January 21, 2020
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The Longest Innings

The dawn of the World Cup saw Gavaskar make a travesty of one-day cricket

The Longest Innings
The irony was inescapable, the very first match of the inaugural World Cup between England and India at Lord ’s on June 7, 1975, contrasted sharply with the romance and thrill that one-day cricket stands for. And the man responsible for making a mockery of the very spirit of slam-bang cricket was— of all players—Sunil Gavaskar.

There was much excitement when England batted first and posted a total of 334 for 4 wickets in 60 overs with Dennis Amis scoring a sparkling 137. But the anti-climax started with the Indian innings, with Gavaskar dropping anchor. It was difficult to guess what the Indian batsmen were up to. India ended at an unbelievable 132 for 3 in the stipulated 60 overs, with Gavaskar unbeaten on 36 from 174 balls. His opening partner Eknath Solkar made 8, Anshuman Gaekwad 22 and Gundappa Vishwanath, a rriving at the crease after many precious overs had been wasted, scored a breezy 37. Brijesh Patel was the other not out batsman with 16 runs to his credit.

Gavaskar did not endear himself to any-body with his negative batting. Said the late Denis Compton: "No one expected the Indians to put up such a miserable show, and Gavaskar was the chief culprit in this sordid drama." There was an interesting letter in The Cricketer of August ’75 by one Peter E. Hodgkinson of Durham City. It read: "To which members of the touring Indian party should I apply for the return of half of my £1.50 seat? I was labouring under the delusion that I was going to watch an Indian Test side—instead I saw a batting display that would have disgraced a Minor County side."

Gavaskar, who scored at the rate of 0.60 runs per over, later admitted in Sunny Days: "That was by far the worst innings I’ve ever played, it was agony. Sometimes, I felt like moving away from the stumps, so that I would be bowled." To make matters worse, he was dropped three times—all simple chances. Gavaskar’s batting invited howls of protest from the crowds as they banged beer cans together, causing "an aweful din".

In his Sunil Gavaskar, journalist and poet Dom Moraes described Gavaskar’s effort in scoring those 36 runs as "notoriously immobile". Clifford Navine Singh wrote in his Gavaskar, Portrait Of A Hero: "His state of mind echoed the poet John Donne’s line: ‘ Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone’." Returning to India after a month’s holiday in Europe, Gavaskar received a letter from the BCCI president, seeking an explana-tion for his infamous knock. Apparently the manager, G.S. Ramchand, had reported Gavaskar for playing slow cricket. In fact, the report suggested that his batting had demoralised the younger members of  the side, as well as being against India’s best interests.

Odd was the outcome of the report. The BCCI censured Sunny for playing the way he did and the proceedings were terminated at that point. He was given the benefit of the doubt, as it were. Wrote his biographer C.D. Clark: "They were not likely to dismiss out of hand one of the country ’s two top batsmen, so there was little else the Board could do." "All this left a bad taste in the mouth and did precious little to spur our players to do better in the future," said Gavaskar. But a far more "illuminating" comment came when he spoke of limited overs cricket in general. "It neither enthuses me nor embarrasses me," remarked the maestro. 

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