Sunil Gavaskar (front) and Kapil Dev
Sunil Gavaskar (front) and Kapil Dev

India’s tour of Pakistan in 1978-79 was the first in the country in 24 years. The two countries were facing each other after a 17-year gap marred by multiple wars. Even before long hiatus, both countries used to adopt a safety-first approach, which had resulted in 12 consecutive draws between the sides. Thus, few were surprised when the first Test of 1978-79 ended in a draw.

That Pakistan won the other 2 Tests of the series is another series. The famed Indian spin trinity took a severe pasting throughout the series. EAS Prasanna never played another Test, and neither Bishan Singh Bedi nor Bhagwat Chandrasekhar lasted another year. At the same time, India found a young fast bowler called Kapil Dev. The two incidents marked a transfiguration of the Indian bowling attack.

Despite the goodwill, the teams did not spare each other an inch. Sledges, not necessarily of the purest genre, flowed in abundance. Both nations had received a slice of Punjab, the state cruelly split during the 1947 Partition. The Pakistanis, fully aware of the fact that the Indians would get the gist, often sledged in Punjabi.

The North Indians gave it back. However, the flavour of the language escaped those hailing from other states. While Punjabi is not too dissimilar to Hindi, those who did not speak the language were not very familiar with Punjabi swear words, especially when spoken very fast with a rich accent.

The abusive words eluded Sunil Gavaskar. Poor Gavaskar had an idea of what was going on, but he could not figure out exactly what was being said. He also picked up familiar jargon from the barrages of curse words, which made him even more curious. So he decided to ask Kapil at lunch: “What were the Pakistanis saying?”

Despite being new, Kapil had not hesitated to give it back to the Pakistanis. However, explaining the exact words to someone of Gavaskar’s stature was another thing. He chose the safe way: “They were swearing at us.”

How Yashpal Sharma left all in quandary
How Yashpal Sharma left all in quandary

Gavaskar decided to come directly to the point. “I know they were swearing, but… why were they mentioning ‘pad’ so frequently while swearing?”

So Kapil had to start from scratch. He took the pain (Gavaskar, after all, was his senior and already the most famous cricketer in Indian history at that point) of going through the subtle differences in Punjabi and Hindi accents.

He had to explain that the Punjabi version of behen (Hindi for sister) sounded uncannily close to pad. There was obviously some difference, but not enough for untrained listeners to pick up.

The words ventured forbidden territories, but at least Gavaskar could figure out what was being said.

Brief scores:

Pakistan 503 for 8 decl. (Zaheer Abbas 176, Javed Miandad 154*; Bishan Singh Bedi 3 for 124, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar 4 for 130) and 264 for 4 decl. (Zaheer Abbas 96, Asif Iqbal 104) drew with India 462 for 9 decl. (Sunil Gavaskar 89, Gundappa Viswanath 145, Dilip Vengsarkar 83; Mushtaq Mohammad 4 for 55) and 43 for no loss.