By A. Joseph Antony
Hyderabad: Until recently, the Covid-19 clouds of uncertainty had hung heavy over the last cricket test match at Brisbane (Australia), now okayed to start on Friday. Over half a century ago, a flamboyant Hyderabadi’s (cricketer) inclusion in the national team was a certainty for the tour Down Under. His exclusion however left him so disillusioned that he gave away his cricket kit, even penning a poignant note on his bat before handing it over.
Summoned shortly before the third test from January 19 to 24, 1968 (rest day included), his determination displaced despair that the denial had driven him into. Hopping several flights, crossing continents, warding-off jet lag, fighting fatigue and shaking off shortage of sleep, a 28-year-old M.L. Jaisimha with knocks of 74 and 101 brought India 39 runs short of what would have been its first ever overseas victory.
‘My way—The biography of M.L. Jaisimha’ (Apple Books, Amazon), explores that endeavour that has endured in cricket folklore down the decades, hailed by the doyens of cricket and its writing, Jack Fingleton and Bill O’Reilly, both veterans of the historic Bodyline series. Chapter IX, an extract of which is reproduced below sets the stage for Jaisimha’s omission and subsequent call-up:
At the Khadakwasla camp, preceding the Indian tour of Australia in 1967-68, Jai went to great lengths to assure D. Govindraj that he would be in the tour party, his own inclusion being a foregone conclusion. Imagine the rude shock when both were dropped. So disappointed was Jai that he decided to give away his cricket gear—pads, gloves, caps—to his good friend Ithaat (Chotu) Hussain’s kids. Parting with his bat, Jai paused and asked for a pen. He then wrote on the face of the bat: Hope you have better luck with cricket than I did.
As luck would have it Jaisimha did go to Australia after all, as an emergency replacement for an injured B.S. Chandrasekhar. Despite opposition to Jai’s inclusion by the team’s think tank, manager Ghulam Ahmed insisted on having him Down Under for the Brisbane Test.
After the call came from the BCCI’s S. Sriraman asking Jai to pack up for Australia, Govind was wholeheartedly happy for his friend and generously helped him prepare. Determined to teach the selectors a lesson, Jai practised with zeal hitherto unseen. His Hyderabad teammates Govind, Habeeb Khan (who died a few days before) and Jyothi Prasad bowled their hearts out from a distance of 18 yards in four-hour sessions, bombarding Jai with speed and spin.
After about an hour of flying out from his hometown, Jai decided to spend the night at P.K. Belliappa’s house in Madras (now Chennai) before his early morning flight to Singapore. When Belli went to the airport to receive him, all Jai had by way of cricket gear was a Gunn & Moore bat, borrowed from P.R. Man Singh, later to become manager of India’s 1983 Prudential Cup winning cricket team.
After a night of merry making, Jai boarded the flight to Singapore the next morning, not having had a wink of sleep the night before. Zareer Byramji of Air India, Jai’s neighbour and friend, was on the flight from Singapore to Perth. They parted ways there but not before they had had yet more of the good time.
Another flight across Australia took him to Sydney and from there another hop to Brisbane. The inter-continental travel and consequent jet lag didn’t stop him having an all-night session of drink and discussion with Tiger Pataudi which ended in the wee hours of the morning. That fatigue notwithstanding, Jai produced a grand knock of 74 on day two, crowning his efforts with an invaluable 101 before India succumbed to a 39-run defeat.
While both innings, in terms of score, don’t seem extraordinary, both were in fact talk of the town during the series. Jaisimha’s scores had singlehandedly given hope to the Indian team, that it could perhaps win the match in spite of a poor show by its initial batsmen. It was the third match in the series, and Australia had managed to score 379.
When it was India’s time to bat, Farookh Engineer, Abid Ali and Ajit Wadekar returned with nine runs on the board. Skipper Mansur Ali Patuadi scored a classy 74, and was out. It was 137 for 5 when Jaisimha walked in. In cricket, batsmen walking in with jetlag don’t generally do well, but the 28-year-old, who continued batting till the next day, put on good partnerships with the lower order batsmen. His wicket fell at 74, after the rest of the order collapsed soon after, leaving India 100 short of the total.
It was far from perfect, but Jaisimhar had in fact saved the team from a total collapse. Australia’s second innings left India with a final 395 to chase. India was actually doing well, coming to 300/5 towards the end, with Jaisimha partnering up well with Indian vice-captain Chandu Borde. However, Borde got himself out soon, leaving Jaisimha with the lower order bastmen at 310 for 6. He hung on till the last man, but India finally lost by 40 runs. While a lot was said of the match then, it was the 28-year-old Hyderabadi’s remarkable innings that saved face, and gave India a fighting chance.
Those were certainly two fine innings, which will be long remembered.
(The writer is a Hyderabad-based senior sports journalist, and author of My way—The biography of M.L. Jaisimha’. Link for book: https://rb.gy/8frxbw)