The repeated omissions of Ravichandran Ashwin during the recent Test series against England were heavily criticised, and not without reason.
But Indian cricket is no stranger to shock selections, and nothing can be more surprising than dropping an in-form Kapil Dev against England in 1984 at Kolkata for playing a rash shot in the previous Test, which had arguably led to India’s defeat.
Think captain-player controversies in Indian cricket, and the first memory that you might recall will be the unfortunate saga that transpired between Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar at Multan in 2004. Batting on 194 at the time, Tendulkar walked out of the ground in a huff after skipper Dravid decided to declare India’s innings. The incident left a wedge between the two stalwarts, with Tendulkar revealing later in his autobiography that he felt “let down” and “shocked as it did not make any sense”.
However, this was not the first time that an issue of this magnitude made waves in the country. Kapil and Sunil Gavaskar, who reportedly did not have the best relationship in their playing days, were in the headlines after Kapil went unpicked for the third Test against England at Eden Gardens back in 1984 despite scoring 42, 60, and 7 in the first two matches.
After winning the first Test at Mumbai, the second match at Delhi was headed towards a draw on day five. Though India had conceded a lead of 111 runs in the first innings, the top order steadied the ship as India were on course to draw the game. Led by a 135-ball 25 by Ravi Shastri and a fighting 164-ball 65 by Gavaskar, the Indians were well-placed at 172-4 when the latter was dismissed. Sandeep Patil and Shastri then combined to score 35 runs for the fifth wicket before Patil was dismissed by Phil Edmonds.
This brought Kapil to the crease. The in-form batter was expected to take India to safety but began extravagantly, striking a six early in his innings. He played another rash shot when he was on seven, having been at the crease for just four minutes and six balls, with Allan Lamb taking the catch. Once the all-rounder walked back, it was all downhill for India as they lost their last four wickets for just 21 runs. England had 125 runs to chase in their last innings, which they scored in just 23.4 overs as they levelled the series.
The outcome and the protests
Kapil was held responsible for the loss, with his stroke off Pat Pocock leading to India’s eventual defeat. In a move aimed to discipline the 1983 World Cup-winning captain, the selection committee, led by Chandu Borde, sidelined Kapil for the third Test in Kolkata, which the hosts eventually won.
The India team was met with protests from the crowd at Eden Gardens, who were displeased at the decision. They chanted, ‘No Kapil, No Test’ and even reportedly threw rotten vegetables and fruits at Gavaskar, who vowed to never play at the venue again.
Kapil, however, returned to play the fourth Test that was held in Chennai, with England winning that game and drawing the fifth to take the series 2-1.
In March 2021, Gavaskar finally spoke about the incident and clarified that he had no role to play in dropping Kapil from the XI in the 1984 Test match in Kolkata.
“As far as Kapil Dev is concerned, this has been something a myth that has been spread for a long, long time. I did not propose dropping Kapil Dev. I was part of the selection committee as the Indian captain and as the Indian captain, I can join the selection committee I do not have a voting right. I’m just co-opted to the selection committee. The proposed action to drop Kapil there was proposed by somebody else, another selector,” Gavaskar told Sports Today.
“So I have to only say one thing that I might be a lot of things I might be whatever, but I’m not stupid to drop my only match-winner. To propose dropping my only match-winner? How could I have even… How can anybody even think that! I’m that stupid to think of dropping my match-winner? At some stage in the future, I may reveal the name of the selector who not only wanted Kapil dropped but also wanted his match fee suspended.”