The passage of time has lengthened the number of significant triumphs but in the history of Indian cricket whenever one discusses really great victories the mention of ''Melbourne 1981’’ will make the eyes of cricket followers sparkle with delight even though exactly 37 years have passed since then.

When the Indian team led by Sunil Gavaskar landed in Australia in November 1981 few gave them any chance of coming back with a drawn series let alone winning it. History was against the tourists. Over three previous visits all the contests had been lost. Moreover Australia’s standing in world cricket was much higher than the Indians and they had a particularly good home record.

A formidable line-up led by skipper Greg Chappell continued with Doug Walters, John Dyson, Graeme Wood, Kim Hughes, Allan Border, Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee, Bruce Yardley, Rod Hogg and Len Pascoe. The batting of the Indians manned by the skipper, Chetan Chauhan, Gundappa Viswanath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Yashpal Sharma, Sandip Patil, Syed Kirmani and Kapil Dev looked strong but there were doubts whether the bowling in the hands of Kapil, Karsan Ghavri, Shivlal Yadav and Dilip Doshi could curb the Aussie run machine.

The worst fears seemed confirmed when Australia won the first Test at Sydney in three days by an innings and four runs. A plucky performance allied to a delayed declaration by Chappell enabled the Indians to escape with a draw in the second Test at Adelaide. So the series was still alive when the teams came to Melbourne for the third and final Test. However given the events as they unfolded thus far the home team were favourites to win the game and take the series 2-0. They had beaten New Zealand by a similar margin just before the start of the series against India.

Things moved along predictable lines right from the start. Put in to bat India were all out on the first day for 237 despite a fighting 114 by Viswanath. And over the better part of two days Australia seemed to have sealed the series in their favour by obtaining a lead of 182 runs. Border top scored with 124 and there were supporting knocks from Chappell (76) and Walters (78).

The Indian fightback commenced with a first wicket partnership of 165 runs between Gavaskar and Chauhan that lasted till midway through the first session on the fourth day. Then Gavaskar was adjudged leg before to Lillee for 70 and this led to one of the most dramatic, infamous and embarrassing episodes in Indian cricket history.

Even as the Australians started their celebrations Gavaskar protested that he had played the ball and again and again tried to get this point across. Even as this little drama was going on Lillee went up to him, pointed to his pad and then as Gavaskar explained later used foul language. This was too much for Gavaskar who admitted that ''something in me snapped.’’

By now furious Gavaskar went to Chauhan and ordered his partner to accompany him to the pavilion. Chauhan seemed reluctant whereupon there was this strange spectacle of Gavaskar pushing Chauhan towards the pavilion. Even as the bewildered spectators watched in disbelief and the Australians remained on the field Gavaskar walked off the field with a hesitant Chauhan trailing a few steps behind. Gavaskar was so upset that he was even willing to concede the match.

The situation was fast turning out to become the most awkward and red-faced episode in Indian cricket but the timely intervention of Wing Commander Durani the manger prevented matters from getting out of hand. Even as Gavaskar reached the boundary line Durani came out and signaled for Chauhan to stay on the field. And after a few words with the agitated Gavaskar he asked Vengsarkar to go out and join Chauhan and play continued.

Chauhan went on to get 85 before he was out to Lillee. Vengsarkar and Viswanath battled on and the Indians were well positioned at 243 for two. But then Lillee, Pascoe and Yardley got among the wickets and the Indians were all out for 324 with Yadav unable to bat.

The off spinner had suffered a hairline fracture on his toe courtesy a yorker from Pascoe during his courageous batting stint in the first innings when he scored an unbeaten 20 at No 10. The toe had become infected and Yadav had to take painkillers. Through all the pain and discomfort he sent down 32 overs and took two for 100. But on the third day the pain became quite unbearable. He had to leave the field and in fact could not take any further part in the match.

It was an uphill task for the Indians. Not only was the target for Australia just 143 the bowling was badly depleted. Yadav was out while Doshi had a fractured instep, an injury he sustained in the match prior to the Test. And during the Indian second innings it was known that Kapil had pulled a thigh muscle. In fact he batted with a runner but one did not know the extent of the injury. It was hoped that he would come out to bowl. But when the team took the field India’s leading all rounder was missing. He was advised rest and Patil opened the bowling with Ghavri. So now India was reduced to one fit bowler in Ghavri and two half fit bowlers in Kapil and Doshi – should the former decide to bowl. And this emaciated line-up was expected to bowl out Australia for less than 143. The Australians had all the time in the world for apart from nearly an hour on the fourth evening they had the whole of the final day to pursue glory. The general view was that Australia would be home and dry before lunch on the fifth day.

However despite the odds being stacked against them the Indians reckoned that they had an ally in the pitch. The MCG surface had drawn a lot of flak during the season for its increasingly low and difficult and inconsistent bounce. But to take maximum advantage of the conditions bowlers require some score to back them up. And 143 was hardly enough particularly given the emaciated nature of the Indian bowling.

But then in cricket blows can be struck by the most unexpected source. That is the beauty of the game, the glorious uncertainties that has become a cliché. Ghavri by dismissing Dyson and Chappell with successive balls rocked the Aussies. Eleven for two became 18 for three when Doshi had Wood stumped. At stumps Australia were 24 for three but with Kapil not expected to bowl the odds were still against the Indians pulling off a victory. But the lion-hearted Kapil had the final say. Fully aware that the team needed him Kapil took a dose of pain killing injections and the spectators let out a big cheer when they saw Kapil walk out on to the field with his teammates on the final morning. Sensing that the Indians had a realistic chance of pulling off a sensational win he wanted very much to be part of the action and not be a mute spectator in the pavilion.

The presence of the most talked about Indian cricketer at the time had a galvanizing effect on the side. While Doshi kept the batsmen quiet at one bowling an impeccable line and length, Kapil chipped away at the other end. Doshi took the vital wicket of Hughes and then Kapil just blew away the others. He finished with five for 28 off 16.4 overs as in a sensational finish Australia were bowled out for 83, their lowest total against India. Astonishingly the visitors had won by 59 runs and so shared a series in Australia for the first time.