Cricketing Rifts 10: Sunil Gavaskar versus Bishan Bedi, Kapil Dev & Dilip Vengsarkar

Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar and Bishan Singh Bedi, three iconic Indian cricketers, had well-publicised differences with Sunil Gavaskar © Getty Images

The Dhoni-Sehwag rift may have been true or blown out of proportion by the media. However, far from being unique, discords such as this have been commonplace in the history of the game. In this series, Arunabha Sengupta looks at some of the most famous feuds of cricket.


For several decades Indian cricket lovers had been used to dreadful runs of defeats, punctuated now and then by a rare heroic display. These sudden acts of defiance most often brought forth honourable draws, and once in a very long while, a victory to be talked about for ages. It proved to them that sometimes their own heroes could rival the feats of the giants of stronger cricketing nations.


Thus most of the heroes were frail, unpredictable, whose one or two towering accomplishments rang through as ditties of heroism among a string of low-key performances.


Now, all of a sudden, there appeared on the scene a diminutive batsman who combined all that the Indians were not used to. He was not spectacular or flashy or vulnerable, ran up enormous scores and was phenomenally consistent.


Starting with 774 runs in his first series, he featured in two back-to-back victorious foreign tours in West Indies and England. Neither were the Indian fans were not used to such success, nor were they accustomed to a hero with no visible weakness.


And while he soon became part of the cricket-mingled mythology so common in India, with fables and fiction about him going hand in hand with his fabulous feats, he soon paid the price of being a dedicated professional in a land worshipping the whimsical.


Sunil Gavaskar always seemed to know what he wanted and achieved it with a determination that unnerved the Indians who were used to heroes who succeeded in rare mythical moments between long tales of woe.


This is perhaps one of the reasons why Gavaskar somehow never captured the imagination of the masses as a Gundappa Viswanath, a Kapil Dev or a Sachin Tendulkar did. And neither was everyone in the Indian team fascinated by his success.


Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi analysed it as: while no one doubted (that Gavaskar was the greatest), it is plain that only some Mumbai players paid him sycophantic homage. Perhaps the others were jealous, but no matter how hard he tried, many cricketers were unable to give him their full trust.


Many analysts explain that the uneasiness Gavaskar evoked in Indian players and fans had to do with bankrolls. His meteoric rise had coincided with the advent of prize money in Indian cricket – although laughably rudimentary in today’s context. It was Gavaskar’s thorough professionalism that helped him become the first millionaire Indian cricketer making money in every possible way – advertising, films, writing articles and books, organising matches, signing contracts with sports goods manufacturers. And all this led to questions about why he should hog all the money and publicity.


The answer was simple. He was far more talented, dedicated and ambitious than any other cricketer. He was articulate, did not mind controversy and had a well-endowed sense of humour. He also realised, that by international standards and for a sportsman of his credentials, he was very poorly paid indeed. He earned less from cricket in a year than Ian Botham did from his bat contract. And Gavaskar took steps to remedy it.


In a country where people claim to be non-materialistic even when Lakshmi is the most popular name, prevailing across sexes, he refused to accept the Indian dichotomy about lucre.


Mihir Bose recalls that in 1990, Gavaskar charged him a fee for writing the foreword to A History of Indian Cricket. And while many cricketers would promise to do it for free and forget about it, he delivered a wonderfully-written piece on time, and even offered to accompany Bose to signing ceremonies.


This professionalism led the public to brand him as mercenary, and it was a tag that followed him throughout his career. It did not really map the image of an unblemished icon that captures the fancy of Indian cricket fans, resulting in constant friction with the public throughout his career.


And of course, Gavaskar himself did not help matters by often succumbing to mood swings, aloofness and on and off-field altercations with opponents and team members. He was indeed a complex character who sometimes seemed to be at war against the world. In his autobiography Spin Punch, Dilip Doshi even called him petty and mean minded.


While his almost forfeiting a Test at Melbourne is one of the darkest moments of Indian cricketing history, many of his major conflicts were with team mates who were legends in their own rights.


Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar and Bishan Singh Bedi, three iconic Indian cricketers, had well-publicised differences with Sunil Gavaskar © Getty Images


The war with Bedi


When Bishan Singh Bedi finally retired from international cricket, there appeared in Sportsworld an explosive interview provocatively entitled, Did Gavaskar get Bedi axed?

In the tête-à-tête with KR Wadhwaney, the left-arm spinner claimed, “a conspiracy has been hatched against me.”


According to the interview, Bedi felt that he was axed when he had plenty of guile left in him. And he singled out Gavaskar out as the lynchpin behind his removal, a player-colleague-captain who ruled over the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).


Bedi went on to say that after he had lost form, Test matches and ultimately captaincy during the tour of Pakistan in 1978-79, Gavaskar had harassed and humiliated him through the Test series against West Indies at home. In the three Tests that he had managed to play, he had been given tiny spells from unsuitable ends.


Bedi, who captured just seven wickets at 46 apiece during the series, nevertheless made it to England when Srinivas Venkataraghavan took over as the Indian captain. And even though he did fairly well in the Ole Blighty, capturing 33 wickets in all first-class matches at 25.66, and seven wickets at 35 in Tests, he was left out for the next few series as Gavaskar regained captaincy.


When India later toured Australia and New Zealand, Dilip Doshi, the left-arm spinner in the team, got injured. Bedi claimed that when Doshi became indisposed, Gavaskar himself called up Ravi Shastri – whom the tweaker categorised as a yes-man of the Indian captain – to be ready to travel, violating the protocol according to which it was the manager’s job to inform individual players.


Gavaskar responded saying, “If Bishan has a grievance, I am most surprised. When I first saw the article, I thought Sportsworld had started a jokes column.”


He went on to say that he could not imagine dominating a selection panel which included names such as Polly Umrigar, Dattu Phadkar, ML Jaisimha and Chandu Sarwate.


As far as the allegations regarding Shastri were concerned, Gavaskar said that he had called the Board President and asked for the young left-arm spinner to be sent to New Zealand, and it had been the manager who had made the call to Shastri.


Pataudi, the editor of Sportsworld, later had a talk with Gavaskar and agreed that the interview had been a terrible piece of journalism which he had not seen before it had gone to print. However Wadhwaney maintained that Pataudi had okayed it after reading it thoroughly.

Bedi and Gavaskar have continued to trade blows ever since, the most famous of their showdowns taking place in 1990. Bedi was then managing the Indian side touring England. In protest against the boorish behaviour of some of the stewards of Lord’s who had refused to admit him, Gavaskar had turned down an offer of a membership to Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). Bedi, in a fit of surprising fury, penned a public letter to his former team mate, claiming that Gavaskar had let down all the Indians living in England as well as the touring Indian team.


Many wondered how Bedi had earned the right to speak for the Indians living in England. Mohammad Azharuddin, the Indian captain, sounded confused when asked for reactions and remarked that the team did not know that they had been let down by Gavaskar.


While the two have indulged in copious mudslinging at every available opportunity, the current bone of contention being Indian Premier League (IPL) and Twenty 20 cricket, there had once been healthy respect between the two, which has been preserved for posterity. Gavaskar, in his book Idols, is full of praise for the Sikh bowler’s craft and calls him a forthright man not afraid to speak his mind. Bedi, for his part, named his first-born son Gavasinder in honour of the stupendous deeds performed by the Little Master in 1971.


Weathering the Hurricane


Unlike Gavaskar, when Kapil Dev ran into bowl the first ball his career, he ended up well settled in the imagination of the Indian fans. A country that had never had fast bowlers finally found someone to answer the thunderbolts of the foreign artillery in kind. And with his slam-bang batting to go with it, Kapil soon became the iconic cricketer challenging the omnipotence of Gavaskar in the Indian cricketing firmament.


Perhaps the first seeds of unrest were sown when Imran Khan’s rampaging pace and swing, aided by some friendly umpiring, blew India away during the 1982-83 series.  The 0-3 loss resulted in Gavaskar being replaced at the top, and a 23-year old Kapil Dev leading the team to West Indies.


In spite of a 147 in Guyana, Gavaskar had a dismal tour, averaging only 30 against the Caribbean pace battery. His form had totally deserted him when India went to England for the Prudential World Cup. After a couple of disappointing outings, Gavaskar declared himself unfit for the match against Australia at Trent Bridge. He missed the next outing as well, against West Indies at The Oval. During this match, Dilip Vengsarkar was in the middle of a superb knock when a ball from Malcolm Marshall struck him on the jaw.


On the day India were to play Zimbabwe in the famed Turnbridge Wells encounter, Gavaskar was not sure whether he would be filling up the place vacated by Vengsarkar’s injury. Manager PR Man Singh later recounted that the master was informed by a journalist about his being in the team minutes before the start. The lack of preparation perhaps led to his early dismissal, and did not work wonders for their relationship.


Gavaskar was reinstated as the Indian captain after Clive Lloyd’s touring West Indians stream rolled Kapil’s Devils 3-0 in the Tests and 5-0 in the ODIs. From the tone of what he wrote in Runs ‘n’ Ruins, it does seem that Gavaskar was not really fascinated by Kapil’s decision to declare the innings during the Madras Test when he was batting on 236.


Against David Gower’s Englishmen, India won the first Test match at the Wankhede. On the fifth day of the second Test at Feroz Shah Kotla, the match seemed to be heading for a draw. India had wiped out the 111 run first innings deficit and were cruising at 207 for four with a session and a bit to go. It was then that Sandeep Patil holed out and Kapil Dev walked in.


Proceeding to produce a strange display diametrically opposite to the need of the hour, the all-rounder tried to hit each delivery he faced out of the ground – possibly the city. He managed a six and a single before skying a catch off Pat Pocock.


India lost their last six wickets for 28 runs and England knocked off the required few easily with plenty to spare.


Gavaskar was understandably furious with the lack of discipline shown by both Patil and Kapil. After the selectors, headed by Chandu Borde, met with the captain to pick the side for the next match, a unanimous and sad decision was announced that both the guilty players were going to be dropped.


The aftermath of the decision was murky. While Kapil accused Gavaskar for his omission, the captain defended himself by saying that he had been late for the selection committee meeting and had not said a word.


It was left to the Board President, NKP Salve, to summon both the great men and persuade them to bury the hatchet.


Gavaskar did not help his cause when he decided to continue the crawling Indian innings well into the fourth day of the rain affected Test in Kolkata. The crowd, chanting “No Kapil, No Test”, pelted Gavaskar with rotten vegetables and fruits, prompting him to vow that he would not play there again, and keeping his word when Indiaplayed Pakistan at the Eden in 1986-87.


The relationship between Gavaskar and Kapil Dev remained strained, as they exchanged captaincy yet again. Subsequently, Gavaskar’s decision to bat in the middle order during India’s tour of Sri Lanka did not really amuse Kapil.


The two legends have later gone on record saying that the press blew their misunderstandings out of proportion. They have managed to maintain a friendly front ever since the end of their playing days. Interestingly enough, Gavaskar has been one of the designated faces of the BCCI backed IPL while Kapil championed the short-lived Indian Cricket League.

Sent Home Alone


When Sheikh Abdul Rehman Bukhatir had teamed up with Asif Iqbal to arrange the first couple of benefit matches at Sharjah in 1982, the Indian team had flown into Dubai.

The cricketers of those years did not yet boast the iconic status of today, and the immigration officials made some of them wait as they waved through certain film personalities adjudged to be considerably higher up in the VIP scale.


A 25-year old Dilip Vengsarkar had protested, asking for a first come first serve approach. Because of this ‘crime’, he was refused an entry permit by the churlish officer. While he waited with apprehension, the Indian team continued on their way, and the captain, Sunil Gavaskar, did not bother about one missing stalwart of the squad.


Eventually Vengsarkar was deported, and the tall, elegant batsman could not quite come to terms with the events. Never an outgoing person, he now became famously introverted, and shared a frosty relationship with Gavaskar through their playing days.


By chance or as a consequence of the event, Vengsarkar’s performances with the bat outshone Gavaskar through the 80s till the legendary opening batsman retired in 1987.


The tension between the two of them often sent sparks across the pitch as they collaborated on their many huge partnerships. During one World Series Cup match against Australia at Melbourne in 1986, as Gavaskar (72) and Vengsarkar (77*) steered India to victory, the former threw up his hands in frustration, indicating that the middle-order maestro was running hard only for his own runs.


In spite of that, when he reached his 29th century to draw level with Don Bradman, when he scored his 10000thTest run by late cutting Ijaz Faqih, and through umpteen other memorable moments, Gavaskar always looked up to find Vengsarkar batting diligently at the other end.


(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)


Cricketing Rifts – 1: The Bradman-centric & religion-fuelled Australian feuds  


Cricketing Rifts – 2: Vizzy, Lala Amarnath & CK Nayudu  


Cricketing Rifts – 3: The intense animosity between Don Bradman & Wally Hammond  


Cricketing Rifts – 4: India in the 1940s Merchant-Hazare and Amarnath-De Mello  


Cricketing Rifts 5 – 1950s – Many mutinies against the skippers  


Cricketing Rifts 6 – Ian-Chappell vs Botham other showdowns 


Cricketing Rifts 7 – Sparks in Indian cricket that lit up a drab 50s & 60s era 


Cricketing Rifts 8: 1960s – Chuckers, cheats and Boycott


Cricketing Rifts 9: Ian Chappell’s nasty duels with Greig, Waugh & across a generation