A 25-year-old youngster, Michael Tissera, was asked to lead Ceylon. It was not a Test playing country at the time and had only one international victory to its credit against the Pakistan A-Team. Ashoka tells us how he used his acumen and won a match for his country, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
I have been a diehard cricket enthusiast for close to six decades now. In my days, we religiously used to follow every Test match played not just in India but also abroad. As televisions were not available in those days, we used to be glued to the transistor sets to listen to the running commentary.
Despite the changes the game has undergone, my fascination for the game persists, especially for the Test matches. Getting updated with the happenings on the cricket field is an obsession one finds difficult to discard. I consider myself very fortunate to have personally interacted with many all-time greats. My time in the America and Scandinavia made the matters somewhat difficult; Cricket is looked upon with disdain in the United States and Canada – it is virtually unheard of in Sweden. But, somehow, I always managed to obtain the latest scores whenever a Test match was on.
Therefore, it stands to reason that I followed the recent Test series in India very closely. It made the matters more pleasurable when I could see the Indian team on a winning note but representing the old school, my joy was somewhat curtailed by the happenings outside the cricket ground which to me clearly violated the spirit of the game.
One of the issues that came under constant discussion was the quality of captaincy. Many columns have been penned to elaborate on what are the attributes of a good cricket captain.
I have myself observed several generations of Cricket captains, several of whom have become identified as legends. But when asked about the most outstanding captaincy that I have ever observed in my lifetime, my choice is offbeat and does raise quite a few eyebrows. And this remarkable captaincy was demonstrated in a Test match, which was designated as unofficial as one of the sides playing had not been recognised by the Test playing side.
Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known in those days) sent its cricket team to tour India in late 1964 and early 1965. The Tests were designated as four-day affairs and were to be played at Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad; the remarkable feature here was that none of these sites had until then been recognised as Test venues until then.
India had just competed with the then world champion Australian side captained by Bob Simpson which had legends like Norman O’Neil, Bill Lawry, Garth McKenzie, Wally Grout, Brian Booth and Neil Hawke. India under Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi executed itself very well managing to draw the three Test series after losing the first Test in Madras. They won in Bombay and completely dominated the last Test in Calcutta before the rains took over.
It was this side that a 25-year-old youngster, Michael Tissera, was asked to lead. As I have stated, Ceylon was not a Test playing country at the time and had only one international victory to its credit against the Pakistan A-Team.
India managed to win the first two Tests in Bangalore and Hyderabad with ease. In Hyderabad, a young Srinivas Venkatraghavan was asked to play for his country for the first time. The selectors then decided to field a team full of youngsters.
The first day was a complete washout. Only a little over an hour’s play was possible on the second day. The Indian team was skittled out for 189 on the third day, Ramesh Saxena being the only player with a respectable score of 63. The Ceylonese batted and finished the day with 144 for 7.They also had to play with 10 players with their opening batsman indisposed. The very badly rain affected match seemed headed for a boring draw with the tourists still being 45 runs behind.
It was at this time Tissera demonstrated his captaincy acumen, the likes of which I have not seen anywhere in the world in my lifetime. He observed the wet pitch and as he had two seamers in his team, he decided to declare the innings on the final day conceding the lead.
The Indian side just could not cope with the seam attack on a wet pitch and was skittled out for 66 runs, Ramesh Saxena and Ambar Roy being the only ones to reach double figures. The extras totalled 13. This to this day remains India’s lowest ever score in the country! They could not even play 27 overs!
Left with 112 to win, the tourists started robustly losing their first wicket only at 41 and the second at 77. They were going merry at 98 for 3 needing only 14 to win when the spin wizard Rajinder Goel; soon to develop into one of the best spinners in the world (but never to play for India in an official Test!) struck thrice without the Ceylonese scoreboard moving raising hopes of an improbable and perhaps undeserved victory. But that was not to be; the tourists did not lose any more wickets and Ceylon earned a deserving victory.
It was a victory of truly outstanding captaincy which has few parallels in cricketing history. It may not go down in the record books as Ceylon were not a Test playing side but in my view, Tissera had earned a place in the Cricketing pantheons.
And let us not forget that Sri Lanka, a full-fledged Test playing side for three decades which has produced greats like Ranatunga, Murali, Vaas, Jayasuriya, Aravinda DeSilva, Sangakkara, and Jayawardene have never been able to win an official Test in India as yet.
Let us also remember that of the 11 who played for India in that fateful ‘Test’, only C. Bhaskar and Rajinder Goel could not earn an official Test cap. Venkataraghavan became a legend along with Pataudi and Engineer. Sardesai had a distinguished Test career. Abbas Ali Baig and Hanumant Singh had already scored centuries in their maiden appearances. And Ramesh Saxena and Umesh Kulkarni did get capped very soon afterwards.
It was Tissera’s outstanding captaincy that made this victory possible. Kudos to him. We may never get to witness such a genius again!
Photos from the internet.
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