India’s tour to England for the 1979 World Cup and the subsequent four-Test series was a total disaster. The team was criticised for having a wrong team composition, picking very few bowlers and loading the side with batsmen. There were apparent reports of a rift within the team, with Sunil Gavaskar being dumped as captain and Srinivas Venkataraghavan being appointed as the skipper of the team. The tensions in the dressing room combined with questions over the composition of the side was a recipe for disaster. And in 1979, it was indeed a disaster. India was paired with West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka in their group and they stumbled in the very beginning.
In the first match against West Indies at Birmingham, Gundappa Viswanathan scored 75 but Michael Holding picked up 4/33 to bowl India out for 190. In response, Gordon Greenidge blasted 106 and his partnership of 138 helped West Indies win by nine wickets. In the next game against New Zealand, a spirited show from the bowlers, led by Sir Richard Hadlee, Lance Cairns and Brian McKechnie helped them bowl India out for 182. Bruce Edgar’s brilliant 84 and aggressive knocks from John Wright and Glenn Turner gave New Zealand an eight-wicket win.
India looked to end their World Cup on a high against Sri Lanka, who was the associate nation at that time in the world of cricket. However, Sri Lanka chose to stake their place in the history books and they pulled off a major heist. Fifties from Sunil Wettimuny, Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis helped Sri Lanka reach 238/5. Somachandra de Silva and Tony Opatha picked up three wickets apiece as Sri Lanka secured a famous 47-run win in Manchester.
Following their exit from the World Cup, things got worse for India in the four-Test series against England. The first Test in Birmingham was won by England with a margin of an innings and 83 runs. David Gower’s double century and sparkling 155 from Geoff Boycott and a five-wicket haul from Ian Botham gave England a big win. After the next two Tests were drawn, India was left chasing a target of 438 but Sunil Gavaskar’s epic 221 almost helped India achieve the impossible but they fell nine runs short.
India’s 1979 tour started off in disaster, but it ended in an almost glorious heist.