My favourite day of Test cricket - Nari Contractor


Nari Contractor c bottom b Davidson, day three, India v Australia, Kanpur, 1959.

The first recollection about this match is I don't how I got those 74 runs in the second innings. In that match, 40 wickets fell, of which 22 [23] batsmen never got into double figures -- it was that bad a wicket. That was a damp-ish pitch; every day in the morning something from the bottom would come up.

The East stand had a partition -- on one side were the men, on the other side were the ladies. Somebody would throw something from one end and the other section would respond in the same way. That jhagda [quarrel] was going on all the time.

Alan Davidson was fast-ish and was a left-arm bowler. When he would bowl over the wicket, he would come and spin the ball, and it would go over here [the head] and hit you here [points to the chest]. One strategy that I would adopt was I would stand outside the leg stick. Because the ball was coming in so sharply, once it pitched on middle and leg I knew it was going to go on this side [outside leg]. I got out before lunch [on the third day].

I rank this innings as my best because it helped my team beat Australia for the first time since 1947. There was [danger of bodily harm] because of which we didn't know what to do. One ball would go over the head while the other one would stay low. That innings required a lot of concentration. Every ball you said [to yourself] 'you survived'. Suppose I point a gun at you and say I am going to shoot at you any time, what will you do? It was like that. Richie [Benaud] and Alan Davidson bowled beautifully.

The most tragic part or comic part of the innings was when I was on 74. Alan Davidson was bowling over the wicket from the far end, and he bowled a legbreak which was a little short. I hooked it with all my might -- it could not have been a more perfect shot -- and as soon as the ball hit my bat I said to myself 'four runs'. But here, Neil Harvey, who was fielding [a little] far at short leg, turned to save himself and the ball got caught between his bottom.

Richie Benaud, from the leg slip, said, 'Neil, hold on, hold on' and plucked the ball out of his bottom! The ball was slowly coming down, and Neil never even moved to try to catch it -- he knew he might touch it and the ball might fall; it was caught bottom, bowled Davidson! I could not move from the crease for 10-15 seconds out of disbelief.

[I didn't feel it was a match-winning knock] at that time as the Australian innings was to come next, and we hadn't done very well either. They had to get 225, which you don't expect this Australian team not to get. There were not many verbal incidents, but [for] a little abuse here and there. Everybody was very tense, but the only thing we were told was fielding had to be tight and every catch had to be taken.

It was a tight series, but they were the better side. But to beat Australia for the first time was a great achievement. In the evening, three or four of us met in a room and had a drink, but there were no celebrations. We had to catch the train at 7.30 in the night, so we were packing and running about. Back then, we did not have our return reservations to come back to Mumbai. As a matter of fact, one or two of us spread the bedding on the floor and slept on the first-class. This win gave us that push, but slowly that slope downwards started till we beat England in India in a series for the first time in 1960-61.

The best tribute I got was at the end of the series from Richie Benaud after the Kolkata Test, that at that stage I was one of the finest opening batsman in the world. I was friendly with Alan Davidson, Neil Harvey, Richie Benaud and Normal O' Neil. We had a dinner together at my place during the Bombay Test.

Innings toh reminisce hota hi nahin [I don't reminisce these knocks]. Only four of us from that team -- Abbas Ali Baig, Bapu Nadkarni, Chandu Borde -- are still alive. Who else will remember? What baffles me even after all these years is how Neil Harvey caught me!

As told to Arun Venugopal