The day Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar took the field together © Getty Images
The day Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar took the field together © Getty Images

The World Cup match between India and Zimbabwe on October 17, 1987, was a rather one-sided affair, but is remembered for a different reason. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the day when three legends of Indian cricket — Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, and Sunil Gavaskar took field together.

It could have been one of those one-sided matches where a strong host nation prevailed over a minnow. Zimbabwe, despite a brilliant start to the tournament (they lost to New Zealand by a mere three runs), lost comprehensively to Australia. India, similarly, lost to Australia by a solitary run, and went past New Zealand by a 16-run margin. They needed a comprehensive victory against Zimbabwe at Wankhede Stadium.

It is not known whether both captains had read the pitch wrong: there was moisture in the air and a breeze, but Kapil Dev decided to go in with two seamers (Manoj Prabhakar and himself), whereas John Traicos opted to bat. Kapil walked up to his bowling mark; Sunil Gavaskar positioned himself as first slip; and among the ball-boys there was a little 14-year old. The little Mumbaikar, Sachin Tendulkar, would go on to become one of the greatest batsmen the world has seen.

Let alone the world, or the country, even Wankhede Stadium was not aware of the fact that they were witnessing history taking place. Three of the biggest names in the history of Indian cricket — Gavaskar, Kapil, and Tendulkar (I am using alphabetical order to avoid accusations of bias) — took the field together in a World Cup match for the first time. While Gavaskar and Kapil played the 1979, 1983, and 1987 versions together, and Kapil and Tendulkar would play together in 1992, the trio never took the field together in a World Cup before or after the tournament.

Neither Gavaskar nor Kapil has memories of a ball-boy (they are obviously not expected to), but Tendulkar does. Even at that age he was considered the next big thing in Indian cricket. He later told Lokendra Pratap Sahi of The Telegraph: “I was a ball-boy in the India-Zimbabwe game at the Wankhede. The officials made sure that I sat near the dressing room and so [I] got to see all the seniors from very close. That was when I saw everyone: Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohammad Azharuddin… everyone.”

The match was a one-sided affair. In an inspired spell of swing bowling, Prabhakar took the first 4 wickets, leaving Zimbabwe reeling at 13 for 4. Andy Pycroft held one end up, but wickets kept falling at the other end. Pycroft added 34 with Andy Waller and 31 with debutant Babu Meman, but when Gavaskar caught Traicos brilliantly off Laxman Sivaramakrishnan at mid-wicket (who was playing his last match) the score read 99 for 9.

[Trivia: Gavaskar’s catch was named second-best in the World Cup in Bush Great Catches Contest on Doordarshan.]

Pycroft kept the fight on while Malcolm Jarvis held one end up. They eventually added 36 before Pycroft went for one shot too many and was stumped off Ravi Shastri for 61. Zimbabwe were bowled out for 135, Prabhakar (8-1-19-4) and Maninder (10-0-21-3) being the wreckers-in-chief.

Both Krishnamachari Srikkanth (31) and Gavaskar (43) went after the Zimbabwe bowlers; they added 76 before both fell in quick succession. Navjot Sidhu was held back as Kapil, for some inexplicable reason, promoted Prabhakar to No. 3. The decision backfired, as Prabhakar crawled to an unbeaten 11 off 41 balls, which took a toll on the run rate despite Dilip Vengsarkar’s breakneck 37-ball 46 not out. India won with 133 balls to spare. They should have won earlier.

What followed?

– Zimbabwe lost all 6 matches and were eliminated in the first round.

– India topped Group A, but were eliminated in the semi-final following their defeat against England at the same ground. Once again Tendulkar was a ball-boy, which meant the trio got together for the last time in the World Cup.

Brief scores:

Zimbabwe 135 in 44.2 overs (Andy Pycroft 61; Manoj Prabhakar 4 for 19, Maninder Singh 3 for 21) lost to India 136 for 2 in 27.5 overs (Sunil Gavaskar 43, Dilip Vengsarkar 46*) by 8 wickets.

Man of the Match: Manoj Prabhakar.

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