The former India opener looks back at India\'s 1977-78 tour of Australia which they narrowly lost 3-2.
There's a tinge of excitement in Chetan Chauhan's otherwise mellow voice when the topic of that 'unforgettable' 1977-78 series in Australia is broached, where India played superbly throughout the series only to miss a golden chance of winning their first Test series Down Under by a whisker.
Having been beaten in two close encounters in Tests in Brisbane and Perth, India made an unbelievable comeback by inflicting two huge bashings - 222 runs in Melbourne and an innings victory in Sydney - to the Aussies in the next two matches. But the visitors finished 47 runs short of crossing the finish line in the fifth and the final Test in Adelaide.
"It was a very close-fought series with both teams in a position to win the fifth and final Test in Adelaide," Chauhan, who went for that tour as an opening partner to India's run machine Sunil Gavaskar, told Cricketnext. "We had almost won the last Test and the series."
Chauhan, 64, scored 229 runs in that series in which Bob Simpson, the Australian captain, was the top scorer with 539 runs, followed by three Indians - Gundappa Vishwanath (473), Gavaskar (450) and Mohinder Amarnath (445). But it was the spin duo of Bishan Singh Bedi and BS Chandrasekhar that wreaked havoc. Where the 'fierce' Bedi went berserk with his slow left-arm spin, the 'fantastic' Chandrasekhar spun a web around the Australian batsmen with his legbreak. The former was the highest wicket-taker from both sides with 31 wickets, while the latter finished with just three wickets short of what his more experienced partner did.
"Both Bedi and Chandra were marvellous during the whole series. Australia knew that India's strength was spin but they didn't know that it would turn out to be so good. Sharing 59 of the 100 wickets on offer during the series was nothing less than a revelation," says Chauhan said while singing praises for his former team-mates.
If Chauhan's maiden Australian tour was memorable, his second trip in 1981 was also exemplary. His 249 runs, including 97 in the drawn affair in Adelaide and 85 in the winning contest in Melbourne, were the second highest by an Indian batsman in the three-Test series, with Sandeep Patil being the first in that list with 311 runs. Talking about his stints as an opener on both those tours, Chauhan acknowledged that it was a Herculean task considering the bounce and pace Australian wickets offer. He also suggested Gautam Gambhir correct his flaw of "jabbing at deliveries outside his off stump" before taking guard in the opening Test from December 26.
"In order to score runs on the bouncy pitches of Australia, a batsman's technique should be up to the mark. He also needs to have loads of patience and an ability to make judicious decision of leaving the away-going deliveries. It is extremely satisfying when you look back at those moments thinking you did well then," says Chauhan, who is now part of the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) as an executive vice president.
Showing full faith in the present lot of Indian players who are touring Australia for the four-Test series, Chauhan says that he is confident of the team creating a history by going an extra yard this time around. "India have a tremendous chance of overpowering the Aussies this time. We are in a much better position than the opposition, as our batting looks more settled and bowling seems more penetrating.
"Australia are struggling at the moment, with some of their frontline pacemen - Mitchell Johnson, young Patrick Cummins and allrounder Shane Watson - nursing their injuries and their leading run scorer, Ricky Ponting, out of touch. If our players play to what they are capable of then things will be different than what it has been over the years."
Though Chauhan understands the weakness in the opposite camp, he also knows that an injury to Ishant Sharma may be a big blow to the Indians. "An injury to Ishant will be a big setback for India, especially after his creditable outing on his first Australian tour, and the bounce he is capable of generating with his height," he says, adding Irfan Pathan would be an ideal replacement for Ishant if the latter does not recover in time for the Boxing Day Test.
"Irfan is the ideal man to replace Ishant. In Australia you need a bowler who is a bit sharper and Pathan can not only swing the ball, he is also capable of bringing it in with a decent pace," he says.
Chauhan was also the manager of the Indian team when they toured Australia in 2007-08 and according to him, India would have won the series last time around if the umpiring had been better. "We were in a very good position in Sydney but the umpiring errors on certain occasions cost us that Test. Had we won that game, we all know what we had delivered in Perth."
India, on that tour, after being thrashed in the first Test in Melbourne, came back strongly to almost conjure a victory in Sydney, which is remembered more for the Monkeygate incident rather than the exhilarating moments throughout the game. The visitors pulled one back after winning the Perth encounter.
Chauhan hopes that what the legendary players of his era could not achieve, the pantheon of this generation can.