Sunil Gavaskar in a rare attacking mood during soporific innings in the inaugural match of the World Cup © Getty Images
Sunil Gavaskar in a rare attacking mood during soporific innings in the inaugural match of the World Cup © Getty Images

Opening the India innings, he batted right through the 60 overs of the inaugural match of the first-ever World Cup. He faced a whopping 174 balls to score 36. He found the boundary just once and ended up with an appalling strike rate of 20.68. H Natarajan recalls the lowest point in Sunil Gavaskar’s career.

England vs India, Prudential World Cup, Lord’s, London, June 7, 1975. England won by 202 runs.

June 7, 1975 is a historic day for cricket. It was the day when the first-ever match in World Cup cricket history was played. But it was, regrettably, also a very sad day for the abridged version of the game as it witnessed what arguably still remains the worst-ever innings in all ODIs.

The cricketing world watched with dropped jaws as the iconic opening batsman batted as if he was out there battling to save a Test match!

Gavaskar opening the India innings and batted right through the 60 overs — yes, ODIs were 10 overs longer then — and faced a whopping 174 balls to score 36. He found the boundary just once and ended up with an appalling strike rate of 20.68.

England had piled up 334 for 4 after opting to bat first, thanks largely to 137 by Dennis Amiss, 68 by Keith Fletcher and 51 not out by Chris Old. But Gavaskar’s defeatist attitude was painfully evident as he made no attempt to chase the total. The team was shamed as was the nation as India finished at 132 for 3 off their stipulated 60 overs to lose the match by a massive 202 runs.

Gundappa Viswanath, Gavaskar’s brother-in-law, infused a semblance of meaning to the drab proceedings with 37 off 59 balls.

Gavaskar was jeered right through his innings by the Indian spectators who felt understandably cheated after paying good money. Even as the match drew to a soporific close, some of the Indian supporters ran to the middle to remonstrate with Gavaskar.

“Dejected Indians were pathetically pleading with him to die fighting,” reported The Cricketer magazine.

Gulabrai Ramchand, former India captain and manager of the Indian team for that inaugural World Cup, had gone on record to say that the motive in playing such an innings was unclear to him. He said that he was not in agreement, but also added that Gavaskar won’t be disciplined.

The captain of that Indian team, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, was more candid while talking to Shekhar Gupta on NDTV’s Walk The Talk four years back. “It left a very, very bad taste. He let the team down, the spectators down, the spirit of the game down. I don’t know what happened to him.”

But Ted Dexter, the former England captain who was commentating for the BBC, felt that Venkat should have pulled out Gavaskar from the field. Dexter pulled no punches when he said: “Nothing short of a vote of censure by the ICC would have satisfied me if I had paid good money through the turnstiles only to be short-changed by such a performance.”

Gavaskar commented about the innings in Sunny Days: “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. Towards the end I was playing mechanically.”

Indian cricket, the game of cricket and Gavaskar himself would have been spared of this shame had he been given out caught behind to the second ball of the innings. Nobody appealed and Gavaskar did not walk.

The innings was best summed up by one writer: “A perverse moment of self-inflicted shame.”

(H Natarajanformerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan)