83, chasing 143. On this tour India competed for the first time in the triangular World Series Cup, which also involved New Zealand. Kapil, along with England’s Ian Botham, Pakistan’s Imran Khan and New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee, was one of the four great all-rounders of the 1980s. He also captained India to its surprise win over the West Indies in the 1983 World Cup, which established India’s place on the world cricket map more than any other match.

The proliferation of one-day cricket, in addition to Test matches, in the 1980s strengthened Australian ties with India. Australian Test cricket reached its nadir in the middle of the decade. Around this time, it contested two drawn series against India—three draws in Australia in 1985–86, and two draws and a second fabulous tied Test match at Madras the following summer. Dean Jones’ heroic 210 in 503 minutes in the Madras Test match was one of the greatest Test innings ever and the game, which was not broadcast on Australian television, has grown in stature with the passing of time. Offspinner Greg Matthews gained a leg-before-wicket (lbw) decision against Maninder Singh with the penultimate ball of the final over to emulate the result against the West Indies at Brisbane in 1960. Australia had reached its highest score in India of 7–574 declared in the first innings, with David Boon and captain Allan Border adding centuries to that by Jones. In reply, Indian captain Kapil Dev top-scored with 100 out of 397 before Australia declared for a second time at 5–170, setting India 348 runs to win at the start of the final day. An explosive start by Sunil Gavaskar saw India to 1–158 and, at 6–331, they appeared to be in control. However, the Australians fought back and Matthews with 10/249 (5/103 and 5/146) achieved the only five-wicket analysis of his career. Gavaskar also became the first player to make 100 consecutive Test appearances during the game.

The real boon to Australian appreciation of India came via television with the World Cup co-hosted with Pakistan in October and November 1987. Australia entered the competition with modest expectations but won an important opening match against India at Madras by one run. Victories against Zimbabwe and New Zealand followed, but Australia lost a return match to India before beating New Zealand and Zimbabwe a second time. By this stage, the Australians had reached the semifinals, in which they downed Pakistan at Lahore. Australia’s victory over England in the final at Calcutta by seven runs marked the team’s resurgence. It was noteworthy that the Indians adopted the Australians as the home team and that India and Pakistan together organised an excellent World Cup.

Allan Border’s team inflicted a heavy defeat on India in 1991–92. Mohammed Azharrudin’s party lost four matches and drew one, although there were some bright spots. At Sydney the Australians selected Shane Warne for his first Test appearance, but he made heavy weather of it as Ravi Shastri made a double century and 18-year-old Sachin Tendulkar made 100 in the first of his many battles with Warne. Craig McDermott was the main match-winner for Australia, taking 31 wickets in the series.

India’s fascination with the shorter form of the game meant that no Test matches were played until a single Test at Delhi in October 1997, although the main purpose of the tour was the Titan Cup, a triangular series with South Africa as the third participant. Twenty months before, India had co-hosted the sixth World Cup with Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the series was watched avidly in Australia as their side won five out of six games in India before losing the final to Sri Lanka in Lahore. The event was managed with commercial savvy that had no precedent, so that the two organisers who underwrote the costs, India and Pakistan, ended up making profits of near $US50 million.

Cricket contact with India came thick and fast for the rest of the decade. In 1998 Mark Taylor’s Australian team lost Test matches at Chennai (Madras) and Kolkata (Calcutta) but won the final Test at Bangalore. The series provided a duel between Tendulkar and Warne, which was won by the batsman who scored over 400 runs at an average of 111. Two limited-over competitions for Pepsi and Coca-Cola Cups followed. Led by Steve Waugh, the Australians defeated India in the final of the first and lost the second final in Sharjah.

Either Waugh or Warne might have become Australian Test Captain in 1999. Both had strong leadership skills, but Waugh had greater cultural sensitivity and the contrast was perhaps best revealed with respect to India. Warne packed his bag with baked beans for the tour of the subcontinent in 1998; on the same tour a letter was placed under Waugh’s door during a cricket Test in Calcutta asking for help with charities which had as its outcome Waugh’s continual involvement with a children’s leprosy home in Udayan. Warne had another Indian connection which the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) thought best to suppress. This concerned ‘John’ the bookmaker, who paid Warne $5,000 and Mark Waugh $6,000 for supposedly innocent information about weather reports and the state of the pitch for matches in Pakistan in 1994. Although Warne and Mark Waugh were fined by the ACB, this sleazy business was not exposed until December 1998 and it was not until then that a public apology by both players for being ‘naïve and stupid’ was made. Warne’s card as captaincy material had been marked.

Steve Waugh was captain in 1999–2000 when Australia swept to a three to nil Test success and his team maintained the momentum by winning nine games in a row in the triangular series in which Pakistan was the third side. In February 2001 Waugh’s team reached 16 consecutive Test wins at Mumbai, but were stopped in their tracks after a fantastic fightback by India at Kolkata. A record fifth-wicket partnership of 376 by VVS. Laxman and Rahul Dravid enabled Harbhajan Singh to spin India to victory. Harbhajan gathered 13 wickets in the game and a further 15 in the final Test at Chennai for a phenomenal 32 wickets in three games. For the losers, opening batsman Matthew Hayden re-established his Test career with over 500 runs at a century average.

Steve Waugh ended his Test career at Sydney in January 2004 with a drawn series against India. The first and last Tests at Brisbane and Sydney were drawn; India won in Adelaide after a second 300-run partnership between Laxman and Dravid, and Australia won in Melbourne. The home side was without Glenn McGrath and Warne and, as a result, bat dominated ball; Ricky Ponting and Dravid each averaged over 100.

Australia finally found fulfilment in India in October and November 2004. With captain Ponting at home nursing a broken thumb, the side broke through under Adam Gilchrist’s leadership with wins at Bangalore and Nagpur and a draw at Chennai. Ponting then arrived to make victory speeches before losing on a spinner’s wicket at Mumbai. Damien Martyn was instrumental in the result, with his century at Chennai denying India a win and that at Nagpur setting up the victory. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were the dominant spin bowlers with 48 wickets between them, while Jason Gillespie took 20 wickets for the visitors.

India’s economic power began to grow in the 1990s, especially in the information technology industry, and there are strong educational links with Australian universities offering a wide range of courses for Indian postgraduate students. The 2007–8 Test tour of Australia was billed as the ‘New Ashes’ (Morrissey 2008), beyond which one can foresee thousands of India’s middle class coming to support their teams in the future, as the Barmy Army has supported England in the recent past. Ponting’s team equalled the performance of Steve Waugh’s Australian side of 16 successive wins following an easy victory at Melbourne and a controversial win in Sydney during the 2007–8 tour.

Disputes raised during the Sydney Test bore some resemblance to those in the Ashes series of 1932–33. By 1932 Australia had been an independent nation for 31 years and felt it had thrown off its colonial status. In the Adelaide Test of 1933 the Australian Board of Control for Cricket raised English ire by sending a telegram to the Marylebone Cricket Club describing the tourists’ bodyline tactics as ‘unsportsmanlike’. English captain Douglas Jardine threatened to end the tour unless an apology was made. The Sydney Test disputes of 2008 were twofold; they related first to poor decisions made by umpires Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, and second to the conviction, and suspension for three Tests, of Harbhajan Singh on circumstantial evidence for racial abuse for calling Andrew Symonds a ‘big monkey’.

The first issue brought to a head complaints about the Australians’ persistent appealing of umpires’ decisions over several years and the consequent mental disintegration of the umpires. India, an independent nation for 61 years, raised its protest against the Australian manner of winning. The second issue revealed the flaws in administrative law when match referee Mike Procter took the word of three Australian players (two white and one black) against three ‘coloured’ Indians. As one Bangalore blogger remarked, this was unsatisfactory given that the adjudicator was raised in apartheid South Africa. The common person’s defence of Australia’s on-field hegemony was to complain that Indian purse strings control the off-field world game, a reality that world cricket must increasingly deal with. In some respects it was ironic that the Australians laid a charge on racial grounds, because they had provided their opponents with the strongest verbal onslaughts during the previous decade. Overt on-field racism had not been evident in Australia–India encounters in the past, although Symonds became the target of off-field racism, including monkey chants, during one-day international matches at Vadodara and Mumbai in India in October 2007. ICC chief executive, Malcolm Speed, had then moved swiftly to urge member nations to follow a zero-tolerance policy towards racism.

The Indians bounced back with a strong win in Perth, a draw in Adelaide, and the best part of a win from Harbhajan’s appeal to the ICC Appeals Commissioner, Justice John Hansen, the day after the end of the Adelaide Test. Harbhajan’s charge was reduced from the more serious Level 3 offence to a Level 2 offence of abuse and insult, and the ban was turned into a fine. In making his decision, Hansen pointed to the importance of context and of Harbhajan replying to a vulgarity (fuck) from Symonds. What he did not comment on was historical context. Three months earlier Harbhajan had claimed the Australians had targeted him with ‘vulgar personal comments’ and added, ‘They think you cannot fight back and they do not like it when you do’ (Aussies made vulgar comments 2007),

What led Symonds to use the offending word in Sydney is revealing. At the end of a Brett Lee over Harbhajan had patted Lee on his backside. The action was interpreted by some observers as friendly, even congratulatory, but not by Symonds. Under questioning from the advocate for Harbhajan and the Board for the Cricket Council of India (BCCI), Vasha Manohar, about whether he objected to that pat, Symonds replied, ‘Did I have an objection to it—my objection was that a test match is no place to be friendly with an opposition player, is my objection’. Of that reply, Hansen observed, ‘If that is his view I hope it is not one shared by all international cricketers. It would be a sad day for cricket if it is’ (Text 2008).

Cricket, like many other sports and entertainments, has experienced, and is more likely to experience, sad days in the modern era. In his book, Patrons, Players and the Crowd, Richard Cashman relates a story of Services player Keith Carmody stepping away from the wicket several times in 1945 because the noise of the crowd at Brabourne Stadium made it difficult to concentrate on bowling. Perhaps this was an example of emerging Indian cricket nationalism, but home team captain Vijay Merchant gave good-mannered advice: ‘If you show you are taking notice of the crowd they will carry on. Best to disregard the noise if you can’ (Cashman 1980:119). In the same chapter, Cashman quotes Indian journalist KN Prabhu on the Brabourne Stadium’s East Stand: ‘In terms of cricket, Bombay’s East Stand is as famous a landmark as the Hill at Sydney. To secure the approval of the East Stand is almost as good as securing a place in Wisden’ (Cashman 1980:118). Prabhu, writing in 1973, was perhaps romanticising the East Stand as the place where the deepest cricket intelligence of the crowd lay. The fire in the vicinity of this stand in 1969 caused dismay because it was an assault on Indian cricket intelligence. The Hill has long gone from Sydney, but one suspects that among those who mourn its passing are those for whom it represents a loss of cricket romance as well as intelligence.

If Australia–India cricket is a bridge in cultural relations, it has to be a robust bridge because it carries an increased flow of Test, one-day and Twenty20 traffic. The likelihood of both contact and collision is great. Whether former cricketers make good ambassadors probably depends on the individuals concerned, but it is noteworthy that ex-Australian vice-captain Darren Lehmann has been pressed into service on South Australian Government trade missions to the subcontinent. Who knows where that will lead?

There have been some answers to these questions in the last few years, and there have been ironies. Andrew Symonds, the man whom Indian cricket followers had begun to hate has become the man some, at least, love to love, namely those followers of the Hyderabad Deccan Chargers, for whom he was initially contracted for $1.4 million per season to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Symonds now has had his contract cancelled with Cricket Australia, so it is likely that his first loyalty will now be to his Indian club. A lot of cricketers around the world, including a number of Australians, are viewing the huge rewards of playing in either the IPL or the Indian Cricket League (ICL) as being far more than they could ever hope to earn representing their countries. Whereas Australians once turned their back on Indian cricket connections, the lure of instant riches now means they are only too ready to embrace them.

Works cited

‘Aussies made vulgar comments in Kochi: Harbhajan’ 2007, Times of India, 4 October,, viewed 3.3.2012.

Beecher, Eric (ed) 1970, Australian cricket yearbook 1970, Modern Magazines, Sydney.

Bose, Mihir 1986, A maidan view: the magic of Indian cricket, Allen & Unwin, London.

— 2002, A history of Indian cricket, Andre Deutsch, London.

Cashman, Richard 1980, Patrons, players and the crowd, Orient Longman, New Delhi.

Harte, Chris and Bernard Whimpress 2003, A history of Australian cricket, Andre Deutsch, London.

Morrissey, Tim 2008, ‘India the “New Ashes”‘, Daily Telegraph 29 February,, viewed 3.3.2012.

‘Text: Harbhajan Singh appeal decision’ 2008, The Australian 31 January,, viewed 3.3.2012.

Williams, Ken 2007/8, ‘The development of cricket in India and the first Indian tour of Australia in 1947/48’, The Yorker 37.

Woodward, Ian 1994, Cricket not war: the Australian Services XI and the ‘Victory Tests’ of 1945, SMK Enterprises, Melbourne.

Wanderings in India: Australian Perceptions

   by Rick Hosking and Amit Sarwal