When an angry captain Sunil Gavaskar almost conceded the Melbourne Test


As India and Australia lock horns for the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne Cricket Ground, let’s travel back to a Test played at the same venue almost 34 years back. Sunil Gavaskar and Dennis Lillee were two of greatest ever cricketers, who would together feature in most all-time great World Test XIs. The two legends were in the centre of a storm that saw India almost concede a Test for the first time in Test history.


The background


The Indian team was under a lot of pressure on the eve of the final Test of the 1980-81 series in Australia. They had lost the first Test in Sydney in just three days, and somehow managed a draw in the second at Adelaide.
In Melbourne, Australian captain Greg Chappell won the toss and put India in to bat. Gavaskar, the Indian captain, was going through a lean match. He was dismissed for a duck by Lillee in Sydney and subsequently continued the string of low scores with 10, 23 and five. His brother-in-law, Gundappa Vishwanath, saved India from a humiliating collapse in Melbourne. He scored 114 in India’s total of 237. Gavaskar again failed, managing just 10. Australia then batted and posted 419.


The incident


Gavaskar compensated for his earlier lapses in his last outing of the series. He crafted a classy 70 and was looking eager for a well-deserved hundred when umpire Rex Whitehead, who had awarded several contentious decisions against the Indians earlier in the series, adjudged him leg-before off Lillee. Gavaskar was upset, as he was convinced that the ball took an inside-edge before it hit his left pad. He tried to explain that he had edged the ball, but the umpire had made his decision.
Lillee rubbed salt to Gavaskar’s wounds, by advancing down towards him, and pointing at his pads and spoke some words which didn’t seem friendly. An angry Gavaskar was walking back when an abusive comment by one of the Australian players prompted him to shove his fellow opener Chetan Chauhan to get to the pavilion with him. Was it the end of the Test? Had India conceded the Test?

India’s team manager was Wing Commander Shahid Ali Khan Durrani defused the tension. He received Gavaskar at the gate of the playing area and asked Chauhan to get back and continue batting, as India’s No 3 batsman Dilip Vengsarkar walked out to fill in the breach.

Durrani’s intervention not only averted a major row, but saved India the embarrasment of a forfeited Test. The match continued as India put on 324. What followed was history, chasing only 143 to win, Australia were bowled out for 83. Thanks to a devastating spell of five for 28 from Kapil Dev, who defied his injury, took pain-killer injections and bowled India to one of its most memorable win.


Angry Gavaskar


Gavaskar’s team had levelled the series but coming back to the infamous incident. Gavaskar told the reporters, “I was infuriated by the injustice of it all. Whitehead has stood in all three Tests, and many bad decisions by him have gone against us.”

More than 20 years after the incident, Gavaskar in an interview with The Times of India said, “If you look at the video, I am walking towards the pavilion. I turned back only on hearing the abuse and then took Chauhan away. Had there been no abuse, I would have vented my anger out in the dressing-room. I expressed my regret about the incident then itself and again during the Cowdrey Lecture.”


Lillee’s version


Lillee in his book, ‘Menace: The Autobiography of Dennis Lillee’ wrote: “…I jagged one back a bit, it whacked him [Gavaskar] on the pad, we appealed but he stood there. Gavaskar claimed he had a nick on to the pads, but we were sure it was clean, as did the umpire. The only one to think there was a problem was Sunny who, up until that day, had never scored runs against me to speak of. I know from what his team-mates told me he was desperate to score a hundred against me; it was frustration at getting so close to his goal which made him blow up.

In temper, he spat the dummy right out of the pram, whacking the bat against his pad, claiming the ball had hit his bat first. He was promptly told in which direction to go, and insisted his opening partner, Chetan Chauhan, left the field with him in protest. Fortunately for the sake of cricket, the team manager was waiting for the pair when they approached the pavilion, and he ordered Chauhan back to the middle and Gavaskar into the pavilion.”
Lillee also wrote that though Gavaskar was a great batsman, he never considered him among the greatest he had bowled to.


Durrani speaks


In a 2012 interview with Mail Today, Durrani spoke about the incident. He said: “It was obvious to me from the dressing room that Chauhan was reluctant to leave the field, but Gavaskar literally led him by his hand and even gave him a few mild punch(es) to leave the field. When I saw as to what was happening at the wicket, I rushed to the outfield from the dressing room, taking Vengsarkar, who was the next man in, along with me. By the time I reached the outfield, both Gavaskar and Chauhan were just about 10 metres short of crossing the outfield. This is when I ordered Chauhan back to the crease and sent Vangsarkar in. Fortunately for India, a very ugly situation was averted which could have caused the country and the BCCI a great deal of embarrassment. Immediately after the incident I talked to Gavaskar in detail… and prevailed upon him to forget the incident and get on with the game to which he agreed. He also realised his mistake. I strongly recommended that the Board should ask Gavaskar for an explanation on the subject and then take action as deemed fit.”

It was for Durrani’s smart intervention which averted a situation that could have been one of the ugliest in the history of the game. Kapil’s magic spell ensured that this match would be remembered for his heroics rather than the infamous hullabaloo.


(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)