The sight of Sunil Gavaskar urging his batting partner Chetan Chauhan to walk out off the field after being given out wrongly is etched in the minds of every Indian cricket fan. For those unaware, here’s what had happened: During a Test match between India and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1981, Gavaskar was given out LBW off a Dennis Lillee delivery when the ball had clearly hit the bat and then the pad. Miffed at the umpire’s decision, an irate Gavaskar forced his partner Chauhan, who was at the non-striker’s end, top walk off with him before leaving the ground himself fuming with anger.
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Years later, speaking to former Australia fast bowler Damien Fleming, Gavaskar, who was the captain of the team back then, opened up on the moment that almost led India to forfeit the match they would famously go on to win.
“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. 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.”
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For years it has been assumed that Gavaskar lost his cool because he was given out wrongly by the umpire. However, as the former India captain now points out, it wasn’t as much the decision as it was the Australian players constantly mouthing words to Gavaskar.
“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.
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“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.”
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, thanks to the India’s tour manager Wing Commander Shahid Durrani, who asked Chauhan to stay on the field. India went on to win that Test match by 59 runs thanks to a wonderful 5/28 from Kapil Dev in the fourth innings which bowled Australia out for 83. However, had it not been for Chauhan’s consistent questioning of Gavaskar’s decision, the MCG Test could have become the first in history to be forfeited/abandoned.
“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.