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Gavaskar's one-day bore
Martin Williamson
November 27, 2004

One-day cricket is such an established part of the game now that it is sometimes easy to forget that it is a relatively new concept. The first domestic tournament was launched in 1963, and the first limited-overs international followed eight years later, almost by accident after a Test match was rained off . The inaugural World Cup came in 1975 (two years after the ladies' version, but that's another story).

The first match in that competition produced one of the most controversial one-day innings of all time.
In the opening round of games, on June 7, 1975, England, the hosts, were drawn to play India at Lord's. The format of the event - there were two groups of four countries - meant that a defeat would leave the losers struggling to progress.

The scene in London was perfect, with high temperatures and glorious sunshine, conditions which continued throughout the two-week tournament and on through the rest of the summer. It had, however, been a near-run thing. Five days before the start, the weather was so grim that snow stopped play at Buxton in Derbyshire. Demand for tickets wasn't as it would be now - this was, after all, a relatively new idea - but, nevertheless, Lord's was virtually full.

The first half of the game went according to plan. England batted and piled up 334 for 4 in 60 overs, at the time the highest total in one-day cricket. Dennis Amiss led the way with 137 (an innings of "calm, simple movements," according to Tony Lewis) and was well supported by a solid 68 from Keith Fletcher. Although England wobbled mid-innings, losing three wickets for 15, the respite was brief. As the Indian bowlers tired in the heat, a 30-ball 50 from Chris Old bludgeoned the match out of India's reach.

But the competition rules stated that if a group was tied, run-rate would be the deciding factor. So, even if India lost, the more runs they scored, the better the chance of reaching the semi-finals.

Such considerations or tactics were, however, sadly lost on Sunil Gavaskar, who opened the innings. From the off, it was apparent that he was adopting a strategy known only to himself. At first, his snail-like batting was put down to a desire to see off the new ball. But when he continued his go-slow, frustration among the crowd grew.

India's supporters voiced their desperation, and as the innings drew towards its turgid conclusion a few even ran to the middle to remonstrate with Gavaskar. "Dejected Indians were pathetically pleading with him to die fighting," reported The Cricketer. "Their flags hung limp in their hands. It was a perverse moment of self-inflicted shame." On their balcony in the pavilion, Gavaskar's team-mates made no secret of their frustration.

By the end of the innings, Gavaskar had crawled to 36 not out off 174 balls with just one four; India had scored 132 for 3 and had lost by 202 runs.
The motive behind the innings remain unclear. In a post-match statement, GS Ramchand, India's manager, said that Gavaskar had considered the England score unobtainable and so had taken practice. It was an excuse, but not one that anyone believed. "I do not agree with his tactics," Ramchand concluded, "but he will not be disciplined."

Rumours abounded, the most popular being that Gavaskar was unhappy with the team selection, especially the decision to ditch the team's reliance on spinners (who had been mauled in England the previous summer) in favour of seamers; others argued that he was annoyed that Srinivas Venkataraghavan was made captain. "His cussedness could quite easily have been formed before the match by matters of selection, his hotel bedroom or even the nightly meal allowance," wrote Lewis. "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."

Ted Dexter, at the time commentating for the BBC, argued that Gavaskar should have been pulled from the field by his captain. "Nothing short of a vote of censure by the ICC would have satisfied me if I had paid good money through the turnstiles only to be short-changed by such a performance," he fumed. But match referees were not introduced for almost another two decades and the ICC at that time did not get involved in such matters.

And what was Gavaskar's explanation? At the time, he said nothing. Years later, he admitted that it was the worst innings of his life and claimed he was out of form. "There were occasions I felt like moving away from the stumps so I would be bowled," he said. "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. Towards the end I was playing mechanically."

On the team's return home he was slammed by the board in response to the manager's report which claimed that Gavaskar had been "aloof" and had had a detrimental effect on the younger players. But no official reprimand was issued and the matter quietly dropped.

The headlines in the next day generally concentrated on the epic match at Leeds where Dennis Lillee had blown away Pakistan, although The Sunday Telegraph led with a headline "Indian stodge follows England's spice". A fortnight later, Lord's staged the inaugural World Cup final between West Indies and Australia, one of the great limited-over matches. It was the perfect finale to a tournament which had risked being still-born.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

Gavaskar: Portrait of a Hero - Clifford Narinesingh (Royards, 1995)
Summer of Cricket - Tony Lewis (Pelham, 1976)
The Cricketer - August 1975
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1976
© Wisden Cricinfo Ltd

Yeah. Still, it shows how much the game has developed, with teams chasing down 290+ totals with ease.
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