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1979 - The pits!
By Partab Ramchand

Even by 1979, when the second World Cup was again hosted by England, there was no special attachment to the one-day game in India. Test matches still held chief interest and while other countries had taken to limited overs cricket in a big way, India had just played ten ODIs in five years in England, Pakistan and New Zealand losing eight matches and winning just two.

Clearly, they would have their task cut out especially when placed in group B along with holders West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Still with some luck, it was reckoned that India had a chance of making the semi-finals and again the match against New Zealand would prove crucial. It was taken for granted that India would lose to the West Indies, but would defeat Sri Lanka.

What followed over the next ten days was the most disastrous World Cup campaign in Indian cricket history. They never really had any kind of chance against the reigning champions and batting first were all out for 190 in 53.1 overs. Gundappa Viswanath made a fighting 75, but the rest of the batting crumbled and it was only with the help of the tail that he was able to take India from 119 for seven to the ultimate total. This was, however, never going to be enough even to extend West Indies and an opening stand of 138 runs between Gordon Greenidge (106 not out) and Desmond Haynes (47) settled the issue with the champions going on to win by nine wickets. Read moreread more

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Then came what was expected to be the vital game of the group. The upshot was that it ended in an eight-wicket victory for New Zealand with three overs to spare. The Indian batting never really got off the ground and a total of 182 all out in 55.5 overs meant that the bowlers faced an uphill task. Gavaskar top-scored with 55, but took 144 balls to compile that score. The only partnership of note was 51 for the fourth wicket between Gavaskar and Brijesh Patel (38).

To the credit of the bowlers, all of them - Kapil Dev, Ghavri, Bedi, Amarnath and skipper Venkatraghavan - tried their best, but an opening stand of 100 runs between John Wright (48) and Bruce Edgar (84 not out) put paid to their hopes of pulling off a surprise and India’s challenge ended prematurely.

Despite these reverses and the disappointment of being out of the competition, it was taken for granted that India would be too strong for Sri Lanka then only an associate member. Put in to bat Sri Lanka did well by getting 238 for five in 60 overs. A second wicket stand of 96 runs between Siddath Wettimunny (67) and Roy Dias (50) provided the springboard and then Duleep Mendis came up with a bright 64 off 57 balls with three sixes and a four to give the necessary impetus.

Still, Sri Lanka’s main strength was the batting not the bowling and India was given every chance of overhauling the target. But in a shoddy batting display, India were all out for 191 in the 55th over to go down to a shock defeat - easily the biggest upset in the World Cup till then for never before had an associate member defeated a Test-playing nation. That Dilip Vengarkar’s 36 was the top score clearly illustrates the sorry tale and the Indians just could not build on an opening stand of 60 between Gavaskar (26) and Anshuman Gaekwad (33).

India had the mortification of finishing at the bottom of the points table in the group with zero points. Canada, similarly, ended up with three losses and no points in the other group underscoring India’s humiliation.

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