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An Indian cricket team captained by Lala Amarnath embarked on a full tour of the land in late 1947. Besides being the first official Test series between the two countries, it was India's first cricket series as an independent nation.

A tour of Australia has always been a difficult and challenging proposition. The pressure increased after the withdrawal of four frontline players from the touring party; Vijay Merchant (who was originally named captain), his fellow opener Mushtaq Ali, paceman Fazal Mahmood and Rusi Modi, a competent middle-order batsman. While Merchant and Modi were stricken by injuries, Mushtaq pulled out for personal reasons, and Mahmood because he had become a Pakistani post-independence and Partition.

India played 20 first-class matches on the tour, of which they won five, lost seven and drew eight matches. Vijay Hazare, Amarnath and Mankad were in splendid form. Amarnath scored four hundreds and one double hundred in the 'state' games, Mankad was amongst the wickets and runs, and Hazare scored three hundreds and seven fifties.

One of India's biggest problems was the fact that Amarnath was unable to carry his great form into the five Test matches. His highest score in the Tests was a mere 46. Hazare too was disappointing in the first three Tests, but he bounced back with two splendid centuries in the fourth Test at Adelaide, followed by a fifty in the fifth. His knocks of 116 and 145 made him the first Indian to score two hundreds in a Test, a feat that was subsequently emulated by Sunil Gavaskar (thrice) and Rahul Dravid.

Mankad did not begin very well with the bat, and after being bowled by Ray Lindwall thrice in succession in the first two Tests, he sought out the bowler for advice. Lindwall told him that he had a backlift as high as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Mankad took note, reduced it and went on to score two hundreds. Another all-rounder who did well with the bat was Dattu Phadkar, who scored a hundred in the first innings of the Adelaide Test and added 188 for the sixth wicket with Hazare, the other centurion.

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An Indian fan with a bust of Sir Don Bradman, after the legend's demise in February 2001, 54 years after the Don captained Australia in the inaugural Test series between the two countries

The first Test at Brisbane was a complete fiasco for the Indians were concerned. They ran into poor weather and Sir Don Bradman in one of his most determined moods. He scored 185 and his team rattled up a score of 382/8 declared. Rains and the wet outfield had made it difficult for the Indians to grip the ball. The Australians were much more experienced in playing in such conditions. The hard-pressed Indians collapsed against Lindwall, Miller, Johnston and Toshack, for 58 in the first innings and 98 ion the second. None of the batsmen could rise to the occasion. To their discomfiture, Lindwall proved to be so fast that the ball thudded into the keeper's gloves before batsman brought down the bat!

The weather gods frowned again in the second Test at Sydney and deprived India of an opportunity to show their mettle. India won the toss and decided to bat. However, rains had not allowed much work on the pitch. India scored 188 and then bowled out Australia for 107. In the second innings, India scored 61/7 before rain rendered any further play impossible.

Australia won the toss in the third Test at Melbourne and took full advantage of a good wicket by scoring 394. Bradman scored 132. India made a gutsy reply with Mankad scoring 116 with his 'reduced backlift'. The visitors finished with 291. Bradman then made his hundred of the match, and set India a target of 358. On a wicket that had deteriorated alarmingly due to intermittent rain, India were bowled out for 125 to lose the Test by 233 runs.

Bradman won the toss again in the fourth Test and gave his team first use of a batting paradise at Adelaide. The Aussies amassed a mammoth 674 and forced India onto the back foot straightaway. In spite of Hazare's 'twin' fightback, India lost by an innings and 16 runs.

Australia's 'coin fortunes' continued in the fifth test, and so did the massacre of Indian bowling and batting. The hosts piled on 575 runs, and despite a spirited run-chase led by Mankad in the first innings, India lost by an innings and 117 runs managing 331 and a measly 67 in the 2 innings.

There was no comparison between the two sides. The tour emphasized the fact that the Indians were not accomplished enough to face the Australians in such trying conditions. However, it was a learning experience that stood Indian cricket in good stead. There were some unforgettable individual performances, and the Indians displayed courage and guts in the most adverse circumstances.

- By SP Bhatia  

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