1979 Cricket World Cup – Clive Lloyd’s West Indies won their second consecutive World Cup in 1979. Photo: Manorama Archives

“We are here to win everything,” said Srinivas Venkataraghavan, the captain of the Indian side, when he landed in England in June 1979 before the start of the second edition of the ODI World Cup. This statement by the Indian captain was met with great amusement, if not outright derision, by the followers of the game in the country. India’s performance in the previous championship was abysmal and the side failed to make it to the last four.

1979 Cricket World Cup

1979 Cricket World Cup

Furthermore, as the game in the country focused on longer matches, there was little to show for any improvement in the interim period. Treated like a poor cousin by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and players, the limited overs version of the game was ignored with disdain and disdain.

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Also, Venkat himself was appointed captain under rather strange circumstances. He led the team during the first World Cup, but was sacked in the winter of 1975 to make way for Bishan Singh Bedi. After losing the 1978 Test series in Pakistan, Bedi was replaced by Sunil Gavaskar.

Expected to be at the helm for a long time, Gavaskar led India to a Test series win against a depleted West Indies side in 1978-79. But the national selectors dropped a bombshell by dropping Gavaskar and bringing Venkat back as skipper for the World Cup and then the four-Test series against England.

It was clear to the fans that the real reason Gavaskar was dropped was because the BCCI honchos were annoyed with him for hobnobbing with Kerry Packer’s representatives. The traditional cricket body represented by the International Cricket Conference (as the International Cricket Council was then called) was up against the Australian media mogul Packer, who alienated the world’s best cricketers. The World started its World Series Cricket (WSC) in 1977. Initially the WSC did not sign any players from India, but towards the end of 1978 there were newspaper reports that Packer was also interested in recruiting top Indian cricketers. Gavaskar and wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani were also rumored to be interested in joining the WSC. Gavaskar’s removal from the captaincy and Kirmani’s removal from the team are aimed at converting the duo to the line dictated by the BCCI.

Thus, the team that went to England was not only poorly prepared for the WC, but also weak in terms of morale and motivation. The only glimmer of hope for die-hard supporters of the national side lay in the fixture, which saw India placed in a relatively weak pool alongside champions West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka had not reached Test status at the time and were therefore expected to be easy prey, with an optimistic Indian fan always choosing their country over New Zealand. It was believed that with a touch of luck the side could progress to the semi-finals.

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However, they were forced to eat humble pie as India lost all three matches by huge margins. The loss to Sri Lanka in the final pool match, where neither side had a chance of progressing to the next round, was particularly painful. In reply to Sri Lanka’s total of 238, India were bowled out for 191 in 54.1 overs. Earlier, they suffered an eight-wicket loss to the New Zealand side and lost their hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals.

The defeat to Sri Lanka shocked the entire cricketing establishment in the country. It was the first time a Test-playing nation tasted defeat at the hands of a united nation. The result was as much an indication of the progress of the Sri Lankan side as it was of the lethargy and lethargy of the Indians. So it was no surprise that Venkat and his boys were rewarded for their lackluster performance throughout.

However, there was a silver lining to Gundappa Vishwanat’s innings against the West Indies in the opening match of the tournament. The Caribbean was the only side, apart from Pakistan, to include WSC-recruited players in its World Cup squad. Batting first against a fearsome pace quartet of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft, India lost Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar with just 24 runs on the board. Vishwanath came in at this stage and took control of the situation without his usual haste. Despite regularly losing wickets at the other end, Vishwanath showed no qualms or trouble handling things hit by some of the fastest bowlers on the planet with the keeper helping the pacemen. Only Brijesh Patel, who finished with 15, and Kapil Dev, who finished with 12, were left to lend him a helping hand as Vishwanath became the ninth batsman to be dismissed for 75 with seven hits to the fence. Due to the class and caliber of batting displayed by Vishwanath, West Indies captain Clive Lloyd rated it as the best innings he had played against his side in the championship.

1979 Cricket World Cup

It should be noted that the West Indies won the tournament without breaking a sweat. Majeed Khan and Zaheer Abbas’ strong counter attack in the semi-final was the only time they challenged their overwhelming dominance. Chasing a target of 294 runs in batting-friendly conditions, Pakistan lost their first wicket by 10 runs when the duo came together. In a brilliant display of attacking prowess, they took the ball all over the ground, hammering the West Indian bowlers. As the runs began to flow in streams, the West Indies began to run out of ideas. At one point, with just 118 runs required from 24 overs, Pakistan looked well on course for a shock victory. However, Colin Croft got the breakthrough by denying Zaheer, followed by goals from Majid and Javed Miandad to tip the scales in his side’s favour. West Indies did not look back after that and cruised home by 43 runs.

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In the final, England fancied their chances as they reduced the West Indies to 99/4. But a 139-run stand between Viv Richards (138 not out) and Collis King (86), the latter outscoring his more successful partner, took the game away from the hosts. After King’s dismissal, Richards took over and dismantled what was left of England’s bowling, scoring all but five of the team’s 48 runs. Richards ended the innings on a fantastic note by lining up a stingy Mike Hendrick yorker and coolly lofting it over square leg for a six! England had no match left after that and were bundled out for 194, chasing a target of 287.

Venkat regained some of his authority as captain after the Indian team made a remarkable recovery from losing the first match of the four-Test series against England by a wide margin. India came very close to winning the final Test at the Oval, where the side chasing a target of 439 runs in the final innings fell short by just nine runs with two wickets in hand. However, when the series ended, he was replaced as captain of the national team by Gavaskar. Rob Smyth entered the depths of the 1979 Men’s World Cup, England still a long way from ending the West Indies’ early ODI dominance. Originally published in Cricketers’ Almanac 2019.

He has never seen a replay – he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t need to. He knows what happens when he kicks the ball to Viv Richards and he knows the impact. Hendricks’ last delivery to Richards that day, magically smashed for a six, is the defining image of the match. However, Hendricks’ first ball to Richards in his second spell is his most vivid memory of the World Cup.

“It went down the hill and Viv went through the stumps: big thump on the pillow, big scream,” he says. “Barrie Meyer said he didn’t play. I couldn’t believe it. The guys who didn’t play must have seen the replay because they all went out on the balcony and it was over.”

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Richards, then 22, made 138 not out and Hendricks’ appeal was one of several moments in the final – some beyond England’s control, others well