India’s cricketing journey has been filled with memorable moments and historic victories. One such significant milestone was achieved on February 20, 1968, when the Indian cricket team registered their first-ever Test series win overseas. It was a moment that etched itself in the annals of Indian cricket history, as India triumphed over New Zealand in a hard-fought four-match series. Let us take a closer look at this remarkable achievement and the key moments that led to India’s groundbreaking victory.
The Challenging Build-Up to the Series
Before embarking on their maiden tour to New Zealand, the Indian cricket team had endured a tough series against Australia, where they suffered a resounding 4-0 defeat. The conditions in New Zealand presented a completely different challenge, with cold weather and unfamiliar pitches awaiting the Indian players. Led by captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the team prepared to face the Kiwis with renewed determination and a desire to make history.
The First Test at Dunedin
The first Test of the series took place at Carisbrook, Dunedin. New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat. Indian medium-pacer Ramakant Desai drew first blood by dismissing Bruce Murray early in the innings. However, New Zealand’s Graham Dowling and Bevan Congdon steadied the ship with a solid partnership. Dowling went on to score a magnificent century, while Congdon contributed a valuable half-century. Despite their efforts, the Kiwis could only manage a total of 350 runs in their first innings.
In response, the Indian batsmen displayed resilience and determination. Farokh Engineer and Ajit Wadekar led the charge with crucial contributions, building a strong foundation for the team. The New Zealand fielders’ sloppy performance, dropping multiple catches, played into India’s hands. The lower order, led by Ramakant Desai and Bishan Bedi, frustrated the Kiwi bowlers with a vital partnership. India eventually gained a slender lead of nine runs before being bowled out.
The Turning Point: Prasanna’s Brilliant Bowling
As the second innings commenced, the Indian spinners took center stage. Erapalli Prasanna emerged as the star performer, showcasing his mastery of off-spin bowling. Prasanna’s accuracy and guile troubled the New Zealand batsmen, resulting in a collapse of their innings. Opening batsman Bruce Murray managed a commendable half-century, but the rest of the lineup faltered under the pressure exerted by Prasanna and his spin-bowling partner, Bapu Nadkarni. New Zealand could only muster a total of 208 runs, setting India a target of 200 to win the match.
Wadekar and Surti’s Crucial Partnership
India’s chase got off to a shaky start, losing early wickets. However, Ajit Wadekar and Rusi Surti steadied the innings with a crucial partnership of 103 runs for the third wicket. Wadekar’s elegant strokeplay and Surti’s resilience provided the backbone of India’s pursuit of victory. The middle-order duo of Motganhalli Jaisimha and Chandu Borde further consolidated India’s position, ensuring a comfortable victory by five wickets. India’s first-ever Test win overseas was sealed, marking a historic moment for Indian cricket.
The Series Triumph and Beyond
India’s triumph in the first Test acted as a catalyst for their success in the remaining matches of the series. Although they faced a setback in the second Test, losing by six wickets, they bounced back strongly in the next two matches. The third Test saw India clinch victory by eight wickets, followed by a resounding 272-run win in the fourth Test. With a series result of 3-1 in their favor, India celebrated their first-ever series win overseas.
This victory in New Zealand laid the foundation for future successes on foreign soil. While India’s second Test series win in New Zealand came in 2009 under the leadership of MS Dhoni, the achievement of the 1968 team remains unparalleled for over four decades. The team’s resilience, adaptability, and exceptional performances by players like Ajit Wadekar, Farokh Engineer, Erapalli Prasanna, and Bapu Nadkarni paved the way for future generations of Indian cricketers to excel on the global stage.
India’s historic Test series win in New Zealand in 1968 will always be remembered as a watershed moment in Indian cricket. The team’s triumph over adversity and their ability to adapt to challenging conditions showcased their resilience and determination. The performances of individual players, such as Ajit Wadekar, Farokh Engineer, Erapalli Prasanna, and Bapu Nadkarni, played a pivotal role in India’s success. This victory marked the beginning of India’s journey as a competitive force in international cricket and set the stage for future triumphs on foreign soil.