From Gavaskar's infamous 'walk off' to 'Monkeygate': Top India-Australia controversies in Test cricket

By Abhishek Mukherjee

The upcoming Test series is likely to be among the most tepid in recent memory, going by the colourful history of India-Australia contests. The Australians are unlikely to take to sledging following the scathing reviews submitted by Simon Longstaff and Rick McCosker after #SandPaperGate. Virat Kohli, too, has announced that he is “completely okay without the altercation”.

This series, thus, is unlikely to witness major controversies. However, that has not always been the case. Here is a list of past incidents:

‘Mankad’ becomes a jargon, 1947-48

Controversies in India-Australia Test cricket

The twin incidents took place on India’s first tour of Australia (and their first post-Independence tour in any country), in 1947-48. In a tour match at Sydney, Australian XI needed 251 to win in 150 minutes.

In sheer haste, Bill Brown left the crease at the non-striker’s end. Vinoo Mankad warned him. Brown had to amble back. Then he erred again, and this time Mankad whipped the bails off. A disgusted Brown had to leave.

Note: This was the same match where Don Bradman scored his 100th First-Class hundred.

Brown got away with a warning from Mankad in the Queensland match, a week later. But Mankad was not as relenting in the second Test, at Sydney. Brown did an encore.

This time Mankad calmly ran him out. Brown retaliated by throwing his bat on the ground before tugging it along on his way back.

This dismissal obviously attracted attention, being in a Test match. Mankad found considerable support in Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald published a scathing letter from one “I.W.M”, which is particularly worth a mention: “Mankad has been too generous in this matter … Did Brown do this sort of thing against Englishmen? … The only bad sportsmanship was shown by the batsman.”

There was much debate in the Australian media, with Jack Fingleton opposing Mankad’s act. On the other hand, Bradman supported Mankad’s act. Writing on the subject in Farewell to Cricket he called the act “scrupulously fair”.

Sometime in the 1880s, while leading Oxford, Lord Harris had run a Cambridge batsman out in similar fashion. However, the cricket fraternity still refers to this type of dismissal as “Mankading”.

Umpiring and riots, 1969-70

Controversies in India-Australia Test cricket

India were struggling to save the first Test at Brabourne Stadium, reeling at 89/7 after conceding a 74-run lead, before Ajit Wadekar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan added 24.

Towards the fag end of Day Four, however, Venkat chased a wide delivery from Alan Connolly. Brian Taber caught the ball but did not appeal – though the gully fielder did. Umpire Sambhu Pan gave Venkat out. “He missed it by a foot!” exclaimed Taber.

Devraj Puri voiced his displeasure on All India Radio. That did not have go down with the crowd, many of whom heard Puri on their portable transistor radios. India’s poor show, accompanied by the Bombay heat, had already driven them to the edge of frustration: now all hell broke loose.

Stands were set on fire. Bottles, stones, and even chairs were thrown on to the ground. Australian captain Bill Lawry was in no mood to recall Venkat. The match somehow went on, in the course of which India lost EAS Prasanna. The Australians had to wait for twenty minutes after the day’s play till the police gave them the all-clear to leave the stadium.

The fourth Test in Calcutta came with a different set of problems. For some reason, there were allegations that Doug Walters had been with the Australian Army in Vietnam, which took some time to clear up. India lost, and the crowd hurled stones at captain Tiger Pataudi. He left the ground surrounded by a group of Australian cricketers.

The tourists played South Zone next, at Bangalore. Here Lawry moved away when a woman walked past the sightscreen and drew flak. In the end South Zone set them 200, and Prasanna (6/11) had them at 53/8.

As Lawry and John Gleeson pushed the tourists towards safety and appeals got turned down, the Bangalore crowd grew violent. Missiles were hurled on to the ground till the umpires had to call the match off. Lawry and Gleeson were still out there.

Cricket’s greatest war, 1977-78

Controversies in India-Australia Test cricket

This is not an India-Australia controversy per se, but all eyes were on the proceedings at The Gabba when Madan Lal bowled the first ball of the series to Paul Hibbert. Australia fielded probably their 3rd (if not 4th XI). Jeff Thomson was the only big name in the side, while Bobby Simpson, at 41, had come out of retirement to lead.

Eyes were also on VFL Park, Melbourne, where Australia’s best men – the Chappell brothers, Lillee, Rod Marsh, David Hookes, Doug Walters, Max Walker, Len Pascoe, et al – were taking on a full-strength West Indies in a Supertest.

Cricket would never be the same. Kerry Packer had turned the world of cricket upside down, leading to a controversy with little precedence.

Hogg sends stumps flying, 1979-80

Controversies in India-Australia Test cricket

India remember the series for their first win against Australia. In the second Test, at Bangalore, the feisty Rodney Hogg opened bowling after Australia scored 333. Unfortunately, he kept overstepping – a problem that would plague him till the end – and Kasturi Ramaswami no-balled him 11 times in 6 overs. Hogg got into an argument with Ramaswami and kicked the stumps at the non-striker’s end towards him. Captain Kim Hughes had to step in.

In his next over Ramaswami no-balled Hogg thrice more. Hogg hurled a beamer and Ramaswami called a wide. At this stage Hughes sent Hogg off the field. Later in the day, both Hughes and Hogg issued apologies to Ramaswami.

Gavaskar walks out, 1980-81

Controversies in India-Australia Test cricket

India trailed by 182 in the decider at Melbourne (Australia were 1-0 up) before Sunil Gavaskar (70) and Chetan Chauhan (85) added 165 to bring them bat into the match. Then Dennis Lillee hit Gavaskar on the pad (Gavaskar still claims the ball had come off his edge), and umpire Rex Whitehead gave him out.

Gavaskar had been complaining about the umpiring for some time. He was also having his worst series in Australia. Lillee wrote on the same lines in Menace: “His team-mates told me that he was desperate to score a hundred against me. It was frustration at getting so close to his goal which made him blow up.”

Gavaskar stormed off but turned around after a distance when Lillee abused him. He walked to Chauhan and insisted he accompanied him. In short, he was conceding the Test. Chauhan had little choice. “You are the captain and whatever you say I am behind you,” he assured and joined Gavaskar.

Upon some coaxing from Syed Kirmani, Wing Commander Shahid Durrani, manager of the Indian team, intercepted the pair at the boundary line. It took some convincing, but eventually Gavaskar gave in. The wicket brought Lillee at par with Richie Benaud as Australia’s leading wicket-taker.

India resumed – and created history. They defended 143 to pull off their first win against a full-strength Australian side in Australia. Kapil Dev took 5/28 to bowl out Australia for 83.

Over three decades later Gavaskar admitted that he had erred that day, and how he still regretted the walkout. Lillee did not mince his words: “he spat the dummy out of the pram”.

Slats loses his cool, 2000-01

Controversies in India-Australia Test cricket

Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist had blasted Australia to a 173-run lead in the first Test at Wankhede. India fought back. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar seemed to have things under control at 103/2.

Then Dravid pulled Damien Fleming. Michael Slater dived in front and came up with what seemed to be an authentic catch. “Did he catch it? I don’t think so,” exclaimed Tony Greig on air.

Umpire Venkat referred to television umpire Narendra Menon. Dravid was ruled not out, and Slater lost all cool and approached Dravid to unleash a verbal volley. According to him, for some reason, Dravid should have taken his word and walked off.

Dravid did not comment, but the outspoken Ian Chappell did, on air: “That is absolutely ridiculous of Michael Slater.”

Match referee Cammie Smith let Slater go and issued a bizarre explanation: “I looked at the player’s track record and have never seen him face a match referee before and took that into account … I saw an article in the paper this morning where the Indians said they were surprised by it. I hope they don’t think they can get away with any stupidity. It is important to note he was not showing dissent at a decision made by the umpire, just a player’s reaction.”

Atrocious umpiring and Monkeygate, 2007-08

Controversies in India-Australia Test cricket

Though both controversies took place in the same Test, there was virtually no link between the two. Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson were atrocious throughout the Test, which led to the hastening of the demises of their international careers.

The Australians claimed several wickets that were clearly not out. “Only one team was playing in the spirit of the game, that’s all I can say,” commented Indian captain Anil Kumble after the Test, almost echoing Bill Woodfull’s words from 76 seasons ago.

Sub-par umpiring is not that rare, but racism in cricket certainly is. Tendulkar was at the other end when Brett Lee was bowling to Harbhajan Singh during the match. Harbhajan uttered something to Andrew Symonds at mid-off. Shortly afterwards, an official complaint was lodged to match referee Mike Procter: Harbhajan had called Symonds a monkey.

Eye-witnesses were summoned. While Hayden and Gilchrist agreed with Symonds, none of Bucknor, Benson, Tendulkar, or Australian captain Ricky Ponting had heard Harbhajan utter it.

ICC arranged for a hearing, where things turned surreal. Chauhan, the Indian manager, claimed that “it was not possible” for Indians to be racist, for monkeys were worshipped as gods in India. He produced an album with pictures of “princes and princesses in regal dress but with monkey heads” to prove his point (Procter, Caught in the Middle).

Chauhan carried on, insisting Harbhajan could not speak in English (Procter is sure this was not true). His teammates were allowed to translate his version.

Procter banned Harbhajan for three matches after India’s inability to provide concrete evidence. He was immediately criticised by the likes of Gavaskar and Peter Roebuck. Worse, India threatened to pull out of the tour.

So there was another hearing, at Adelaide. Now Tendulkar came up with a different version. He claimed that Harbhajan had apparently yelled “teri maa k ich**t” at Symonds. While this was Hindi swearing of the most hardcore nature, it was not racism.

It tilted the balance in India’s favour, though it is not clear why Tendulkar had not mentioned this before.

The incident shook Symonds, who, in an interview with ESPNCricinfo, accused Cricket Australia of being intimidated by BCCI. Allan Border insisted Symonds was not the same cricketer anymore. Procter, on the other hand, was initially appointed a match referee when the 2009 IPL was played in South Africa. He never officiated a match.

Steven Smith’s brain fades, 2016-17

Controversies in India-Australia Test cricket

Australia were chasing 188 in the Bengaluru Test when Umesh Yadav hit Steven Smith on the pad. Umpire Nigel Llong ruled Smith out. Smith considered reviewing, asked Peter Handscomb, and – illegally – sought the opinion of the dressing-room. Llong sent Smith away before Virat Kohli could intervene.

Later in the day, Smith admitted that the act was a “brain fade” on his part.

But Kohli was in no mood to let the issue die out. In the press conference he accused Smith of seeking opinion from the dressing-room twice more, adding that Australia had crossed a line “that you don’t cross on a cricket field”.

“If something is going on for three days, then that’s not a brain fade, as simple as that,” he added. He also – albeit indirectly – called Smith a cheat.

The Australian media tore into Kohli. “I don’t know Donald Trump, never met him, but I know Virat Kohli,” Michael Clarke told India Today. Ian Healy took a dig at Kohli on SEN radio. Kohli retaliated by pointing out a 1997 incident when Healy had misbehaved during a match in South Africa.

The Daily Telegraph went for Kumble instead: “Coach Kumble, one of the main instigators of the Monkeygate fiasco, would appear to have reclaimed his role as the puppeteer behind the scenes.”

Meanwhile, BCCI took the matter in their own hands. They mocked the Australians, referring to DRS as “Dressing room review system”.

The matter remained unresolved.