1961-62 March 28, 2009

Dropped over a drink

When a telephone call to a hotel front desk resulted in an unceremonious exit for Subhash Gupte and Kripal Singh

The first three Tests of the 1961-62 series between India and England ended in fairly dull stalemate. India had the better of the first, England the second, while the third, in Delhi, finished in a tedious draw where 13 wickets fell and the run-rate barely rose above two an over.

There was a 12-day break over Christmas before the Calcutta Test, and India's selectors named a 16-man squad within hours of the Delhi game's conclusion. It was only two days before the next Test, though, that there was a terse announcement that Kripal Singh and Subhash Gupte had been replaced in the squad by EAS Prasanna.

The Times noted that both were fit but no reason had been given for their sudden exclusion. While Kripal was in indifferent form, Gupte had been one of the few bowling successes, with his legspin, and the Calcutta pitch was, rightly as it turned out, expected to favour spin.

Pressed to comment on the eve of the game, Nari Contractor, India's captain, admitted that the pair had been left out "pending a disciplinary hearing into their behaviour in Delhi". It emerged that they had been accused by a receptionist at the Imperial Hotel, where the Indian team was staying, of inviting her up to their room after her shift finished. The pair denied the allegation, with Gupte, who was married, explaining that Kripal had merely called down and asked for drinks to be brought up.

"She complained to the Indian manager, an Army man, saying she didn't expect Indian cricketers to behave in this way," Gupte recalled years later. As he prepared to set for home in Bombay, Polly Umrigar told Gupte he had "been behaving badly" and was wanted by Contractor.

Contractor explained the charges and Gupte rushed to the airport, where he found Kripal. "I cornered him at the newspaper stand. He said, 'You had nothing to do with it'. I saw Chidambaram [the Indian board president] having breakfast at the airport and told him, 'Your culprit is confessing'. He said, 'We will talk on the plane.'"

They didn't, and the investigation was a shambles. It was originally to be held in Calcutta when the squad arrived, but instead the pair were asked not to travel there and were, in effect, dropped without having had a chance to put their side of the argument.

The hearing was eventually held in Madras, where the selectors and board were meeting to pick the squad for the tour of the Caribbean which followed on almost straight after the one with England concluded. Evidence was flimsy, almost non-existent, and a bemused Gupte found himself reprimanded by one board member for not doing more to stop his room-mate using the telephone. Infuriated by the suggestion, he responded with barely disguised indignation. "He is a big man. How can I stop him?"

"Nothing had happened," Gupte reflected. "Kripal had not raped the girl or assaulted her, he just asked her out for a drink."

Many believed the board had already made up their minds even before the hearing. The decision was that neither player should be considered for the West Indies tour.

Gupte, who had taken 149 wickets at 29.55 and was only 32, never played for India again, opting to return to Trinidad, where he had been living since marrying a local girl two years earlier. Before heading back, he joined a Commonwealth XI tour of Africa, New Zealand and Hong Kong. He played one more season of domestic cricket in India, and finished playing a little first-class cricket in the Caribbean.

Kripal was recalled for three uneventful Tests after a three-year gap and then dropped for good. "What a shame India should lose two such good players over what was… a rather trivial incident quite unconnected with cricket," the Nawab of Pataudi later observed. "I suppose one must learn to be philosophical about these things. After all, one man's disappointment is another man's opportunity."

Perhaps Mihir Bose, in a History of Indian Cricket summed up the loss of Gupte best: "India's first great spinner ended his career because he happened to share a room with a man who wanted a drink with a girl".

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail rewind@cricinfo.com with your comments and suggestions.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa