The Indian selectors have always made some surprise choices when it comes to picking touring squads.

This is understandable but when selecting the Indian team to tour Australia and New Zealand in 1967-68 there were several shocking omissions and inclusions that became the subject of intense debate. Budhi Kunderan, S Venkatraghavan, ML Jaisimha and Salim Durrani would have been in almost anyone’s list to make the 16-member squad for the trip – India’s first tour 'Down Under’ for 20 years – but none of them made the cut. Kunderan and Venkatraghavan were in the Indian team that toured England earlier in the summer and had done enough to warrant retaining their places while Jaisimha and Durrani who missed the tour were largely expected to be back in the squad for Australia and New Zealand.

The famous spin quartet which had been formed during the home series against the West Indies in 1966-67 was thus broken – but only temporarily. However there was still a quartet of spin bowlers with Bapu Nadkarni joining Bishen Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. KS Indrajitsinjhji replaced Kunderan as second wicketkeeper to Farok Engineer while V Subramanyam and Ramesh Saxena were obviously the batsmen preferred to Jaisimha and Durranil.

India had fared badly in England losing all three Tests but was expected to do better in Australia where it was felt the conditions would suit the tourists. Moreover Australia was then not exactly a formidable unit. But the Indians who had a pretty abysmal record abroad went down in the first two Tests of the four-match series.

The defeats by 146 runs and by an innings and four runs meant there had to be a serious overhauling if the Indians were to stage a comeback. More than the bowling it was the batting that had posed a problem. The batsmen were unable to encounter Graham McKenzie and company on the bouncer and faster tracks. So when Chandrasekhar was ruled out of the tour following an injury in the second Test and a replacement was in order the captain Nawab of Pataudi opted to replace the bowler with a batsman and Jaisimha was called to join the squad.

The elegant batsman who could open and also come good in the middle order had been a regular through the sixties until he was surprisingly dropped for the tour of England. And here he was in January 1968 a few weeks away from his 29th birthday flying from Hyderabad to Brisbane. He had virtually no match practice having played his last first class game in October 1967 when he led South zone to victory in the Duleep Trophy final against West zone his own contribution being 66. On reaching Brisbane he was straightaway drafted into the playing eleven for the third Test only a couple of days after arriving in the city.

It was a big gamble particularly in a must win situation to stay alive in the series. But with or without Jaisimha India seemed to losing the game when in reply to Australia’s 379 they were nine for three on the second day. Rusi Surti a model of consistency in the series and Pataudi added 128 runs for the fourth wicket to raise India’s hopes.

Jaisimha walked in at No 6 following Surti’s dismissal for 52 but lost his captain for 74 with just two runs added. Thereafter even as he not only held firm but also played strokes freely he received little support and India were all out for 279 midway through the third day. Jaisimha himself had been ninth out at 270 but not before he was bracketed with Pataudi as the joint top scorer with 74.

A lead of 100 runs with half the time left in the Test left Australia in a commanding position and the hosts built upon it by getting 294 the second time around. This left India with a daunting target of 395 and the odds were on Australia taking a winning 3-0 lead. There was plenty of time for India to try and get the runs and the pitch showed very little wear and tear.

Still a target of virtually 400 was going to be very difficult for a side that had been outplayed so far in the series. And it did appear to be Mission Impossible when India lost the first three wickets with just 61 on the board. Once again Surti and Pataudi figured in a rescue act figuring in a fourth wicket partnership of 93 runs. After Pataudi fell for 48 Jaisimha joined Surti and the two came in unbeaten at stumps on the penultimate day with India 177 for four.

So now the stage was set for what appeared to be a close finish. The recovery effected by Surti and Pataudi had given India a ray of hope but the 218 more runs required meant that the target was still a long way off even with six wickets in hand. The dismissal of Surti for 64 at 191 put the Indians in more than a spot of bother but Chandu Borde and Jaisimha got entrenched in a century partnership that not only raised India’s hopes but gave them a chance of pulling off an improbable victory.

Borde had not been among the runs but suddenly brought all his skill and experience into play. However the focus remained on Jaisimha who batted in his usual elegant manner. A cultivated stylist who could also be counted upon to get runs quickly when it mattered he was carving out chiseled strokes which raced to the boundary. The two raised the total to 310 and suddenly India were the favourites. With five wickets in hand they needed only 85 more runs.

At this stage Borde fell for 63 and now the double spin attack of John Gleeson and Bob Cowper helped Australia claw their way back. Cowper had dismissed Borde and now in quick succession Gleeson got rid of Nadkarni, Prasanna and Bedi. India at 333 for nine was facing defeat.

Jaisimha was batting like a champion but now he had only last man Umesh Kulkarni for company with India still 62 runs short of the target. Could India still pull it off? And could Jaisimha get his hundred? He was 80 when Kulkarni joined him and now in the most dazzling phase of his four-hour stay at the crease he unleashed strokes all round the wicket.

Kulkarni gamely held on and while he scored a single Jaisimha raced to 101 before he was out to Cowper. India all out for 355 had fallen tantalizingly short but the honours in the closing stages went to Jaisimha. Having just arrived in Australia and pitch-forked straight into a Test match without any practice whatsoever he exhibited his class in no uncertain terms completing a storybook feat in the process even if it was not crowned with victory. It made many including noted cricket writer Jack Fingleton wonder as to how he had been left out of the team in the first place.