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Of Vietnam War, Communist Calcutta and the unsuspecting Aussie larrikin

Some years are just vintage, and we're not talking wines here. Think 1969 and the mind immediately draws up images as varying as Woodstock and the Vietnam War. Rohit Bhaskar reports.
By Rohit Bhaskar | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2013 12:52 AM IST

Some years are just vintage, and we're not talking wines here. Think 1969 and the mind immediately draws up images as varying as Woodstock and the Vietnam War. The soundtrack changes from Jimi Hendrix's electrically-charged rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to Creedence Clearwater Revival's middle-finger-to-the-administration Fortunate Son.

Caught up in the Cold War era politics was an unsuspecting Aussie larrikin in Calcutta in a classic case of mistaken identity.

Doug Walters was the country boy who used his bush technique to great effect scoring a century on Test debut. By the time he arrived in India for the 1969 series he was a vital cog in the Bill Lawry-led team.

He was also an almost mythical man of the night who spent whole evenings in the bar, then woke up the next day and hit a century to get over the hangover.

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Red Heat
A former military man, Walters was drafted into the Australian National Service soon after his debut in 1965. He was able to accumulate enough leaves to continue his cricketing career simultaneously.

However, his time in the army came back to bite him when thousands of Communists in Calcutta protested his presence as Chinese whispers spread, erroneously as they are wont to do, of his active role in the Vietnam War. Recalling that eventful incident on a tour packed with them, the 67-year-old Walters spoke to Hindustan Times over phone from Sydney.

"There were about 20,000 Communist protesters outside the team hotel. They had been wrongly informed that I had served in Vietnam. I didn't take it too seriously. They were just protesters. Some windows of the hotel were smashed by a few angry ones, but on that tour, I reckon Calcutta was the city I spent the most time out and about," he said.

The first match off the tour set the tone for what would be a rowdy, riotous series. "In the first Test in Bombay, we were pretty close to victory, when the umpire gave a howler.

The batsman (S Venkatraghavan) was given caught behind even though he missed it by a foot. The crowd went berserk after that," he recalled.

A packed house at the Brabourne Stadium was seething after the decision and stands were set ablaze, bottles were thrown at the fielders, and wicker chairs were hurled from the clubhouse balcony.

Snacks And Supplies
Shane Warne's now infamous decision to get baked beans and spaghetti shipped to India during the 1998 tour generated much discussion. But, for most Aussie teams touring India pre-2001, loading up on snacks and supplies was a prerequisite, with a little extra, here and there.

"The Australian Embassy in India chipped in. They would stock us up with Australian beer," chuckled the man who once drank 44 beer cans on a flight to England, an Ashes record in the Pre-David Boon era.

Those perks were one of the few, as the team was kept in sub-standard accommodation and travelled by train for many of the matches.

"I had heard about luxurious Indian hotels, but I didn't see any. There was a standoff between the Australian Cricket Board and the Indian organisers. The Board didn't get the guaranteed sum, and the players bore the brunt" he said.

All the hardships on tour, however, didn't have a dampening effect on the visitors who conquered India in the final match in Madras, with Walters scoring the only century in a low-scoring Test, to seal a 3-1 series win. Australia wouldn't win in India for the next 35 years.

The legend of the final frontier would grow!

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