Gavaskar holds the record for the slowest ever ODI innings : Limited version of the game is all about ‘power hitting’ and scoring runs at a brisk rate. The higher the strike rate of a batsman, the faster he can score and put up defendable scores on the board, batting first, or successfully chase a target, batting second.
In the ICC’s prestigious tournament, World Cup, most of the teams had very limited knowledge of how the game has to be approached.
The first three editions of the tournament were of ‘60-overs’ a side that got reduced to ‘50-overs’ a side since the fourth edition, played in India and Pakistan, christened as the Reliance Cup.
Indian team, who have doing reasonably well in Test matches, made their foray into the shorter format of the game in World Cup 1975. The team was led by the off-spinner, Srinivas Venkatraghavan.
The very first game of the tournament was played between India and the hosts, England, at the iconic venue, Lord’s.
England led by Mike Denness won the toss and elected to bat. India’s Madan Lal was the bowler who delivered the very first ball in a World Cup to Dennis Amiss and also claimed his wicket, but not before the batsman had scored his maiden World Cup century, and the first player to score a century in a World Cup encounter. Facing 147 balls, Amiss had scored 137 runs studded with 18 fours.
Keith Fletcher (68), skipper Mike Denness (37*) and Chris Old (51*) enabled England to pile up 334 runs for the loss of 4 wickets in 60 overs.
For India, Syed Abid Ali (12-0-58-2), Madan Lal (12-1-64-1) and Mohinder Amarnath (12-2-60-1) were the wicket-takers.
India’s start was nothing less than a disaster. They seemed to have surrendered mentally even before they had started the chase.
They lost one of the openers, Eknath Solkar (8) very early on. While the other opener, Sunil Gavaskar and Ashuman Gaekwad took the score to 50 runs, Gaekwad departed after his personal score of 22 runs with 2 fours, consuming 46 balls.
Vishwanath joined Gavaskar in the middle and the duo added another 58 runs. When Vishy (37 runs off 59 balls) departed, India’s score read 108 runs for the loss of 3 wickets.
The approach of the Indian team was as if they were playing in a Test match. Never did they feel the urgency of scoring fast.
Gavaskar, it appeared was having a good batting practice, all the while trying to keep the ball from breaching his defence techniques.
He succeeded in doing so and after facing 174 balls (48.33%) of the 60-over limit, Gavaskar managed to score an unbeaten 36* runs with just one hit to the boundary.
Finally India ended up scoring 132 runs for the loss of 3 wickets in 60 overs with Gavaskar on 36* and Brijesh Patel on an unbeaten 16* (off 57 balls).
They could not even cross the score of Denniss Amiss (137 runs). England won the very first encounter by a whopping 202 runs.
Speaking at the post-match press meet, GS Ramchand, Manager of the Indian team said, “It was the most disgraceful and selfish performance I have ever seen… his (Gavaskar’s) 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. The entire party is upset about it. Our national pride is too important to be thrown away like this.”
“I do not agree with his tactics, but he will not be disciplined.”
“Gavaskar had considered the England score unobtainable and had taken practice. Crazy! Did he not read the rules of the competition which state that teams tied with the same number of wins at the end of the `Group” stage will be judged on overall run-rate?”
In his Diary of the Season, Tony Lewis, had stated, “Dejected Indians ran onto the field, pathetically pleading with him (Gavaskar) to die fighting. Their flags hung limp in their hands. It was a perverse moment of self-inflicted shame.”
John Woodcock wrote in The Times, “From the Mound stand, where the police were kept as busy removing rowdies as if it were the Hill at Sydney, anyone who could break the cordon came to plead with the Indian batsmen to play the game properly. But it was no use.”
“To understand why India, and especially Gavaskar, batted as they did, it is probably necessary to remember what happened when they last played at Lord”s. They were bowled out then for 42. If they could not win on Saturday, as they decided they could not after England”s innings, then every effort had to be concentrated on averting another collapse.”
Many years later when Gavaskar was asked about this innings of his, said, “It is something that even now I really can”t explain. If you looked back at it, you”d actually see in the first few overs some shots which I”d never want to see again – cross-batted slogs. I wasn”t overjoyed at the prospect of playing non-cricketing shots and I just got into a mental rut after that.”
“There were occasions I felt like moving away from the stumps so I would be bowled. 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.”
This unique (dubious) record of Sunil Gavaskar was neither ever equalled nor broken and stands intact even to this day.