With the 2019 edition of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup set to begin in May, we look back at the most memorable moments from the tournament’s four-decade long history. You can read the entire series here.
Moment No 29
Sunil Gavaskar may have many firsts and a whole host of batting milestones to his name in an illustrious career but there is one record that will haunt the Little Master for life.
The first day of any tournament is expected to set the tone for the level of competition and also double up as the best advertisement for the event. But Gavaskar’s knock on June 7, 1975, the first day of the inaugural cricket world cup, rightly went down in history as, perhaps, the worst knock possible in limited overs cricket.
It wasn’t an era of flamboyant openers taking the new ball bowlers to the cleaners from the first ball of the innings and every one expected a more cautious start from the opening batsmen. However, it was Gavaskar’s reluctance to change gears as he carried his bat through the 60 overs to score 36 not out from 174 balls at a strike rate of 20.68 while chasing a target of 335. He eventually fell short of a half century by 14 runs (despite playing the full innings) and surprisingly went on to play the next two matches of the tournament and scored runs at a decent clip.
How things panned out
It was the first match of the inaugural edition of the World Cup and though limited overs cricket wasn’t as popular as it is today, spectators were definitely hoping for a strong batting display by both the teams.
And England did not disappoint. Opener Dennis Amiss scored a stroke-filled 137 in just 147 balls with 18 hits to the boundary and was well supported by Keith Fletcher (68) and Chris Old (51 not out in 30 balls) to take the hosts to a formidable 334 for 4 in 60 overs.
No one really gave the Indians a chance to overhaul the target but the structure of the tournament was such that India needed to get as close to the target as possible to maintain a healthy run-rate to have a chance of advancing beyond the group stage.
But Gavaskar seemed to have a completely different game plan as he preferred to leave a lot of deliveries first up. If the spectators, cricket experts and even his team-mates felt that he was just seeing off the new ball, he refused to change gears even after he had his eye in.
His teammates, later admitted, that there were messages sent to Gavaskar to get a move on while even the spectators began booing him but nothing changed his approach. The now 69-year-old, who went on to play three more World Cups, hit just one boundary during his 174-ball stay at the crease. The team ended up scoring 132 for 3 from 60 overs, losing the match by 202 runs.
Later speaking to a local newspaper, team manager GS Ramchand said, “It was the most disgraceful and selfish performance I have ever seen… his excuse [to me] was, the wicket was too slow to play shots but that was a stupid thing to say after England had scored 334.”
No one really knows what was going on in Gavaskar’s mind though there were many conspiracy theories that did the rounds. A few thought that the former India skipper was unhappy that Srinivas Venkataraghavan was made the captain and the team selection was not up to the mark.
Gavaskar had apparently edged the second ball of the innings but neither the bowler nor the wicketkeeper bothered to appeal with any conviction and the batsman decided against walking.
But he spoke about all this years after the incident and went on to add that he felt like walking away from the stumps and throwing his wicket away during that knock.
“It was agony. Sometimes, I felt like moving away from the stumps, so that I would be bowled,” he wrote in his autobiography Sunny Days which came out just a year later in 1976.
Incidentally, it was another slow knock, this time by MS Dhoni at Lords last year while chasing a big English total, that saw Gavaskar defend the wicketkeeper-batsman in his syndicated column and also explained what was going on in his mind 43 years ago.
“Dhoni’s struggle was understandable because when confronted with an impossible situation, the options get limited and the mind becomes negative. Then all the good shots go straight to the fielder to add to the dot balls and the pressure becomes too much. Dhoni’s struggle reminded me of my most infamous innings at the same venue,” he wrote then in the Times of India.
More recently, Gavaskar told DNA it is one of the two things he regrets in his career, apart from the Melbourne Test controversy involving the threat of a walk-out over a wrong decision. “There are a couple of things I would obviously want to do [differently] if given another chance. Like our first World Cup match, where I got 36 not out. I would throw my wicket away now, which I wasn’t brought up to do.”
Understandably, there is no footage available of that Gavaskar innings on YouTube (because, why would you compile a series of leaves and blocks) but here are the highlights of England’s batting: