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The infamous Sunil Gavaskar walk-off that almost led to India forfeiting the 1981 MCG Test

by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

The Melbourne Test match between India and Australia in 1981 was marred in controversy after India captain Sunil Gavaskar almost forced his non-striker Chetan Chauhan to walk out with him after being a victim of an umpiring howler.

The India opener later revealed that as many as seven umpiring decisions had gone against the visitors in the three-match series, and one such instance was in the third innings of the match when umpire Rex Whitefield ruled Gavaskar out LBW despite a thick outside edge.

Gavaskar, who had a below-average Test series of Australia, scoring 0, 10, 23, 5 and 10 in the first five innings of the tour,  looked set for a big score in the second innings at Melbourne, having scored 70 off 179 balls. However, his stint at the crease came to an unfortunate end when Dennis Lillee sent down a low off-cutter that rapped him on his pads. Umpire Whitefield immediately raised his finger, but Gavaskar would have none of it and stood his ground while pleading that the ball had hit his bat before pinging into his pads. Lillee, though, raced down the track and started pointing at Gavaskar’s pads, indicating that it was a plumb LBW. The wicket was Lillee’s 248th Test scalp, equalling Richie Benaud’s Australian record.


After a long wait, Gavaskar finally started walking back before returning to the crease to take the non-striker Chauhan with him. Chauhan, who was nearing his maiden Test hundred, hesitantly followed, as a forfeit loomed.

However, the two were stopped near the boundary ropes by India’s team manager Shahid Durrani, who ensured that Chauhan walked back to the crease with new batter Dilip Vengsarkar. Chauhan, eventually, was unable to get to triple-digits, falling to Lilee for 85, but India ended with a healthy 324, setting Australia a target of 143 for a series win. Some inspired bowling by Kapil Dev, who ended with 5-28 in 16.4 overs, saw Australia all out for only 83 as India levelled the series after the second Test had ended in a draw.

What Gavaskar later revealed

Gavaskar later went on to clarify that his walk-out was not a result of the umpiring, but because of the Australians asking him to “get lost” when he was walking back.

“The misconception is that I was upset at the lbw decision,” Gavaskar told 7Cricket in 2020.

“Yes, it was upsetting. But the walk-off happened only because, as I had gone past Chetan (Chauhan) 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.

Gavaskar, however, did say that he regretted walking off. “I regret the decision. It was a big mistake on my part. As Indian captain, I was not supposed to act in that manner. In no way I can justify my act of defiance. Whether I was out or not, I should not have reacted that way.”

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