India in England for World Cup '79: '£18 for dinner with BCCI president!'

Yajurvindra Singh looks back at his time in England during the 1979 World Cup.

We would order Kentucky Fried Chicken — that was the cheapest thing to eat. It was all fun and we played for fun, says Yajurvindra Singh.   -  Vivek Bendre

When we landed in London (1979 World Cup), we were sent off immediately from the airport. We were given snacks at a nearby hotel and straightaway driven all the way to Scarborough. One can imagine what respect they had for us. My god, it was a long, long journey.

The idea was that India and Pakistan should play among themselves a few practice games. We were exposed to the cold Yorkshire climate — Scarborough is in Yorkshire — and we were wearing acrylic sweaters. It was then that the famous sweater guys Lyle & Scott saw us and made special sweaters for the team. They thought we would die in the climate there otherwise.

It was always raining in Scarborough and we could not play a proper match. We played two friendly games; friendly means we could not go all out in bowling. So it was more of fun and became friends. We knew some of them, like Wasim Raja etc.

We lost on a day when I think Vijay Amritraj was playing well against Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon, says Yajurvindra Singh.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

I was a medium pacer all-rounder and could also bowl off-spinners. I remember one incident. Venkat (S. Venkataraghavan) was our captain and he made me bowl. I was bowling to Javed Miandad with an off-side field. And that fellow swept me for four runs. Venkat was always sort of a short-tempered guy. He told me not to bowl on the leg-stump, when I had actually bowled outside the off-stump. Then I pitched the ball outside the leg-stump with a safe field. And that fellow swept me on the off-side! That was the first time we ever encountered a reverse sweep. I said there was no chance of me getting him out if Miandad was going to sweep me on both sides.

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The Pakistani players were all very well dressed: good clothes, lovely sweaters and all that. In comparison, we looked different. We played a few games and this was the time Imran Khan looked like a Greek god. He would come to the Indian dressing room in only his underpants. And none of us had the physique to take off our clothes and show off! And Sunil (Gavaskar) would say: “Look at him, he stands next to me to show off.” We were psyched off the ground itself.

Once Wasim Raja took me to a casino for gambling. We used to get £105 for a week and I said to myself this is hardly any money. Raja said, “You come with me to the casino and you will make money.” So I went to the casino in Scarborough and lost £100 and was left with only £5. I told this incident to Sunil and he asked why did I have to go with a Pakistan player to a casino? And I asked him to take care of my expenses the next week. He did so.

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Then we went to Edgbaston for the first match against the West Indies, and one of the things I noticed was the bowling of Michael Holding for the first time. It was so beautiful. He was a Rolls-Royce in action. Being the 12th man, I was asked to video-shoot Holding’s bowling so that the team could watch it after the match. Holding got the Indian top order (Anshuman Gaekwad, Dilip Vengsarkar and G. R. Viswanath) out. I saw the best innings played by Viswanath. A photograph was run by the newspapers, including The Times, and it showed him perhaps 2ft airborne and flicking Holding, who was at his best.

Syed Kirmani was dropped for this match and Surinder Khanna kept wicket. Surinder loves to flick. And Brijesh (Patel), coming back, said: “Surinder, tumara flick nahi karna. Holding is very fast.” And Surinder’s response was: “Haan, dekh lenghe.” Surinder tried to flick, and before he knew anything he was caught at backward short leg. He came back and said: “Baap re baap, ye toh bahuth fast hai.” And amidst all this, on a dicey wicket, Vishy was flicking and cutting. What a brilliant knock it was. It was unbelievable.

In the same match, Kapil (Dev) got a chance to bowl to Viv Richards. After the opening partnership (138 runs between Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes), Kapil got his chance. He bowled outside the off-stump; he had a good outswinger. But Viv on drove him for four wide of midwicket the first ball. Kapil bowled the next delivery a little further up and Viv square-cut that for four. Those were the first two shots he played off Kapil. Then itself you realised he was a king player. Those two shots live in my memory. He struggled against Bishan (Bedi), but he did hit him for a six right over his head.

Duleep Mendis hit us as if there would be no tomorrow. I think he clobbered Kapil Dev out of the stadium, says Yajurvindra Singh.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Well, Yashpal (Sharma) and I did not get a chance to play in the World Cup. After we lost to the West Indies and New Zealand, I asked Venkat to give me a chance to play. And he said, “I want my best players to play and get acclimatised for the Test series.” And in that match against Sri Lanka, Duleep Mendis hit us as if there would be no tomorrow. I think he clobbered Kapil out of the stadium. It was a two-day game those days. It was very disappointing that I did not get a match to play. We lost on a day when I think Vijay Amritraj was playing well against Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon.

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We also had a wonderful time at Buckingham Palace, hosted by the Queen. She met each and every player including from Fiji and East Africa. The Fiji players had met at Bombay Gymkhana and at the palace they said: “Let’s drink to the queen.” Then the eight teams assembled at Lord’s and Patrick Eagar took a wonderful picture. You felt like you belonged to the best and achieved something in life as a cricketer. For a cricketer, it was a wonderful moment.

The best story happened when we were told that the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) president N. K. P. Salve was coming and that we were going to have dinner with him. We were all happy because the meeting with the BCCI president meant that one meal was free. And at the end of the week we were to get our weekly allowance. The BCCI treasurer had come and he would give us the money. He gave us the money minus £18. We asked him why and he said: “For the dinner each of us had with the BCCI president.”

When we came back, we were to receive ₹10,000; we were given ₹10,000 before we went to England. This money was for not only the World Cup, but also for the full England tour. We waited for a long time to get the money. I got ₹6,000 only with the explanation that ₹4,000 was deducted for excess baggage!

Well, the daily allowance could not meet two meals a day. We had to pay for laundry and incidental expenses. We would order morning tea and share it. We would order Kentucky Fried Chicken — that was the cheapest thing to eat. It was all fun and we played for fun.