“On the balcony, Gavaskar’s teammates were growing frustrated”
Summer of 1975.
There was snow in Buxton, Derbyshire, which stopped play during a county match.
Less than a week later, the World Cup started in glorious sunshine and the full splendour of the English summer.
And on the first day, as hosts England took on India at Lord’s, it was a similar blow hot blow cold affair. A masterclass by Dennis Amiss and then one of the strangest knocks by Sunil Gavaskar.
England piled on 334 for 4, at a rate of 5.68, incredible for those times with the science of limited overs cricket still rudimentary and field restrictions non-existent.
Well, Madan Lal and Mohinder Amarnath were not ideal new ball operators in any condition, let alone English. And while the duo and Abid Ali went for roughly five an over, Karsan Ghavri leaked 81 from the 11 he sent down. Srinivas Venkataraghavan, elevated into captaincy, perhaps wondered about the meaning of it all, with illustrious mate Bishan Bedi sitting out, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar not even in the squad. India for some reason were playing four ‘pacers’ if you can call that pace. Five if you count Eknath Solkar.
Amiss, one of the first great batsmen in the shorter format, milked the sad attack, racing to the first World Cup century with calm, simple methods. His 137 came off just 147 deliveries. Keith Fletcher helped him along with 68. And when Fletcher, Tony Greig and Amiss fell within 15 runs of one another, England hardly stuttered as Chris Old bludgeoned 51 from 30 deliveries.
And after this belligerent batting display, in walked Gavaskar. Well, that was almost all the movement one saw from this sterling man that day.
For the next 60 overs, he stonewalled. For reasons still not quite clear. True, it took him years, nearly a decade, to adapt his technique to the demands of the shorter version. But 36 not out from 174 deliveries, 27 more than Amiss faced, was just criminal.
Commentators were foxed, Indian supporters sat dejected, pleading for some semblance of a fight. “It was a perverse moment of self-inflicted shame”, reported Cricketer.
On the balcony, Gavaskar’s teammates were growing frustrated. The tournament rules were clear. If a group was tied on points, run-rate would be the deciding factor. So, even if 334 was out of reach, the more India scored the better were their chances. But, Gavaskar stuck to his curious strategy.
In the end, the opening batsman walked back with not out against his name, but undefeated is not quite the qualifier that can be used for this strange knock. India finished on a miserable 132 for 3 in 60 overs, losing by 202 runs.
“The most disgraceful and selfish performance I have ever seen,” fumed GS Ramchand, former captain and manager of the Indian side. According to him, Gavaskar had given the explanation that the wicket had been too slow to play shots. “That was a stupid thing to say after England had scored 334. The entire party is upset about it. Our national pride is too important to be thrown away like this,” Ramchand bristled.
Some said that Gavaskar was unhappy with the team selection, perhaps about Srinivas Venkataraghavan being made captain. However, Tony Lewis did not care for his grievances. He wrote: “His cussedness could quite easily have been formed before the match by matters of selection, his hotel bedroom or even the nightly meal allowance. Whatever the motives were, he had no right to force them on the sponsors, who have put £100,000 into cricket this summer, or on the 16,274 spectators, who paid £19,000 to watch.”
Years later Gavaskar says that he was out of form. “If you looked back at it, you’d actually see in the first few overs some shots which I’d never want to see again – cross-batted slogs. I wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect of playing non-cricketing shots and I just got into a mental rut after that. There were occasions I felt like moving away from the stumps so I would be bowled. This was the only way to get away from the mental agony from which I was suffering. I couldn’t force the pace and I couldn’t get out.”
Seems too difficult to digest. Anyone can hit his own wicket to be dismissed. It remains an unsolved mystery.
However, the jury is undivided on the verdict … It was the most infuriating innings ever.