PARTAB RAMCHAND | 13 JULY, 2018

Clash Of The Titans

Down Memory Lane


It was billed by the media as the “clash of the titans’’ and this was no exaggeration.

To be candid it was quite apt for the protagonists were the two super stars of Indian cricket. The issue raged on for days and was the subject of much discussion wherever one went. In bars and clubs, offices and homes everyone had a point of view. And not unexpectedly as the two cricketers involved were Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. It was December 1984 and both had their supporters even if Kapil was the more popular.

Moreover this ``clash’’ took place in the midst of the Test series against England and as events proved did have a direct bearing on the result. When David Gower’s team landed in India few gave them much chance of winning the contest. For one thing India almost always constituted formidable opposition at home. Secondly England had just been at the receiving end of a unique ``blackwash’’ at the hands of the West Indies. Even rookies Sri Lanka had the better of a one-off Test which ended in a draw towards the end of the English season. Also England was without Ian Botham who had opted out of the tour.

All these factors pointed out to a comfortable victory for the hosts and events in the first Test at Bombay reinforced this view. India won by eight wickets with the visitors befuddled and bewildered by the bowling of teenaged leg spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan who had a match haul of 12 wickets. In the second Test at New Delhi England took a first innings lead of 111 runs but India were 128 for two in their second innings by stumps on the fourth day and everyone had written off the match as a draw.

Things however took a dramatic turn on the final day. From 207 for four India slid sharply to 235 all out. England unable to believe their luck needed only 125 to win and level the series most unexpectedly. This they did quite convincingly by eight wickets thus exactly reversing the verdict of the first Test.

It wasn’t that India had not suffered losses before but somehow this defeat stirred a hornet’s nest. Their victory at Bombay had given the Indians an invincible look and the England side was clearly several notches below – or so it was thought. Moreover how could India lose a game that they could have comfortably saved was the question on the lips of millions of cricket followers. Taking the inquisition further they had to find a scapegoat and found one in Kapil Dev whom they accused of playing a rash stroke at an inopportune time.

That evening the selectors along with the captain Gavaskar met to pick the Indian team for the third Test. Chandu Borde, the then chairman of the selection committee recalls: ``We debated the point (Kapil’s shot) for hours and came to the conclusion that Kapil had indeed shown irresponsibility by playing a poor shot at a psychologically delicate moment in the game. I have always believed that the game is bigger than the individual and that no player should take his place for granted.’’

Kapil was dropped – the only Test he missed during his 131-game career – but the selectors did not announce that he had been disciplined. This caused a great deal of embarrassment. Nor was Kapil told about his sacking; he heard it from friends. This resulted in Indian cricket being polarized into two camps, one upholding the decision to sack him the other for retaining him. Indian cricket was clearly a house divided.

There were two weeks between the end of the Delhi Test and the start of the Calcutta game. Rumours and counter rumours were the order of the day. One story had it that Kapil was going to contest the general elections as a Congress candidate.

In the meantime the Indian Cricket Board president NKP Salve also a Union Minister in an effort to quell the fire summoned both Gavaskar and Kapil to his home at Nagpur to try and understand what the supposed feud was all about. Three days before the third Test the selectors met again at the request of Salve to reconsider Kapil’s sacking. The selectors however decided unanimously not to reinstate him.

This did not go well with the emotionally charged Eden Gardens crowd. The selection committee took the decision but everyone seemed to see only Gavaskar’s hand behind it. Cricket fans were outraged by the decision and they pointed out that when Gavaskar himself was out to a rash stroke on the final day at New Delhi why should only Kapil be held responsible for the defeat. Kapil on his part did not take it lying down and made himself out to be a wronged man.

Gavaskar became an instant villain and during the Calcutta Test he was booed, subjected to indecent language and the final indignity came in the form of fruit and rubbish thrown at him. The Eden Gardens crowd, always the most vociferous in the country, had not taken kindly to the fact that Gavaskar had deprived them of the pleasure of watching the country’s leading all rounder in action.

Then Gavaskar in a perverse action continued the Indian first innings till after lunch on the fourth day after rain had restricted play on the second day to only about 20 minutes. Gavaskar’s action was a possible retaliation against the Calcutta crowd for indignities he and his wife suffered after India had gone down to an innings defeat against West Indies at the same venue the year before. Gavaskar was one who did not mind stirring up controversy and then facing the consequences. Finally he declared the innings closed after it was rumoured that police officials had warned Gavaskar that there would be a serious law and order situation if he did not.

The match predictably petered out into a tame draw and Kapil was back for the fourth Test at Madras, the start of a 65-match run till the end of his career in 1994. There was an uneasy calm in the Indian camp and taking advantage of this England won the Test by nine wickets. The final Test at Kanpur was drawn and England became the first team to win a Test series in India after being one down. And even though over the years Gavaskar and Kapil repeatedly made it clear that there were no differences between them the controversial events of the time have ensured that talk of a clash between the two titans will always be making the rounds.
 

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