From a strictly Indian perspective, any random recollection of the 1975 World Cup would touch upon two inevitable yet contrasting images. First of their best batsman crawling through an unbeaten 36 off 174 balls in pursuit of England’s 334 in 60 overs. The second was a slightly paunchy, turbaned left-arm spinner bowling imaginary circles in air around befuddled East African batmen for figures of 12-8-6-1.
The latter feat was as much as eulogised as talk on the former blemish went viral. India’s manager GS Ramchand issued a statement saying Gavaskar had reckoned the pitch too sluggish to bat that he decided to have some practice. Gavaskar was evasive on the topic for years before admitting: “It’s something that even now I really can’t explain. If you looked back, you’d actually see in the first few overs some shots which I’d never want to see again — cross-batted slogs. I wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect of playing non-cricketing shots and just got into a mental rut after that. 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 I was suffering,” he was quoted as saying.
In other words, it showed how unprepared the Indians were in this format. “ODIs were still new. Though we were no longer underdogs in Tests, limited-over cricket was new and we struggled to adjust. Apart from a few who were playing county cricket, we didn’t have much experience in this format and it showed. But we were keen to learn and fought back hard in the next two matches,” reckoned Anshuman Gaekwad.
Next up was East Africa, a match India were expected to win, and they did it in style. Bishan Singh Bedi returned the then most economical figures in ODIs and Gavaskar and Farokh Engineer cleaned up the target of 121 in 29.5 overs. It was the first 10-wicket win in ODI history and India’s first victory in this format.
Though it came against minnows, it instilled considerable belief. “Your first win is always special and we beat them so comprehensively. After the low of the England match, this was exactly what we wanted. Bishan paaji was sublime and bowled brilliantly on a flat track with nothing for spinners or pacers. We also fielded brilliantly,” Gaekwad said.
India were in contention for a semifinal berth, when they took on the Kiwis at Old Trafford. Though they were a better-equipped side, India had a reasonable chance. But a top-order collapse put paid to their hopes. “Even before reaching 100, our top five were back and it required a really brilliant effort by Syed Abid Ali to take us to a modest total,” he recollected.
The total of 230 wasn’t enough, as Glenn Turner steered the Kiwis to the last-four with an unbeaten 114. “They got off to a good start, but we came back promisingly and they were 70 for three. Turner stitched partnerships with the middle-order and saw them over the line,” he said.
As Worse As it Gets
India were seemingly better-skilled in 1979. They had unearthed a quality swing bowler in Kapil Dev and a batsman in Dilip Vengsarkar. By this time, most of them had sufficient experience in this brand ‘developing’ of cricket.
But they got off to a disastrous start, losing by nine wickets to West Indies. Next match, New Zealand’s medium pacers ran them ragged as they lost by eight wickets. Semifinal hopes gone, they had to play for pride against minnows Sri Lanka.
India were expected to roll them over, but Sri Lanka’s top-order clicked and took them to a competitive 238. Gaekwad and Gavaskar ensured India a steady start, but they lost the plot thereafter. “We had an opening partnership of 60 and looked secure. Then Sunny got out and in a while, I followed him. Vishy (Gundappa Viswanath) was run out and leg-spinner Somachandra de Silva bowled Brijesh (Patel) and (Mohinder) Amarnath. He also dismissed Vengsarkar,” said Gaekwad, who scored a defiant 33 off 52 balls.
India left English shores disgraced. Hardly anyone then would have prophesied what was to come in the next edition.