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Australia v India

Sunil Gavaskar clears up ‘misconception’ over infamous 1981 MCG walk-off controversy

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

Speaking to Damien Fleming on 7Cricket, Sunil Gavaskar opened up on a moment of controversy during his days as India captain, when he almost led his team to forfeit an ill-tempered Test against Australia at the MCG.

The incident occurred in 1981, with India chasing a series-salvaging victory. The tourists had been bowled out for 237 in the first innings, with an Allan Border century – of which, more later – propping Australia up to 419 in response.

Gavaskar, in the company of fellow opener Chetan Chauhan, had helped to erase most of the deficit, but with the India skipper 30 away from a century and his team on 165-0 came the moment which almost saw them give up their chance of staging a comeback.

Gavaskar was given out lbw – in his view erroneously, something he feels is corroborated by the actions of some of Australia’s fielders.

“I got an inside-edge as you can see from the forward short leg fielder,” Gavaskar told 7Cricket. “He hasn’t done anything, he hasn’t moved.”

After engaging in a verbal concentration with the Australians, Gavaskar set off for the pavilion, and requested his partner join him. “Dennis [Lillee] is telling me, ‘It hit you there,’ and I’m trying to say, ‘No I hit it.’ And now you see, I’ve asked Chetan to walk off with me.”

However, Gavaskar then clarified that it wasn’t the questionable decision that sparked the near-walk-off directly. Instead it was down to further comments by the Australian fielders, as well as a string of perceived injustices earlier in the Test which had planted the seed of taking dramatic action in his mind. Chauhan joining him for most of the journey, making it seem as if India were staging a walk-off.

“But the misconception is that I was upset at the lbw decision,” Gavaskar said. “Yes, it was upsetting. But the walk-off happened only because, as I had gone past Chetan on the way to the change-rooms, the Australians had given me a spray. They told me to get lost, which is where I’ve come back and asked Chetan to walk off with me.

“But why walk off? The previous day we had this situation where we thought Allan Border had been out three times, and then after a hundred he’d been bowled round his legs and the umpire started to go towards the square leg umpire to confirm it had happened, and Syed Kirmani said to me ‘if this is given not out, I’m walking off.’ I said ‘You can’t do that’. And he said, ‘No, this is questioning my integrity.’ So this word, ‘walk-off’, is there, so the next day when this thing happened, that’s it.”

At that point, no Test had ever been abandoned, with Pakistan’s defeat at The Oval in 2006 setting that unwanted first. Gavaskar explained how it was only after insistent questioning from Chauhan that he relented and left the field alone, allowing the game to continue.

“His reaction was, ‘Are you serious?’” Gavaskar said. “And then as we walked a little further he asked ‘Are you serious?’ At which point I walked further away from him.”

In the end, India fans were hugely grateful for Gavaskar cooling off, and for the intervention of India’s tour manager, Wing Commander Shahid Durrani, who told Chauhan to stay on the field, with the Test ending as one of the most exciting in the history of Australia-India contests, and one of India’s most famous wins. India carried on to make 324, and though that left Australia needing only 143 to win, a five-wicket haul from Kapil Dev meant the hosts never got close.

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