Still Get Goosebumps Thinking of 1980-81 Aus Tour: Sandeep Patil
When I got selected to tour Australia in late 1980, my only conversation with the then captain Sunil Gavaskar was on whether I would be able to face these fast bowlers. I wanted to know if I would be able to see the ball and I felt it was right to ask Sunil because he had successfully faced them and scored centuries.
Sunil’s simple advice to me was if you keep your eyes open you will be able to handle them.
It was a four and a half month tour of Australia where we played the first-ever Triangular series in coloured clothes and under the lights. After that, we played New Zealand and Fiji.
I had sleepless nights. Normally a prankster in the Indian team, I was very quiet during the flight from what back then used to be called Madras, to Australia.
I clearly remember the comment made by Late TE Srinivasan who was part of our team. In a press conference, referring to Rodney Hogg, he said: ‘Rodney, TE is here and I am going to bash you”. Making such a stupid comment is very easy, but to challenge these fast bowlers when we were going to play on then fast and bouncy Australian wickets, didn’t go down well with the Indian team. I would have understood if Sunil Gavaskar had made such a comment because it would be fitting, but he only said, ‘hope we give them good fight’.
Before the series, my first encounter with Jeff Thompson had been during a match against Queensland whose attack comprised Thompson, Carl Rackmann and Geoff Dymock. This match was just before the first test in Sydney and with all three bowlers trying to make a comeback, they had prepared an absolutely green top.
The prospect of facing Thompson had me excited on one side and completely terrified on the other. I still remember Sunil Gavaskar scored a 100 and a 60 in that match and I too managed to make 97 and 60.
Sunil vs Thommo and Me Stuck at Other End
I remember the argument between Sunil and Jeff Thompson. Sunil in his capacity wanted to test and challenge the pace of Jeff Thompson and that’s how he wanted to prepare for the first test. Every time Thompson pitched up to Sunil he drove or lifted him over his head. I was just a spectator seeing this battle as a non striker.
But I did approach Sunil and reminded him that while he was enjoying this battle, maybe he needed to consider me as well! Facing ‘Thommo’ without helmet was a nightmare! I kept dancing and bouncing while facing him and somehow managed to survive. I got runs in both the innings, but even today I get goosebumps thinking of that particular match.
What is ‘fast and furious’ and what is indeed threatening to one’s life – I experienced it all in this one match, with not only Thommo but other 2 fast bowlers as well.
However, the game of cricket is all about confidence and self belief. Everybody had praises for my performance in the match but only I know how tough it was.
It was truly ‘test’ cricket, a test of my character!
Meeting My Idol, Greg Chappell
After the test match came the ODI game in Melbourne where for the first time I had to face Dennis Lillee, Jeff Lawson and Rodney Hogg together.
Jeff Lawson bounced and I hooked but Dennis Lillee dropped the catch. Another bouncer came my way, I hooked again and again Dennis Lillee dropped the catch. This happened once again when Lawson once again bounced the ball, I again hooked and Lillee again dropped me!
I scored 62 in that match and also took two wickets and bagged the Man of the Match award, though we lost the game.
Greg Chappell had been my hero and idol from my college days and was leading the Australian team during our tour. It was tradition back then for the losing team to go to the winning team’s dressing room after the match. I requested Sunil Gavaskar that I wanted to meet Chappell and my day was made when he introduced me to him and when I shook his hand he said ‘well done and well played’.
I did not know where to look! This was the Australian captain who I had idolised in my youth, praising my performance! As we got into a conversation, he also told me that if I was selective in my shots I would do well.
And what happened in the rest of the tour was history.
Retired Hurt off a Bouncer
One week later during the first test at Sydney, I again had to face the music of Dennis Lillee, Rodney Hogg and Len Pascoe. All three were super quicks and I was again facing them without a helmet.
Australia had scored 400 plus with Greg Chappell making a double century.
We batted first and lost quick wickets and I remember I came out to bat at four down and was on 65 at the stroke of tea when the last ball, a bouncer off Rodney Hogg hit me on the neck and I fell down. As I entered the dressing room for the tea, there was a surprise visitor in our dressing room – Sir Garfield Sobers! The first comment I heard from him was, ‘well done boy keep it up’.
That last ball before tea is still fresh in my mind. All my team members told me to wear a helmet. I asked Sunil what to do and again his advice was simple – if you believe in yourself, don’t listen to what others are saying. But the fact also was that a helmet was not available so I entered the field again without one and Len Pascoe was the bowler again.
A player makes the biggest mistake if he is in two minds. All the talk during the break had confused me. Out in the middle, the first ball was again a bouncer and I was caught again in two minds – whether to stay away or to duck.
I got trapped and was hit on my left ear and I collapsed. I saw Greg Chappell and Rodney Hogg coming to assist me and after a few minutes I also saw assistant manager Bapu Nadkarni and doctor Senthil trying to help me. But the funny thing which I still remember is when Bapu Nadkarni was asking me if it was hurting, Yograj Singh (Yuvraj’s father) was telling me, “Ae Sandy kuch nahi hua”. He did not stop there but helped me up and got me walking back to the dressing room even when the thumb rule when a player gets a head injury, as we all know, is that they should be taken off on a stretcher and not be allowed to walk.
I still have a picture of Bapu Nadkarni and Yograj Singh taking me to the dressing room and after a few steps I again collapsed. I also remember coming to my senses when doctors asked me to walk on the steel plates and as they found me wobbly they sedated me again.
The next morning when I woke up in my hospital room, the first face I saw again was of Len Pascoe and next to him were Sunil Gavaskar, our manager Durrani and Bapu Nadkarni. I got the shock of my life. The same bowler who hit me was there to see whether I am ok. It was a very sweet gesture from him.
Another shock came when I got a call from Sydney travel lounge where I was nursing my injury, Sunil called me to say that I was required in the dressing room and I will be batting. Thank god I did not “shit” in my pants, perhaps it was the greatest decision made by Sunil.
Meanwhile, I had spoken to my parents who desperately wanted to know how I was. My late father said, ‘you are Shivaji Park boy don’t you run away’.
I managed to take the field for the second innings when most of the cricket pundits had doubts whether I would be able to. But thanks to my father and Sunil, I returned and also got a rousing welcome when I entered to bat again.
The bowler was Dennis Lillee, and yes, the first ball was a bouncer again. I swung my bat, the ball got an edge but was dropped by Doug Walters and we got 4 runs. The applause I got I can never forget.
Second ball was again a bouncer but this time I got caught by Wood at forward short leg. Inside my head, I knew I had surrendered.
As I was walking back, I knew that I had failed but Sunil Gavaskar came to receive me at the boundary line and his words were, “Sandeep well done you faced them”.
I had a week’s time before the second test during which I wore a helmet and was trying to get used to it. It was the the Adelaide test and it was here that I decided that attack is the best defence in Australia. Every time Lillee, Hogg and Poscoe bounced, I hooked and scored. I made 174 in that match.
So my advice to this team travelling to Australia that has so much talent is to fight fire with fire. These guys are genius. If I could survive and score runs, today’s Indian batters have skill and talent to massacre them.
Wishing Indian team all the very best.