December 8, 1987. In a disgraceful act of dissent, Viv Richards kicked the ball and got into a war of words with the umpires when denied a catch during a One-Day International (ODI) at Nagpur. Arunabha Sengupta revisits the event and wonders whether the champion West Indian cricket team really played clean cricket as is widely claimed.
As the wheel of time rolls on, it leaves in its wake ample amounts of gold dust, sprinkled over the roads littered with past memories. Hence lots of toxic gutters that actually ran alongside the glorious paths get hidden by the sparkle and glitter, purified by the cleansing agent of rosy retrospection.
Thus, we hear many wistful complaints about the present day cricketers. Do they have to stoop to sledging, intimidation, pathetic behaviour on the field? Can they not take leaves out of the books of those exemplary legends of the past who simply let their phenomenal bats and balls do the talking?
Of course, there are stories of the Ugly Australians, of John Snow shoulder charging Sunil Gavaskar, of Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad squaring up to take the pitched battle to a different plane. These make us pause, but we always find solace in those wonderful West Indians. Those splendid fast bowlers who never sledged — did not need to. And those great men, with their formidable willows, who merely told you to fetch the ball from the river.
Yes, we enjoy fables.
The stories of Colin Croft ramming his shoulder into the New Zealand umpire Fred Goodall and the picture of Michael Holding kicking the stumps after an appeal is turned down are slightly against the run of sentiments, but then the umpiring in that tour was supposed to be horrible. Yes, Sylvester Clarke used to bounce tailenders — even when they retreated to the square leg leaving the stumps open — but to remember that would require serious study of the archives. And round the wicket bowling at express pace into the body, with multiple short legs, several slips and gullies and a fly slip — that was just a tactic, is it not? So was the perfume ball.
However, what continues to befuddle the writer is the manner in which well-documented and televised boorishness of the West Indian greats in our own backyard are so often blissfully washed away by the flow of eulogy.
Clive Lloyd’s rather appalling newspaper columns in 1983, in which every umpire of the land was intimidated until they started to give decisions rampantly in favour of the West Indians, have been almost erased from our memories.
We can argue that those columns only appeared in select papers and were not read by all the followers of the game.
But, most of what happened on the ground four years later was captured on television.
It was Nagpur, 1987 — the scene for the first One-Day International (ODI) between India and West Indies. Viv Richards was not having the best of times. In recent months, his team — the mighty West Indians — had been unable to reach the semi-finals of the 1987 World Cup. And in the first Test at Delhi, the great team had been given a scare by a resilient Indian side even as Mohinder Amarnath and Mohammad Azharuddin had missed the match.
In this ODI, the Indian bowlers had restricted the visitors to 203 in 50 overs, the four spinners choking the batsmen into strokelessness. And in response, the frighteningly quick Pat Patterson had shot out the first three Indian wickets for just 13 runs.
At the crease was Dilip Vengsarkar, on form the best batsman of the world. The West Indians were well aware of his abilities — it had been his fighting second innings century at Delhi which had almost turned the Test in India’s favour. And as usual, he was taking his time to settle down, before a crisply timed boundary gave indications that he was getting into his groove.
With the score on 31, Chandrakant Pandit was leg-before to the off-spin of Richards. But, India batted deep — with several all-rounders in the line-up. With Ravi Shastri at the other end, Vengsarkar settling down, and Kapil Dev, Kiran More, Chetan Sharma and Arshad Ayub to follow, the bad start could be easily overcome. Winston Benjamin now ran in to bowl to Vengsarkar.
The ball was short and outside the off-stump, moving away, and it took the outside edge of Vengsarkar’s bat and travelled to slip. Richards caught it low down, in what appeared to be on the half-volley. Umpire Rajan Mehra was certain that the catch was not clean and gave the batsman the benefit of the doubt.
Unfortunately, the television cameras being nowhere near what they are now, the replays remained inconclusive. It could not be ascertained what really went on there. However, the next thing one witnessed was Richards charging towards umpire Vikram Raju standing at square-leg, demanding his verdict. When Raju said ‘No’, stating that he was unsighted, Richards flung the ball down and kicked it in a disgraceful show of dissent. And then he continued his tantrums, engaging in a vociferously angry war of words with Mehra.
If the incident had taken place in the current day of ICC Code of Conduct and Match Referees, the great Antiguan would have been surely docked his match fee and handed a major suspension. However, as he continued on his irate remonstrations, the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium was stunned to see Mehra reverse his decision and declare the Indian skipper out. The finger now went up without any fathomable reason, leaving Vengsarkar caught between bemusement and laughter. If there had been doubt in the umpire’s mind, the benefit should have righty gone to Vengsarkar. However, not for the first time, an Indian umpire cowered in front of the aggression of a world famous icon. But, seldom was any Indian umpire bullied into giving an infamous decision in such a flagrantly boorish manner.
Having earned the wicket through overt intimidation, Richards celebrated as the crestfallen Indian captain walked back to the pavilion. The innings tottered at 31 for five.
Kapil Dev produced a gem of an innings, mauling the bowlers on his way to 87 from 64 balls, adding 113 with Ravi Shastri. However, Patterson came back to dismiss him and Shastri, and from 144 for five, India slumped to 156 for nine.
With Maninder Singh hanging on at the other end, the diminutive Kiran More slashed and drove six boundaries to take India within 10 runs of the West Indian total. More than five overs still remained and Patterson was into his last, when a surge of adrenaline proved More’s undoing. The wicketkeeper was just required to play off the three remaining balls from the express paceman before milking the other bowlers. Instead, he went for glory, trying to loft him over mid-off. The ball went sky-high and Desmond Haynes got under it. The game ended in a 10-run win for the visitors.
The following day, Indian Express started the match report with references to the ‘ugly behaviour’ of Richards.
West Indies 203 for 8 (Carl Hooper 57*; Maninder Singh 3 for 40) beat India 193 (Kapil Dev 87; Pat Patterson 6 for 29) by 10 runs.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix
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