The caravan moved to Kanpur for the second Test. The selectors retained faith in the batting of Roy, Contractor, Umrigar, Borde and Baig but made three interesting changes. They brought in Naren Tamhane as the keeper in place of PG “Nana” Joshi. The young promising fast bowler Ramakant Desai made way for Ramnath Kenny to strengthen the batting and Lala’s very own masterstroke was to bring in 35-year-old Jasubhai Patel, the off-spinner, in place of the Services cricketer VM Muddiah.

Green Park had a newly laid turf pitch that Lala believed would turn. Second, he felt that the Aussies would find an off-spinner more difficult to handle. Yet, Jasu Patel? He was a rabbit out of the hat, but Lala reckoned his accurate flat off-breaks were best suited to this Green Park track.

Patel had sporadically played four Tests previously with moderate success. He would go on to play only two more Test matches after Kanpur. In all, he played only seven Test matches spread over five years and took 29 wickets. But of these, he took 14 at Kanpur! One monumental performance and he was catapulted to folklore for all time.

When the Kanpur Test began, the early indications were of one more rout.

Ramchand won the toss and batted frst, but the Indians made a mess of their first innings, collapsing for just 152. From 38 for 1, it was a regular procession. Roy, Contractor, Baig, Borde, Ramchand and Nadkarni all got starts but did not go on to score anything substantial. Davidson took 5 for 31 and Benaud 4 for 63 as the Indians were rolled over in just 70 overs.

In reply, as Australia raced away to a good start, it began to look like a repeat of the first Test. McDonald and Harvey were batting comfortably and crossed their fifties.

It was at this stage that the “miracle at Kanpur” began. Lala, puffing away at his pipe outside the ground, observed that Patel was bowling from the “wrong” end. He wanted Patel to bowl from the other end into the footmarks outside the right-handers’ off stump, left by the spikes of the Aussie left-arm fast bowlers Davidson and Meckiff. Lala got his chance to talk to Ramchand when the players came back to the pavilion for lunch, with Australia 128 for 1.

Ramchand effected that change immediately upon resumption, and the game turned upside down in the matter of a few overs. Patel clean bowled McDonald first, 128 for 2. The stylish right-hander O’Neill joined the left-handed Harvey and they pushed the score to 149. Old-timers who heard the commentary swear that in the time it took them to return from the restroom, the score had collapsed to 149 for 5.

First, Harvey was bowled by Patel. In the following over, O’Neill stepped out to drive Borde and was beaten and bowled. Then, “Slasher Mackay” fell lbw to Patel. From there, the innings subsided without even a whimper. Patel took the next five wickets in a row; he needed no assistance for four of them as he clean bowled Davidson, Benaud and Lindsay Kline and trapped Barry Jarman leg before. Only for the wicket of Gordon Rorke did he need the help of Abbas Ali Baig to take the catch.

Bowling 35.5 overs, Jasu Patel had taken 9 for 69!

Australia’s last nine wickets had fallen for just 91 runs, and Patel had taken eight of those wickets bowling from the end Lala had suggested. Jimmy Amarnath told us, “I am not speaking as his son, but as a fellow cricketer. Lala was very knowledgeable, positive and a great judge of the game. He was outspoken, confident, a strong personality and his cricketing acumen was marvellous. People looked up to him, they listened to him.”

The previous season against the formidable West Indies, Subhash Gupte, one of the greatest leg spinners in the history of the game, had taken 9 for 102. When we spoke to Borde about Jasu Patel’s nine-wicket haul, the veteran first paid tribute to Gupte’s magic: “You should have been there in Kanpur in 1958. On a placid wicket in Kanpur, against a very strong West Indian side, he made the batsmen dance. 9 for 102. I’ll never forget that day. Patel could not have emulated a more distinguished bowler.”

Despite Patel’s magical spell, Australia still had a lead of 67 runs as India began their second innings. Pankaj Roy and Nari Contractor carefully negotiated the new ball and India ended the second day at 31 for no loss. They were still 36 runs behind Australia and would have to bat really well the next day. After Roy was dismissed, Umrigar stayed with Contractor till the deficit was wiped out, but departed immediately afterwards, falling to Davidson. Abbas Ali Baig now joined Contractor.

Baig had become a sensation by scoring a ton on debut at Manchester earlier that summer. Later in this series, a girl would come running on to the ground to kiss this batting star. So here was this handsome 20-year-old, the youngest Indian to hit a century, an Oxford Blue, joining forces with Contractor to keep Australia at bay.

The two batsmen were building the Indian second innings patiently, when the left-handed opener was out to a freak catch by Harvey off Davidson. As the batsman pulled a short delivery, Harvey turned around at short-leg to avoid injury, and the ball stuck between his legs. When Contractor was dismissed for 74, India was 121 for 3, and in effect, ahead by only 54 runs.

Twenty-six runs later, Baig fell for 36 to the wiles of Benaud. Skipper Ramchand followed immediately and India was once again floundering, five wickets gone and a lead of just 86 runs. At this stage, Lala’s second selectorial change proved his worth. Ramnath Kenny came to the crease to join Borde. Kenny’s presence was most reassuring and the two forged a valiant partnership. A little before close of play, Borde fell to Meckiff and India ended the day at 226 for 6, a lead of 149 with Kenny and Nadkarni at the crease.

Next day, these two batsmen proved to be priceless. Englishmen refer to Trevor Bailey as the “Barnacle” in recognition of his obdurate occupation of the crease. Nadkarni was every bit as stubborn in his batting while his bowling was miserly. That day, Nadkarni scored 46, Kenny scored 51 and the two took the score to 286 before being separated. Shortly thereafter, the innings ended for 291. India had batted a marathon 144 overs.

The big, broad Davidson had bowled a massive 57 overs, mostly slow orthodox left-arm spin on a wearing wicket, very effectively (like his predecessor Bill Johnstone used to do for Bradman) to return figures of 7 for 93, finishing with 12 wickets in the match. Since he had also scored a fighting 40 in their first-innings collapse, this was a great all-round effort from the big man and was perhaps a forerunner to his performance in the tied Test against West Indies in Brisbane next year, where he scored 44 and 80 and took 11 wickets. Davidson, people say, was a bit of a hypochondriac but he and Benaud had a special relationship. Davidson would do anything for Benaud.

The Aussies faced a target of 225 in the fourth innings on a wearing wicket.

Surendranath and Ramchand bowled a few perfunctory overs with the new ball before Ramchand called on Jasu Patel and Umrigar, both bowling off breaks. Before play ended on the fourth day, Patel had dismissed Stevens and Umrigar had got the vital wicket of the dangerous Harvey, caught by Nadkarni at slip, as the ball broke away sharply from the left-hander at an ideal length.

The day ended with India needing eight wickets and the Australians requiring 169 runs. It seemed that the match would go all the way to the wire on the fifth day. SK Gurunathan described Harvey’s dismissal with great relish but ended his dispatch with the words, ‘There is yet O’Neill.’

The next day, even as spectators were just settling into their seats, O’Neill was gone, caught by Nadkarni at leg-slip off a sharply turning off-break from Umrigar. Nadkarni was India’s best close-catcher before the famous days of India’s close-in cordon of Solkar, Venkat, Abid Ali and Wadekar. Stationed at slip or leg-slip to the spinners, Nadkarni held quite a few catches but perhaps none as important as the two he took at Kanpur.

Continuing his memories of the match, Borde, thrifty as ever with superlatives, told us, ‘Nadkarni was a safe close-in elder. Don’t ask me if those two catches were difficult. Every catch is important and those two catches were very important.’ We reminded him that Patel might have taken all 10 wickets in the first innings if Borde had not claimed the wicket of O’Neill. He laughed and said, ‘I think I bowled him with a googly or faster one. There is no clip on the Internet. I just cannot remember, baba!’...

Within no time, Davidson, Benaud, Jarman and Kline had been dismissed, and a short while later the match was over. Indeed, that final morning, it was a procession. Borde narrated this gem: ‘The Australians were staying with industrial magnate Singhania in his mansion. It had a swimming pool. Many Australian players were relaxing in the swimming pool on the final morning when they got the message that wickets were falling. They literally rushed to the ground in their towels.’

We were travelling that morning from Madras to Nellore, a drive of just a few hours, and as we halted midway for a coffee, we found out the match was over well before lunch. The innings had lasted just 57.4 overs.

Apart from those first few overs with the new ball, Patel and Umrigar had bowled unchanged. Patel finished with 5 for 55 and Umrigar with 4 for 27. Australia had been bundled out for 105 and the Indians had recorded their finest victory ever, beating the world’s best side by a comprehensive margin of 119 runs. Jasubhai Patel, that off-spinner from the textile town of Ahmedabad who had been called suddenly to play this Test, had match figures of 14 for 124.

Brief scores:

Green Park, Kanpur, 19–24 December 1959:

India (Toss): 152 in 70.1 overs (Bapu Nadkarni 25, Nari Contractor 24, Gulabrai Ramchand 24; Alan Davidson 5-31, Richie Benaud 4-63) and 291 in 144.3 overs (Contractor 74, Ramnath Kenny 51; Davidson 7-93) beat Australia 219 in 77.5 overs (Colin McDonald 53, Neil Harvey 51; Jasu Patel 9-69) and 105 in 57.4 overs (McDonald 34, Harvey 25; Jasu 5-55, Polly Umrigar 4-27) by 119 runs.

Excerpted with permission from From Mumbai to Durban India’s Greatest Tests, S Giridhar and VJ Raghunath, Juggernaut.