Doug Walters was targeted by the Communist Party of India after false reports emerged that he was in the Australian army fighting the Vietnam War. (Image credit: ICC Twitter)
The 1969 five-Test series between India and Australia is best remembered for instances off the field. There was a riot in the Test match in Mumbai at the Brabourne stadium after a wrong decision from the umpire resulted in Australia winning the Test. There were further disturbances in Kolkata during the fourth Test as crowds clashed with police. However, it was during this Test match that an Australian cricketer was specifically targeted by the Communist Party of India. It was a false report over the Vietnam War that almost caused a major tragedy during the entire series. The cricketer who was targeted was Doug Walters.
During the match, there were protests by the Communist Party of India (CPI), who was a major political force in West Bengal, against Walters. According to reports, Walters had been conscripted during the Vietnam War period. Communist Party of India activists erected posters across the city claiming that Walters had killed women and children. Around 10,000 communists picketed the Australian hotel and some eventually broke in and vandalised it.
However, the reports were wrong. Walters was conscripted to two years of National Service training. However, he was effectively exempted from services for the Vietnam War in order to pursue his professional, cricketing career in Australia,
Years later, while speaking to Hindustan Times, Walters recalled, "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 entire tour, in particular, the Kolkata and Mumbai Tests in addition to the South Zone game in Bangalore was marred by ugly scenes. At Eden Gardens, 25,000 people who were queuing all night for tickets rushed to the counters before they opened. Riot police fired tear gas and the crowd responded by pelting them with bottles and stones. Six people were killed and 30 were injured. Even during the Test, there were incidences of stone-pelting among the crowd and police had to step in once again to control the crowd.
Australia won the five-Test series 3-1 and they did not win a series in India for the next 35 years. Bill Lawry’s team then headed to South Africa where they were whitewashed 4-0 for the first time. However, that proved to be South Africa’s final Test series before they were isolated due to their Apartheid policies. However, the 1969 series will be remembered for the crowd troubles in three major venues and this did not put India in good light at all.