December 26, 2013

When an editor ate his words

India's World Cup victory in 1983 prompted some unforgettable banter between their manager and a magazine editor

Not pictured above: a magazine editor tearing up a piece of paper to make a meal out of © Getty Images

In 1983, shortly before the third edition of the Prudential World Cup was due to be staged in England, David Frith, in his capacity as editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly wrote an article that previewed the coming action. In it, he assessed the teams that would soon assemble for the contest; West Indies still remained favourites, with some teams, possibly Pakistan and England, deemed capable of upsetting the proverbial applecart. Some teams seemed incapable of winning the tournament. Among them was India.

Frith was particularly scathing in his assessment of the touring Indians. Their record in the two World Cups thus far had been dismal: in 1975 they had won one match, against East Africa, and suffered heavy defeats in the remaining two; in 1979 they had won none of their games, and had even been beaten by an Associate team, Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankans were no pushovers, and indeed, their beating of India served notice to the rest of the world that they had matured sufficiently to be ready for top-flight international cricket, but still old biases persisted, and being beaten by a member of the Associate club felt like humiliation. Emboldened by India's poor track record, Frith suggested that if India did not improve its showing, then they should be made to qualify for the next World Cup along with the Associate nations.

It is not clear how many of Wisden Cricket Monthly's readers disagreed with Frith; certainly, the Indian team had done nothing to suggest his assessment of their chances, and his prescription for their future place in the World Cup, was too wildly off the mark. There was, of course, the small matter of the Indians having beaten West Indies in a one-day international in Berbice earlier that year; India had scored at six runs an over, reaching 282 off 47 overs, and then restricted West Indies to 255. Gavaskar had scored 90 off 117, Kapil Dev 72 off 38, and West Indies were at full strength. But it is not clear if English journalists had paid any attention to India's tour and the three-game one-day international series, which West Indies finally won 2-1.

One reader of Frith's essay was Man Singh*, from New Jersey in USA. After the tournament had concluded, Singh wrote to WCM. In his letter, which was published in the Letters to the Editor section, Singh reminded Frith of his article, and suggested that the result of the World Cup meant that Frith should retract his words. A mere verbal or written retraction would not do for Singh; he suggested Frith eat - literally - his words. As a palliative measure, Singh wrote he'd be willing to let Frith wash down the offending passage with a suitable hot or cold beverage of his choice.

Frith was game. In the very same letters section, WCM published a photograph of its editor eating the offending piece of paper, a rueful grin on his face. I do not remember the beverage used to soften the blow and aid the passage of that soggy mess down Frith's gullet; whatever it was, it couldn't have done much to disguise the taste of paper and printer's ink.

I am not sure if writing in any other sport has ever featured such good-natured banter and retraction of the written word.

Note: I am entirely reliant on my memory for the details of this article; I welcome anyone with back issues of WCM to supply additional details, scans of the article, the relevant letter, and of course, the epic photograph of Frith's meal.

When first published, this article incorrectly named Christopher Martin-Jenkins and the Cricketer as the editor and magazine in question. The error is regretted

January 21, 2014, 2.30GMT: The name of the reader was mistakenly written as PR Man Singh, the manager of India's World Cup team. This has now been corrected

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 27, 2013, 10:37 GMT

    Actually no pandits of cricket had seen the composition of the Indian team which was full of all rounders which was the reason for the success story and the old saying A game of glorious uncertainty ( no wins to champions). The success story was repeated later in following tournaments which proves that the victory in 1983 was not a fluke. The transition had started under Kapil Dev

  • mike on December 27, 2013, 7:36 GMT

    1983 was an unforgettable episode in the calendar of the sub-continent,I being a Sri lankan went absolutely gaga at the victory even though the west indies was my favovourite team.You could never compare that team with any of the present day indian teams,that team was comfortable on fast and slow tracks, they won the cup in England and they even went on to to win the Benson and Hedges cup in Australia, they had three quality fast bowling all-rounders in Kapil Dev, Roger Binny and Mohinder Amarnath well madan Lal was no mug with the bat either. A top class opening pair in Srikanth and Sunil gavaskar, Sunny in my opinion was the greatest opener and the best batsman india ever produced sorry sachin fans.he never wore a helmet and most of his 35 centuries came on away fast tracks ten of them against the windies in fact, including a a double hundred in the windies in which india won by an innings. and india had the spinners to compliment their attack.

  • Dummy4 on December 27, 2013, 7:32 GMT

    The same thing could be done now too. The so called South African experts who had all predicted that India will be blown away by the bounce and pace of the Proteas have had egg on their faces.

  • S on December 27, 2013, 0:41 GMT

    Nice piece, Samir. At the start of the tournament, if memory serves me right, the odds on India winning the Cup were something of the order of 40-1. A lone punter, believed to be a desi, wagered 250 pounds on them, and collected a cool 10,000 pounds when they won. That exceeded the prize money each individual player on the Indian team got by a considerable margin!

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2013, 22:46 GMT

    Alex Bannister, a journalist from UK, had likewise, to eat his words. In 1995, his forecast of England beating South Africa in South Africa, failed to occur. South Africa won the 5 test series 1-0 and Mr Bannister chewed newsprint on national TV, to the delight of the South African media.

  • Sarthak on December 26, 2013, 17:33 GMT

    India's progress in each form of cricket has started in somewhat conservative fashion. Test cricket, India took several decades to become a competitive side. ODIs, almost a reluctant adapter in the initial 5-6 years. Used to play less and did not play it that well too. And believe it or not even T20s. If you remember in the initial days of T20 mostly England, Australia, NZ, SA used to play it, both domestically and one or two international matches at the start of the tours. By the time the IPL carnival started most countries already had their T20 competition.(Ganguly never played a T20I, and Tendulkar and Dravid played just 1 each) Yet today India is equally comfortable in all the three formats.Like a solid innings Indian cricket starts slowly but subsequently moves from strength to strength.

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2013, 14:50 GMT

    Remember a similar incident in 1993. Rohit Brijnath, then with Sportsworld, suggested that he would eat his words if India beat Switzerland in a Davis Cup tie. India did win, and the next edition carried a picture of Rohit enjoying his article with knife and fork!

  • james on December 26, 2013, 14:43 GMT

    If people wrote India off before the 1983 World Cup,I wouldn't blame them.The Indian team had lost badly in Pakistan and West Indies a few months before the World Cup.It was such a fairy tale victory,completely unexpected.

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2013, 7:11 GMT

    I remember this incident. But if my memory serves me right, the cricket writer in question was not CMJ but Scylde Berry.

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2013, 1:51 GMT

    How far we have come? 1983 WC was groundbreaking for India.

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