By Keith Miller
1975 saw the inaugural Cricket World Cup take place in England. It was new, exciting, and despite the fact that the ODI game was in its infancy, a very much anticipated event. Most were keen to see the limited overs version of the game hit the ground running from day one.
The tournament will mainly be remembered for the West Indians remaining unbeaten, sneaking comfortably past Australia in the final compliments of three run outs. But the new showcase for world cricket couldn’t have got off to a worse start, and the sole culprit was Sunil Gavaskar.
June 7th was the date of the first match in Cricket World Cup history, pitting the home nation against India. The game should have been remembered for a masterful century compiled by Dennis Amiss, who dispatched the Indian attack to all parts of the ground. He scored 137 off 147 balls, captain Mike Denness chipped in with 37* from 31 balls and Chris Old smashed an unbeaten 51 off just 30 balls.
Amiss managed to guide England to an impressive 334/4 off their allotted 60 overs, and the historical event was off to a rollicking start. And then everything came to a slow, grinding, painful halt.
Quite what was going through Sunil Gavaskar’s brain remains anyone’s guess to this day. The Indian opener not only made no attempt to chase down the 335 required to win, but proceeded to make a mockery of the newly shortened form of the game.
Batting through the entire 60 overs, Gavaskar remained not out at the completion of the Indian team’s innings. His contribution? A snail-paced 36 not out – off an incredible 174 balls.
His strike rate (if you could call it that) of 20.68 was embarrassing, and set the tone for his team to compile an awful 132/3 off 60 overs in response. An innings run rate of 2.20 per over was exactly what the public didn’t want to see, and Gavaskar was called to task for his actions as even the Indian contingent of the crowd voiced their disgust.
Initially there may have been some suspicion that Gavaskar didn’t appreciate the rules, and thought that he could bat out the innings to avoid defeat. Despite the fact that the 60 over game was relatively new, this seems extraordinarily unlikely.
The most likely explanation for Gavaskar’s lack of effort came by way of Indian team manager G.S. Ramchand’s later press statement announcing that Gavaskar believed the target set by England was unachievable, so thought he’d get some practice in. At best, it was an incredibly selfish admission.
Not only did Gavaskar become a laughing stock, he obviously didn’t appreciate that his stupidity (or was it cowardice?) could ultimately be a deciding factor in whether India progressed on run rate.
Luckily for them, it didn’t matter – after winning just one game in the series, India were out. But on the 7th June 1975, Sunil Gavaskar came close to single-handedly burying the Cricket World Cup in the very first game.