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Lord at Lord’s, they called him; some called him Colonel; they certainly did not treat Dilip Vengsarkar that way that day © Getty Images

April 1, 1982. Dilip Vengsarkar, torchbearer of Indian batting for years come, was deported unceremoniously — for no known fault of his — from Dubai International Airport. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a day of shame when the Indian champion was humiliated as his colleagues moved on.

It was a curious era, 1982. ODIs were still in their earlier days, especially in India. UAE, with its fair share of expatriates from the subcontinent, were keen on watching their heroes in action. The occasional First-Class team from Pakistan paid their trip, but it was not enough to satiate the fans.

India and Pakistan toured UAE in 1981 to play a benefit match for Madhav Mantri, Hanif Mohammad, and Asif Iqbal, the latter playing a major role in the organisation. The teams were nearly full-strength, and Javed Miandad’s XI beat Sunil Gavaskar’s XI by 7 wickets with 12 overs to spare.

It was merely an exhibition match (the records did not count), but the seeds had already been sown. Sharjah was soon to host the most ODIs, the proverbial mile ahead of others. But this is not the time for that story. Sharjah turned out to be a perpetual source of glamour and cash for the Indian and Pakistani cricketers in the 1980s. This suited most, while some others did not hold these tournaments in the highest of esteems.

Dilip Doshi wrote (almost warned) in Spin Punch: “Organisers of such tournaments as the one in Gulf lay out fabulous hospitality with lavish gifts thrown in, and the elder statesmen of Indian cricket will do well to maintain a sense of proportion about what they accept and what they turn down.”

Shame, no less

The Indians (Sunil Gavaskar’s XI) were scheduled to play the Pakistanis (Intikhab Alam’s XI). The tour was a part of Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS) proposed by Asif Iqbal and Abdul Rehman Bukhatir, the undisputed Father of Sharjah Cricket.

The contests were supposed to be benefit matches for Subhash Gupte, Nazar Mohammad, Intikhab, and Gavaskar. The Little Master, who also led the Indian side, was the only active cricketer of the quartet.

The Gulf Air flight that landed in Dubai also contained a cohort of film-stars, who followed the cricketers on the queue. One must remember that though cricketers were superstars in those days, the faces were not as familiar as the actors’ — especially in UAE. Cricket, after all, had not taken off on live television, while video cassettes made their way to the UAE market.

The customs officers allowed the actors to step up the queue. If this had upset the cricketers, they did not show it. But Dilip Vengsarkar, never the greatest of diplomats, would have nothing of it. He passed a comment.

It is not clear exactly what Vengsarkar had said. In Indian Cricket Controversies, KR Wadhwaney wrote: “He made an observation, which should have been laughed at.” It was probably a joke, perhaps with a touch of sarcasm. Whatever it was, the customs officer was not amused. He denied Vengsarkar admission to UAE on the grounds that the latter “had made a nasty remark in Marathi” [Wadhwaney].

The incident was probably not a first of its kind in the history of world cricket. The shocking aspect of the incident was the nonchalant attitude of the Indian cricket team. None of them stood by their teammate. Was the reluctance to react because the cricketers wanted the tour to go on? Alas, one never got to know, and probably never will.

Vengsarkar, perhaps with a sense of betrayal, was sent back to Bombay via Cochin on the next available flight. If he had laid trust in his teammates, it had certainly taken a jolt that day. Had he checked the calendar, he would have noticed it was Fool’s Day.

What followed?

The flight also contained Doshi, not a part of the tour. Of course, Doshi was not expected to be a part, given that Gavaskar and he did not exactly see each other in the eye. Doshi was on a business tour.

There were exactly 11 members every side, so Doshi had to be drafted in at last moment to play the match on April 3. Completely unprepared, he had to borrow kit from his teammates. It was ironic that he was drafted in to play the benefit match of the man he could never get along with.

Doshi picked up four wickets (as did Madan Lal), guided Sunil Gavaskar’s XI to victory, and was named Man of the Match in front of a 7,000-strong crowd. Henry Blofeld wrote for The Gulf News: “It was as good a piece of spin bowling as I have seen anywhere in the world and it was a joy to watch.” How is that for a script?

What happened to Vengsarkar?

Already an introvert, Vengsarkar became more and more withdrawn as time progressed, detaching himself from many of the team. According to some this was the incident that triggered the infamous Gavaskar-Vengsarkar feud that probably still lasts.

If there have been efforts to make amends, they have certainly been one-sided. At Kotla in 1983 Gavaskar was confused when he found Vengsarkar congratulating him. With a penchant for not keeping an eye on the scoreboard while batting, Gavaskar had no idea that he had emulated Don Bradman’s world record. “Bloody hell, it is your twenty-ninth,” the tall man blurted out.

If there had been reciprocations, they have not reached the world. When Idols, Gavaskar’s second book, came out in December 1983, it did not have Vengsarkar (or Doshi) in the list of “idols”. Instead, it included Srinivas Venkataraghavan (still the only specialist spinner with a hundred Test wickets at an average above 35) and non-Test players Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel.

Vengsarkar scored his second hundred on the trot at Lord’s that summer. Within two years he would usurp Gavaskar’s throne as the best contemporary Indian batsman. He outshone Gavaskar for the rest of the Little Master’s career, scoring 3,275 runs at 51.98 compared to Gavaskar’s 3,404 at 46.63.

Vengsarkar also topped the cricket rankings for the best batsman for three years in the mid-1980s, and finished with 6,868 Test runs (second-highest for an Indian when he retired). He also led India, became the second Indian to play a hundred Tests, was appointed Chairman of Selectors, and is one of the most successful grassroots-level coaches in the country.

Despite that, he remained one of the most misunderstood cricketers of the decade.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)