Before the first cricket World Cup, the Rest of the World, studded with the crème de la crème of the willow game, had played exciting Test series in England and Australia in the early 1970s. The huge success of those series, featuring England and Australia and the Rest of the World, was a key factor behind the inaugural World Cup, in England, in 1975.
Any major event is expected to start on a positive note. But the maiden World Cup had a very dull and disappointing beginning. There was one individual responsible for robbing it of its charm and lustre. He was none other than Sunil Gavaskar. The way he batted in the very first match of the tournament, between India and England at the hallowed Lord's on June 7, 1975, was in sharp contrast to the very nature and spirit of one-day cricket.
Of course, there was a lot of excitement and thrill for spectators when the hosts, riding on Dennis Amiss' brilliant 137, scored 334 for 4 in the stipulated 60 overs before Gavaskar took the centre stage with his astonishing batting (pun intended).
He was expected to bat a bit aggressively, if not actually going berserk, considering that India was up against a mammoth total. But he dropped anchor in the manner of a perfect stone-waller in cricketing parlance and not only made England's triumph ridiculously easy, but also made a mockery of the very concept of one-day batting.
Just for record, India replied with 132 for 3 in 60 overs and lost the game by a staggering margin. The Mumbai maestro was still unconquered on 36 from 174 balls, having scored at the rate of 0.60 runs per over!
Eknath Solkar, who opened the Indian innings with Gavaskar, scored 8, Anshuman Gaekwad 22 and the stylish Gundappa Viswanath, who arrived at the crease after his future brother-in-law had wasted many a valuable over, an eye-catching 37 in a matter of minutes. Brijesh Patel, who scored 16, was the other not out batsman.
Gavaskar's strange and totally negative approach in this particular match invited the wrath of cricket enthusiasts, critics and administrators alike. Denis Compton led the condemnation.
"No one expected the Indians to put up such a miserable show, and Gavaskar was the chief culprit in this sordid drama," said the former England great in no uncertain terms.
In his lucidly-penned book entitled Sunil Gavaskar, late journalist and poet Dom Moraes described the Indian opener's effort in scoring those disgraceful 36 runs as "notoriously immobile".
Author Clifford Navine Singh went a step further in his book Gavaskar, Portrait Of A Hero. He wrote: "His state of mind echoed the poet John Donne's line: 'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone'."
"To which members of the touring Indian party should I apply for the return of half of my £1.50 seat? I was labouring under the delusion that I was going to watch an Indian Test side -- instead I saw a batting display that would have disgraced a Minor County side," wrote one reader, Peter E. Hodgkinson of Durham City, in the August 1975 issue of The Cricketer International.
Gavaskar, described by an eminent, firebrand Indian cricket writer as 'the villain of the piece', was honest enough to admit in his book Sunny Days a year later that it was "by far the worst innings" he had ever played.
"It was agony. Sometimes, I felt like moving away from the stumps, so that I would be bowled," he confessed.
As if the fate had already designed to spoil the beginning of the extravaganza, and bore the spectators to death, three simple chances that Gavaskar offered were floored by the English fielders.
Asked how the atmosphere in the Indian dressing room was when Gavaskar was going on in his unashamed ways out there in the middle, Gaekwad, who accompanied the opener at the wicket for a while, told Rediff.com: "We were all very surprised by the way he was batting. It was difficult to say what he was up to. Nobody, not even captain S Venkataraghavan, sent any instructions to him to change his tactics. When I was with him in the middle, we didn't discuss about the team's strategy or his or mine. I was too junior to say anything to him. I myself was conscious to prove my own ability."
Gaekwad added that Gavaskar did not say anything to anyone after returning undefeated to the pavilion.
The team manager, G S Ramchand, reported Gavaskar to the Board of Control for Cricket in India for batting unbelievably slow, suggesting that not only did it demoralise the younger members of the side but was also against India's best interests.
By the time the Indian team returned home after a four-week holiday in Europe, the West Indies had become the World champions. Gavaskar was greeted with a letter from the BCCI president, asking him to explain and justify the tactics he had employed against England.
He was the hottest property in Indian cricket in those years and the outcome (or lack of it) did not surprise those aware of the functioning of the BCCI. All the BCCI did was censure him for playing the way he did and the proceedings were terminated at that particular point itself.
To borrow a cricketing phrase, Gavaskar was given the benefit of the doubt!
Gavaskar's biographer, C D Clark, however, could not help writing: "They were not likely to dismiss out of hand one of the country's two top batsmen [other being Viswanath], so there was little the Board could do."
Gavaskar's reactions were all but surprising.
"All this left a bad taste in the mouth and did precious little to spur our players to do better in future," he said.
But a far more "illuminating" comment came when he expressed his views on one-day cricket in general.
"It neither enthuses me nor embarrasses me," he stated without batting an eyelid!