Batting out your overs might occasionally bring home the bacon in ODI cricket, but, generally speaking, the format is and always has been predominantly about scoring quickly, be that through Pathanesque power or Bevanite brains. This is, of course, unless you are the normally almost peerless Sunil Gavaskar batting in the opening match of the very first World Cup, in which case scoring runs is just a mildly diverting side issue to the more pressing matter of enjoying both the St. John’s Wood sunshine and a spot of practice in the middle. If Chris Tavare’s pet tortoise were cast in the leading role of a Boycott-directed version of Solaris to be staged on the London Underground, it still wouldn’t come close to the epic exercise in sluggishness that was Gavaskar’s 36 not out off 174 balls against England in 1975 that day. The world remains bemused.
Gavaskar is one of cricket’s greatest ever players, an opening genius touched with ability to tame the most torturous of attacks, as evidenced by his stonking 65.45 average against the West Indies, the leading exponents of fast bowling terror throughout his career which lit up the 70s and 80s. He was the fulcrum and symbol of India’s rise to prominence in the game and his record, poise and adaptability at the crease were legendary. Apart from that one match in June 1975, which, incidentally, was at Lord’s of all places.
The stage was set for Sunil and co to at least unveil a few strokes – albeit in what always looked like being a lost cause – after a Dennis Amiss inspired England had posted a mammoth total of 334 from their 60 overs. Gavaskar, however, had other rather more sedate ideas and proceeded to block, leave and generally faff his way through India’s entire innings, carrying his bat as his side meandered to 132-3 at a whopping run rate of 2.20. He made President Mubarak look like a model of self-realisation as he merrily refused to acknowledge any concept of urgency, result or utilitarianism. Even the Indian fans, of which there were plenty in the ground, began to heckle him, but he remained aloof and unperturbed.
I can’t find any sufficient explanation from “Sunny” himself or, indeed, from anyone else for this lemming-like surge to defeat. With a sense of understatement that would be termed wry were it not for the fact that it seems so genuinely delivered, Gavaskar has subsequently put his innings down to “not getting mentally involved with the limited overs cricket”, perhaps in the same way that sacked British Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys might regard himself as not getting mentally involved in equality issues. Renowned commentator Tony Lewis called it “a perverse moment of self-inflicted shame’’ although it seems that shame didn’t seem to figure anywhere in Gavaskar’s calculations.
His 36 not out retains the dubious honour of having the slowest strike rate for any ODI innings over 20 ever, a bizarre statistic which is unlikely to ever be beaten unless the soporific and dead-rubberising schedule of the upcoming World Cup drives someone to even greater levels of obstinate pique. Failing that, Sunil Gavaskar will remain a batting God with a peculiar blot on his record, but one which perhaps goes some way to explaining his subsequent difficulties when chairman of the ICC’s cricket committee. How often genius is stalked by bloody-mindedness.
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