Updated: July 24, 2016 7:21:59 pm
For any lover of Indian cricket, among the most memorable moments of the game’s sepia-tinted days would be the historic tied Test with Australia, the 1987 match in Ahmedabad with Pakistan when Sunil Gavaskar went past 10,000 Test runs and, later that year, the World Cup, the first to be played outside England.
Curiously, Doordarshan, which at that time had monopoly over producing and broadcasting these matches, has no footage of any of these landmark moments.
Asked by The Sunday Express under the Right to Information Act whether Doordarshan had archival footage of the “match where Sunil Gavaskar became the highest run-getter in the world (India vs Pakistan, March 4 to 9, 1987), tied Test match between India and Australia (September 18 to 22, 1986) and the 1987 Cricket World Cup”, the national broadcaster replied: “Not available”.
A few grainy highlights of these matches are still available online, but it isn’t much. Nor does DD’s apathy appear to be restricted to these matches, or even to cricket — after hockey legend Mohammed Shahid passed away this week, among the biggest regrets his peers expressed was about the unavailability of footage of his playing days in the 1980s, when he had millions mesmerised by his stickwork.
No one in Doordarshan seems to know why the original archival footage is unavailable. Doordarshan also couldn’t say for sure what its oldest sports archival footage was. Its archives department is reported to have more than 50,000 tapes in various formats, but apparently barely a dozen sports titles are available.
The 1980s was a monumental decade for Indian cricket, and is still seen as the most engrossing decade for the game internationally — when every cricket-playing nation could boast at least one global superstar.
Months after leading India to its maiden World Cup title, Kapil Dev took 9/83 against the West Indies in Chennai. At the same venue in 1983, Gavaskar had surpassed Don Bradman’s record of 29 Test centuries. In 1988, leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani took a debut record 16/136, again in Chennai.
Six top officials of Prasar Bharati, including its CEO Jawhar Sircar, DD director general Supriya Sahu and senior office-bearers from DD Archives, DD Sports and DD News failed to tell The Sunday Express where the missing tapes might be.
Sircar said he maintained an “arm’s length from direct operations”, while the other officials were not forthcoming with answers. A senior Doordarshan official said, “Asking the reason is none of your business.”
Prasar Bharati Archives’ deputy director general T S Ramakrishna, who is also the appellate authority for RTI matters, said he had forwarded the query to DD Sports, who are responsible for keeping sports archives. DD Sports officials, however, said maintaining archives was “not their duty”.
For years now, players from the 80s have expressed their disappointment over the lost footage of their historic achievements and speculated about the fate of the tapes. Australia’s Greg Matthews, who bowled the last ball of the engrossing tied Test, said in an interview to The Indian Express last year that despite several attempts, he had been unsuccessful in locating the original tapes.
“I have been told there is no tape of the game. I have also heard that they taped a ping pong tournament over it. Imagine, the tied Test, the second one in the history of the game, and there is no original tape.”
Former Australian batsman Dean Jones, who scored a double hundred in that Test at Chennai, when contacted, said “no one has the tapes of the game.”
A senior DD official did not deny the possibility of the “historic tapes” getting overwritten. “Nowadays, we digitise the tape to ensure there is a backup in case we have to reuse a tape. But earlier that was not an option and since there were no proper guidelines, it was easy to overwrite a tape,” he said, requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the media.
Regarding Gavaskar’s feat, the official said the “importance of his milestone would not have been realised back then”. “In the 1980s and 1990s, there was no concept of keeping archives. We started that only in 2006, and that too mainly for cultural shows and news events,” he said.
Gavaskar himself, who is in the West Indies commentating on the ongoing Test series, said it was “unfortunate” that the tapes weren’t available. “But back in those days, the technology was not as advanced and so they couldn’t have archived it. Because of that they must have lost quite a lot of files and papers. But from at least now on, they should ensure that they archive the stuff properly,” Gavaskar said.
Former captain Kapil Dev was philosophical. “If a glass is broken, what can you do? There’s no point fighting over it. I know the BBC and Australian Broadcasting Corporation archive their sporting past very well. Here they don’t have it and yes, some golden cricketing moments like Sunny’s 10,000 Test runs, my world record or the tied Test are gone. But there’s no point being sad or lamenting over it. Doordarshan doesn’t have those clippings, so okay, it’s fine…,” he said.
Kapil added he had once approached DD for tapes of the Haryana vs Mumbai Ranji Trophy final. “I was told they didn’t have the tapes.” In that thrilling 1990-91 final, Kapil had led Haryana to an emotional win over mighty Mumbai on the last ball at the Wankhede stadium.
Incidentally, Doordarshan does have tapes of some sports other than cricket from the 80s. In its RTI reply, DD said footage of the 1982 Asian Games, Geet Sethi’s 1985 World Billiards Championship match against Bob Marshall, and the 1987 Davis Cup tie between India and Sweden were available.
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