GAVASKAR: Most petulant Indian cricketer ever?

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The former India captain S. Venkataraghavan has finally broken his silence (somewhat) on Sunil Gavaskar‘s mind-numbingly disgusting batting performance in the first World Cup in 1975, in which the opener scored 36 not out off 174 balls in a 60-over match, with one, yes one, rousing four.

“He let the side down, he let his country down, he let spectators down,” Venkataraghavan, who was the captain of the Indian team for the tournament, said in an interview yesterday with Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta on NDTV’s programme, Walk the Talk.

India were set a target of 335 by England at Lord’s on June 7, 1975, in the opening round of the Cup—and India ended up with 132 for 3, losing by a gargantuan 202 runs.

Gavaskar was booed and heckled all through his innings, and one spectator was pissed off enough to dump his lunch at the Bombay opener’s feet. The Cricketer magazine wrote: “It was a perverse moment of self-inflicted shame.”

# Karsan Ghavri has admitted that messages were sent to Gavaskar but “he was just concentrating on his game and it never bothered him at all at that time.”

# G.S. Ramchand, India’s manager, said that Gavaskar had considered the England score unobtainable before the start of the Indian innings and so had taken “practice”.

All kinds of theories have been advanced to explain Gavaskar’s incredible knock. Some have said that the Indians were unused to the one-day format; that they were unaware that “even if India lost (in chasing the huge total), the more runs they scored, the better the chance of reaching the semi-finals.”

Gavaskar himself has said in his autobiography Sunny Days that he was out of form. He has said he tried everything he could to up the scoring rate, but the shots just kept going to the fielders. “There were occasions I felt like moving away from the stumps so I would be bowled.”

But, as usual, the conspiracy theories abound.

One theory is that Gavaskar was unhappy with the selection of the team, especially the decision to ditch the team’s reliance on spinners in favour of seamers. Another theory is that he was annoyed that Venkataraghavan had been made captain for the World Cup.

The former England captain Tony Lewis 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 (Prudential Assurance) who have put £100,000 into cricket this summer, or on the 16,274 spectators who paid £19,000 to watch.”

Ted Dexter, then a commentator for BBC, was even more unscathing in his criticism. He said that Gavaskar should have been pulled from the field by his captain and censured by the ICC. In the end, the BCCI slammed Gavaskar but the stigma of having played the most controversial one-day innings has stuck.

But the 36 not out is not the only Gavaskar blemish in an otherwise extraordinary career of masterful technique, temperament and tactics. 

# In Australia, as captain, he pulled his co-opener Chetan Chauhan to the edge of the boundary threatening to walk out of a Test match when given out lbw.

# In Bangalore, in a Ranji Trophy match, Gavaskar batted left-handed against Karnataka when Bombay was on its way to a famous defeat.

Questions: Is Gavaskar, for all his grace, for all his guts, for all his grit, for all his wisdom, quite the most petulant and peevish cricketer to have worn the India colours? A player never quite able to place his team’s and his State’s and country’s interests above that of his own? Is this why, for all his runs and record, Gavaskar has never been as popular as Kapil Dev or his brother-in-law Gundappa Ranganath Vishwanath? Tell.