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Another crisis, another cricket contest cancelled

Just as a national calamity has forced the suspension of IPL 2021, another tragedy, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, led to India leaving their tour of Pakistan midway.

May 04, 2021 / 06:43 PM IST

As Sunil Gavaskar did commentary work for this year’s IPL, he would have heard the call for the tournament to be suspended due to the pandemic. And it is possible his memory spun back to 1984. That was the year Gavaskar was the Indian captain, and in the thick of another high-voltage cricket contest that had to be abandoned.

The reason was different, but equally sombre. On the wintry morning of October 31, 1984, when India were playing Pakistan in the 2nd One-day of the tour in Sialkot, Indira Gandhi was assassinated in Delhi.

Two Tests and a One-dayer had been played till then on the tour. The Tests had ended in draws, while Pakistan had won the first ODI. India were annoyed by the biased umpiring that was the fate of visiting teams in Pakistan those days. Gavaskar had been frank about the quality of the officiating in the press.

"Despite the best efforts of the Pakistan umpires to favour the home team, we have managed to draw the Test and that is a miracle,” the Indian captain said after the first Test in Lahore. “Before embarking upon the tour of Pakistan we expected close decisions, but what happened in the Lahore Test was pre-planned and predetermined."

In Sialkot, India were keen to get a win under their belt, and made a solid start in the 40-over game at Jinnah Stadium. Batting first, India made 210/3, a good one-day total in that era. Dilip Vengsarkar topscored with 94 not out.


The players had no idea that at around 10.30 in the morning, a telephone had rung in the stadium. According to an article on the events of that day in The Cricket Monthly (CM), the call was for the deputy commissioner of Sialkot, Ismail Qureshi, from the chief secretary of Punjab.

Qureshi answered the call. The news was not good. Mrs Gandhi had been shot, and Pakistan president Zia-ul-Haq wanted the game to be called off right away.

Qureshi grappled with the enormity of the development and the logistics of stopping an official game in front of thousands of spectators.

He told CM, “I sat there nonplussed, thinking, 'This cannot be implemented!' India was playing Pakistan, 25,000 people in the stands were cheering every ball. How could I step in and tell everyone to pack up and go home in the middle of the innings? I decided it was beyond what I could handle, so for the moment I let the match go on."

At lunch, Qureshi broke the news to Gavaskar, who was injured and not playing the match, and the Indian manager Raj Singh Dungarpur.

"I remember Gavaskar gasping in complete shock,” Qureshi recalled. “I did not tell him about President Zia's order, asking him instead what he wished to do. He was emphatic: they would pack up and leave. I told him all the arrangements had been made, and the vehicles were lined up outside, ready to leave for Lahore."

For a while the players were not told that the attack on Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards, had been fatal. They learnt later that she was no more, and there was tension in Delhi. Just about a year ago, Madan Lal, a Delhi native, was a hero for his performance in the 1983 World Cup. Now he was wary of stepping into his hometown.

"We were all pretty scared," Lal told CM. “But the fear was particularly acute for me, being from Delhi. When I landed at Delhi airport, there wasn't a single soul in sight."

Thirty-six years later, Delhi, along with other parts of India, is a ghost town of sorts again. And another cricket competition has been cancelled.
Akshay Sawai

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