Sunil Gavaskar creates a landmark by equalling Don Bradman’s record of 29 Test centuries

first_imgIt was Gavaskar, the real master Just like a wallWe could not out Gavaskar at all You know the West Indies could not out Gavaskar at all.- Calypso number composed by Lord Relator after the Indian cricket team’s victorious tour to the West Indies in 1971. The Calypso charmers from,It was Gavaskar, the real master Just like a wallWe could not out Gavaskar at all You know the West Indies could not out Gavaskar at all.- Calypso number composed by Lord Relator after the Indian cricket team’s victorious tour to the West Indies in 1971.The Calypso charmers from the Caribbean might have sung their eulogy all over again last month. Because the song, which celebrated the achievement of the young Sunil Gavaskar, then a raw 21, as he stroked his way to a world record of 774 runs in seven innings (at a Bradmanesque average of 154.8), became a dramatically relevant paean of praise to one of cricket’s acknowledged all-time greats.On the sunny, breezy and slightly chilly morning of October 29 at Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla cricket ground, Gavaskar suddenly cut loose to produce a spectacle that could launch many more Calypso jingles, and brought him level with Sir Donald Bradman’s 29 Test centuries. And two weeks later, at Ahmedabad, he missed his 30th hundred by 10 runs, but posted a new record Test aggregate of 8,122, eight runs ahead of the previous record-holder Geoff Boycott.As sheer belligerence and perfectly placed hooks subdued speedster Malcolm Marshall, Gavaskar square-drove Davis on bended knee as the other little master. brother-in-law Viswanath, would have done in his salad days. The thrust to mid-wicket that fetched him his 29th hundred, putting him squarely beside the legendary ‘Don’, reminded old-timers of Ted Dexter.I congratulate Sunil Gavaskar on his achievement. For many years I have admired his technique, attitude and dedication. He is the world’s greatest opening batsman; an ornament to the game. -Sir Donald BradmanI think you over-react when he fails. That is what the game is all about – giving and taking a few blows. But he must be a tough-minded fella. -Vivian Richards A cover-drive off Holding on the up, a la Sandeep Patil, a pull and a swipe for a six off Gomes in the Clive Lloyd genre still had people wondering if it was the same Gavaskar they had so depressingly seen sparring and jabbing at short, lifting balls till the other day.advertisementAnd as he strode down the wicket with the stealth and confidence of a panther to whack the ball straight past the bowler with the full flourish of the bat, critics stopped finding parallels with the other great batsmen, past or contemporary. Here was the vintage Sunil Gavaskar himself. As his former captain Ajit Wadekar asked later, “who plays the straight-drive better?”Impressive Comeback: In a mere 94 balls and 180 frenetic minutes, Sunil Gavaskar had turned the clock back. Just as he was being written off, he staged a comeback with a ferocity that ‘ surprised even his fondest supporters.Said a beaming Vivian Richards: “It was a proud moment on the field. It was a fitting knock with which to reach such a landmark. It is a pity we had to be on the other side of it.” – There also could not have been a better compliment to the man who, in a momentous 13-year cricket career had put India on the world cricket map like none else ever could.Twenty-nine centuries and 8,000 runs may still be considered in terms of individual achievement. But in the process of earning these, he has played a stellar role in almost every moment of glory that India has seen on the cricket field. As her captain for 40 Tests, he won eight and lost six, to go down as the only Indian captain with more victories to his credit than losses.Gayaskar at home with his parents (sitting) and (from left) Vishwanath, niece Salome and sisters Nutan and KavitaOn another plane; he, along with former captain Bishen Singh Bedi, had been instrumental in thoroughly professionalising Indian cricket, bringing in a veritable financial bounty for cricketers and putting officialdom in its place.Record Play: At 34, and with a generous sprinkling of grey on his pate that has a suggestion of baldness, Sunil Gavaskar holds virtually every major batting record in the world. Another three-figure knock will take him past the record which he shares with Sir Donald Bradman.He already has the highest aggregate in Tests, 8,122, well ahead of Boycott with 8,114 and Sobers with 8,032. He shares with Boycott the record for the highest number of century partnerships in Test cricket: 47.Another world record Gavaskar holds is the highest number of times a batsman has crossed the 50-run mark in Tests: with 29 centuries and 36 fifties he is one up on Boycott (22 centuries and 42 fifties). As if that was not enough, this year he has scored 1,038 runs in Tests, giving him a thousand runs in a calendar year four times, consolidating a record he already holds.advertisementRe-enacting a childhood scene in the street where he grew upHis two centuries in a Test thrice too is a world record and so is his 16 centuries abroad  – Bradman had only 12. As he reached 104 in Delhi, Gavaskar had also become the youngest in the world to have passed the 8,000-run mark, and he holds practically every Indian batting record – barring the one for the highest score which survives in the name of Vinoo Mankad (231).And yet, a relaxed Gavaskar said most emphatically after the comeback knock in Kotla, that he did not go for records. “There is enough pressure on you as such as you go out to bat. It gets worse if you think of records. I suppose a big score or a record is just a bonus that comes your way”, he says modestly, underlining the fact that he never even sees the score-board. Says he: “In fact, when I got the century in Delhi, I thought I had gone to 82 from 78.” Said an admiring Vivian Richards: “Every time you watch him you learn something. Just the other day he batted at Kotla and I learnt that he does not even look at the score-board. Such are his powers of concentration.”It was this phenomenal power of concentration that the observant noticed so clearly as Gavaskar made his debut at Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1971, and even Sir Gary Sobers, who became his early benefactor by dropping him in almost every big innings that he played at his team’s cost, was one of the first to see that.Signing autographs at Ferozeshah KotlaMaking the most of Sobers’s lapses and a pace attack that was hostile but did not have the usual Caribbean venom, Gavaskar hit those 774 runs forgetting the nightmare of a painful whitlow on an index finger that kept him out of the first Test and had very nearly aborted his career. Recalls Gavaskar: “The doctor in New York told me if I had come a little later it would have become gangrenous and he would have had to amputate the finger.”But from then on, there were great hindrances – broken fingers kept him out of three of the four Tests India played against the West Indies in 1974 and a fractured foot, later, again threatened to cut short his career. He soon overcame a short slump in the series in England and posted his first thousand in his 11th Test and then, till he got his 5,000th run, there was something monotonous in his consistency – with practically an additional thousand every 19 innings.Although Gavaskar himself is not so sure of it, his performance peaked in the 1977-80 period which began as he took three centuries in four Tests against Australia, down under with Jeff Thomson bowling full blast. Perhaps reassured by the discovery of a gritty opening partner in Chetan Chauhan “who was unruffled even if each of the six balls in an over flew at 100 miles per hour”, Gavaskar systematically set about taking the Australian attack apart.advertisementSuch was his judgement of the outgoing ball that the weary Australian pacemen had no choice but to aim at his stumps where he unleashed the wide array of strokes in front of the wicket and off his legs. Exclaimed Trevor Bailey: “This little master is such a champion that he forces the bowlers to come on the stumps and then takes them apart in the mid-wicket not the greatest. I am content to defend and square-leg region.”Australian Keith Miller, one of the great fast bowlers of all time, when asked where he would like to bowl to Gavaskar, paid him what was perhaps the greatest tribute. Said he: “Bowl? I would just like to stand in the slips to enjoy his batting. And there will be no work to do.”This was also the beginning of the glorious golden era of Indian cricket as, after being two Tests down, India drew level. registering their first wins over Australia on their wickets, and then, in the fourth Test, faltering within inches of the victory target of 469 after one of cricket history’s most exciting run chases.As far as opening batsmen are concerned he has been the best since the ’70s. I rate him among the three best batsmen in the world today. Richards is on the top, followed by Ian Chappell and Gavaskar. He is very straight and knows where his off-stump is. -Imran Khan World’s Best: Gavaskar reached the peak in 1979, accumulating 1,555 runs in 18 Tests and even though there is some substance in the argument that he benefited from the flight of some of the West Indian and Australian top-notchers to the Packer circus, there is no denying that during this period he was the world’s best batsman by all standards – for many of these runs had been obtained while he was under the burden of captaincy.In fact, even as the glorious mid-’70s ended with the humiliating 2-0 defeat in Pakistan under Bedi’s captaincy, Gavaskar remained the only Indian who returned home with his head held high (447 runs, average 89.4).Even more than the frequency and consistency of his scoring, the significant aspect of Gavaskar’s contribution to Indian cricket is that he has been able to give his best at times when India has needed it most. In all the three 400-run chases in the last innings in which India has been involved, Gavaskar has played a stellar role, beginning with a century in Port of Spain in 1976-the match that India went on to win.But perhaps his greatest knock of all time came later, at the Oval in 1979, shortly before he was given the captaincy. He hit up a chanceless 221, his highest in the Tests, as India faced a total of 400-plus in the last innings, and even though India fell short of the target by nine runs with two wickets still in hand at close, Indian cricket had earned for itself respect in England like never before. “Sunny shines India” screamed the headline in the Daily Telegraph. But Gavaskar himself would not call it his greatest knock.”My best was the 101 at Old Trafford in 1974 in conditions tailor-made for fast-bowling. Or even the 57 I scored at the same ground in 1971. The wicket was green, atmosphere humid, Price bowled fast and fur really flew,” he recalls.Plodding Progress: But with all his technical accomplishments and run-getting, Gavaskar’s was never a spectacular presence on the wicket, barring that explosive innings at Kotla. Says Bishen Singh Bedi: “He was an accumulator, not a destroyer of bowling. Not like Vivian Richards who may destroy you, or may not. Viv would give you a chance, Sunil won’t.He grinds the opposition over a longer period, but much more effectively.” Basically, as Gavaskar himself admits, his approach to batting has been technical, correct and defensive, shorn of the pyrotechnics of a Patil or “King” Richards. “I am not the greatest. I am content to defend against a good ball. But a great batsman can hit it for four runs,” he admits modestly. Says Frank Keating, the well-known cricket columnist of The Guardian: “Sunil does nothing particularly flamboyant, but just gets his feet in position – and his head out of the way – and makes runs.”It is probably Geoffrey Boycott, the contemporary and controversial Englishman, who comes closest to him, and hardly anybody, barring Mansur Ali Khan “Pataudi” ranks Boycott higher. Gavaskar has the same concentration but a decidedly less selfish approach to his batting. “He certainly plays many more strokes than Boycott,” says Michael Holding, visibly piqued by the comparison.”I wouldn’t even think of comparing the two. Boycott has no natural ability – he is a man-made cricketer,” asserts Farokh Engineer, former Indian and Lancashire wicket-keeper who has seen enough of both Gavaskar and Boycott. Gavaskar’s forte is his concentration that the legendary West Indian batsman Rohan Kanhai calls “very, very, very great”, and footwork which Keating calls “almost an art form, never faulted”. Even before he went out to play his first series, the correctness of the technique was there for everyone to see.There are few contemporaries who can match his concentration which is his greatest forte. Moreover, he knows his limitations and, the greatest of all, has been consistent over a period of time. -Cl1ve LloydThe Discovery: Perhaps the first to see the enormous talent in his five-and-a-half foot frame was none else than West Indian Conrad Hunte, who watched Gavaskar play a short innings for Bombay University against Osmania in the Vizzy Trophy final at Hyderabad.A member of the West Indies team then touring India, he was the chief guest at the final and lavishly praised Gavaskar in his speech even though the callow youngster, with fuzz on his cheeks, had scored very few runs. It was a great compliment for Gavaskar who had watched him play with awe and admiration in the series then being played. “His backlift, so straight and high, was the thing I had my eye glued on, and also the way his front foot was always where the ball was pitched. I must confess that I have tried to model my batting on Hunte’s style,” admits Gavaskar.But over the years, as he grew in stature, he also succeeded in evolving his own inimitable style of batting – a still head, tremendous eye, the art-form foot-work and inexhaustible, sometimes irritating store of patience. His critics – of whom there is no dearth – have always castigated him for having been a slow scorer, a pedestrian accumulator guided solely by his insatiable appetite for runs and records. But even if the Kotla innings was too isolated an instance to silence the critics, a look at his scoring pattern in his initial days when he used to hook, cut and glance freely should be sufficient to prove Clive Lloyd’s contention that he “has every stroke in the book”.Unrelenting Pressure: It was due to the pressures of being the team’s only consistent run-getter, the perennial demand that he see off not only the first but also the second new ball, in order to safeguard the ever-so-brittle middle-order, and later of the captaincy that he resorted to the tremendous self-denial of cutting out most of his belligerent strokes – limiting the region between cover and mid-wicket for run-getting. Wrote seasoned cricket scribe K.N. Mohlajee in The Statesman after his Kotla innings: “One stroke that he unleashed after a decade of self-denial was the hook.” Said Rohan Kanhai: “It is wrong to say that he does not have strokes. He has all of them. Off the front-foot and back-foot, on the onside and offside. And he is very, very competent playing each one of them.”Interestingly, the stodgy veneer of defence that Gavaskar began acquiring towards the end of his first Australian tour as a member of the Rest of the World team shortly after his debut in West Indies came following advice from the great Don himself. Recalls Gavaskar: “He asked me not to be over-anxious as I had been in the earlier part of the tour, or over-defensive as I had “been later. He suggested that a judicious blend of attack and defence would do me good.”Lbw to Lillee 70 at Melbourne: near walkoutDefensive Tactics: In his quest for the right mix, Gavaskar perhaps made the mistake of becoming ultra-defensive, but the fact is that while the brittle Indian batting line-up needed runs from his blade, it always needed his staying powers to keep one end going.Consequently, he never grew into a batsman who could collar bowling with sheer offence. “Maybe that was because of his short stature,” surmises Clive Lloyd. But Vivian Richards differs: “It just does not depend on your physique. It only depends on the rhythm in your body.” Adds Andy Roberts, whom Gavaskar called the most formidable paceman he has ever faced: “Everton Weekes was short, so was Bradman.” But Gavaskar himself admits that a few more inches would have helped him pull the spinners better.While he did curb the strokes in the interest of the team he did, over the years, develop some kind of abhorrence, not fear, for short-pitched fast bowling, the first genuine taste of which India got in the series in the West Indies in 1976. when the four-man pace battery of Holding, Daniel, Roberts and Holder maintained a sustained onslaught, making the ball come onto the batsman’s chin from good-length, giving a short batsman like Gavaskar no chance to score at all.And when this was turned into sheer bodyline by Malcolm Marshall bowling round the wicket earlier this year, the master was found wanting. In the 12 encounters before the Delhi Test, this year, the same Marshall whom he had whacked for 40 runs in two overs in 1979 had got him out cheaply nine times. Said Andy Roberts to India Today: “His weakness is his body. That is why a fast bowler would attack him there.”But it wasn’t so simple because, over the years, Gavaskar had refrained from using the helmet against the world’s fastest bowlers, avoiding the fast-rising ball by Instinct in a manner that, according to the famous Pakistani cricket commentator Iftikhar Ahmed, “was an art perfected into a science”.Costly Lapses: Yet, of late, this very gift seemed to have left him, as did his judgement of the ball leaving the off-stump which was considered unparalleled in contemporary cricket. He perished repeatedly, sparring at outgoing ones or jabbing at the short ones lifting to his chin. Suddenly, his wrought-iron armour began showing chinks that none had anticipated.He developed the suicidal shuffle towards the off-stump that allowed fast bowlers to knock out his leg-stump if they did not get him out edging. “I sort of did not know where my off-stump was,” he confesses now. And it seemed all over, with those two deadly spells that West Indies speed merchant Marshall bowled in the first Test of the current series in Kanpur.In two innings, he lasted for just seven balls. To cricket-watchers it seemed to be the end of an era as in the second innings, a Marshall bouncer sent his bat flying and the ball lobbed behind to be caught by Winston Davis. Yet again Gavaskar had failed to get the measure of the real pace.”He was never worried by pace. But now the sheer monotony of short-pitched bowling had got him frustrated. Cricketers abroad are professional; they made video tapes and studied his batting. In fact it was Alan Davidson who advised the Australians to overwhelm him with persistent, short-pitched stuff”,” says his father Manohar Gavaskar, a marketing executive with a textile firm and the keenest watcher of his game.The Little Master relaxes with wife Marshneil in his hotel room after a hard day’s battingHe recalls how, after studying Sunil’s performance in the West Indies, he sent him to Pune to seek the advice of former Maharashtra Ranji player Kamal Bhandarkar, now over 70, who advised him to start hooking.Thus the onslaught at Kotla was no sudden flourish, his attack was planned. Says Vasu Paranjpe, his friend, colleague at Nirlon and captain of his Dadar Union Club for over 15 years: “After the one-day International at Srinagar, Sunil came and told me that he had never seen a leather ball travel as fast as the first one from Marshall did at Srinagar. I told him, now with four fast bowlers operating for one team it is impossible to contain them by defence. You will have to attack. But I am sure even Sunil will pinch himself if he saw the video film of his innings – there was a touch of desperation about it.” As he said after the 29th century, Gavaskar now intends to enjoy his batting. He certainly is tired of being on the defensive against fast men. Even Lloyd admits: “If he is fed-up, it is understandable. Who likes fast bowling?”But glorious though Gavaskar’s achievements are, it is fatuous to compare him with Bradman, as Gavaskar himself admits. Bradman had got his runs much faster, and in a much more commanding fashion with an average almost twice as high as his.Yet it is to be said in Gavaskar’s favour that he has scored his runs at a time when, to quote the septuagenarian doyen of Indian cricket Vijay Merchant, “Cricket had ceased to be a game.” The pressures on a cricketer have certainly increased tremendously. Says Merchant: “You also cannot forget that Bradman often came out to bat when Woodfull and Ponsford (the Australian openers) had already put up nearly 200 runs, and the ball was fairly old. He rarely had to face fresh new ball attackers as Sunil has always done. And standards of pace bowling and fielding have improved today just like that of the athletes.”Besides, as old-timers point out, Brad- man was never forced into batting under the kind of pressure that has been inflicted on Gavaskar. Confessed a team-mate: “You can only sympathise with him. In these 167 innings, each time he went out to open the innings, he knew he had to stay: for if he got out early, most of us might just follow in a procession.”It is because of these factors that many of his supporters rate him higher than Ian Chappe II, Dough Walters, Rohan Kanhai and Ken Barrington. Says Andy Roberts: “He has got 8,000 runs, and none of them came against India who are the easiest to score off.”Added FreddieTrueman,whose record of 307 Test wickets stood for 15 years before being broken by Lance Gibbs (309): “He would surely have had a lot more runs if he had the Indian attack to play against.” But Gavaskar dismisses the suggestions with a wave of the hand and says: “Even our attack was pretty formidable when the spinners were at their peak.”Changing Game: Another change in the basic approach to the game from Bradman’s times is the present-day defensive approach of both the bowlers and fielders. In the old days the bowlers kept on attacking the stumps and maintained close-in fielders even if the batsman was on the rampage. Today, even a few attacking strokes scatter the fielders to the run-saving positions in the deep, and get the bowler aiming away from the stumps.But while Gavaskar got his runs under more pressure and against superior attacks, the technical conditions to get these had become better over the years. In fact, the Gavaskar decade is also the decade of major change in the way cricket is played, in the technical sense. Says Merchant: “The bats and balls are better now. So is the protective equipment which includes the introduction of the helmet. And please note that the wickets are covered all the time now. They are not even exposed to dew, which was not the case in our times.”Gavaskar too says the tools of the game have become better with the time. “The bats are better but the balls are often defective. The boots are not of very good quality,” he says, and mentions that he is designing new boots for cricket, himself.New Equipment: The greatest change by far has come in the quality of the protective equipment. Leg-guards are much lighter than the hockey-goalkeeper-variety in vogue in W.G. Grace’s days. And the helmet is not the only new introduction. There are thigh-guards, chest-guards and extended gloves for the arm, protecting the entire region up to the elbow. Observes Merchant wryly: “Today the batsman comes to the pitch as if dressed for battle.”If all this helped Gavaskar get his thousands in greater comfort and security, he has also had to contend with the growing pressures of professionalism in the game, a process which began, at least in India, only after Gavaskar’s arrival on the scene. In retrospect, it was all perhaps largely because of him, apart from the ebullient Bishan Bedi.From a mere Rs 750 when he began playing, a cricketer today stands to lose Rs 15,000 if he is dropped for just one Test, and the thought weighs heavily on his mind as he goes out to play. Besides, his performance also affects the consumer goods he promotes, the company which hired him to boost its image, the publications he writes for or edits, and income from numerous franchises and endorsements.But Gavaskar, whom Bedi calls “a thoroughbred professional, very, very British”, seems to wallow in the pressures of professionalism. In fact he has been a kind of a trend-setter in teaching fellow cricketers how to translate popularity and success, which can last for only a small part of their lives, into hard cash.He works for Nirlon as deputy manager (public relations) and also edits Indian Cricketer, a monthly glossy brought out by the Aajkaal group of Calcutta. Besides he is on contract with the manufacturers of Thums Up, sporting their equipment and clothes, acts in their advertisement films and models, among other things, for upholstery and mattresses.While Ramesh Chauhan, chairman of Parle Exports, who manufactures Thums Up, would not disclose the amount involved in the contract, it is likely to be fairly substantial. Viren C. Sagar, managing director of Nirlon, says his company spends nearly a lakh a year on Gavaskar but it is worth it. Says he: “This brings so much goodwill for the company. And if he goes to Delhi on company’s work to meet government officials and others, it is that much easier because they would all like to talk to him.” Ingenious Businessman: But Gavaskar’s ingenuity and shrewd businessman’s mind will not allow him to limit himself to a job, endorsements and editing. He is busy designing new sportsgear, bearing his logo – a spinning cricket ball with “Sunny” written on it.The gear is being sold at “Sunny’s Sports Boutique” in Pune which he opened in partnership with Shubhangi Kulkarni, former Indian women’s cricket team captain, and another friend, Raju Mehta. In fact, on the eve of the one-day International at Baroda he was releasing his new cricket boots, named “SG 7000” and intends to open more branches all over the country, besides giving franchises to major sports goods sellers in major towns where “it is expensive to open new establishments”.Says Ajit Wadekar, the State Bank officer who also endorses Vimal suiting: “From just a game, cricket has now become a bread-and-butter proposition. But what is wrong with it?” But Merchant does not agree: “In our days we played cricket for the love of it. We were not given even a rupee as taxi fare. Now it has become big business. Just the other day both Sandeep Patil and Mohinder Amarnath insisted on playing in a Test match in spite of being unfit, for they wanted their Rs 15,000.” But he admits that the monetary stakes increase the pressures on the batsman though Gavaskar would not agree.In fact Gavaskar still defends his pro-Packer stance in what he says was the most controversial period of his career. “I was inclined to join Packer because I wanted to play with the world’s best. And he had promised that he would release us whenever we were needed for the Tests.And the board maligned me for that. The argument was how could we be selected if we did not play domestic matches. How many domestic matches have I played, anyway? And did anyone protest when Vijay Amritraj and Prakash Padukone began to play abroad as professionals?” he asks with indignation. Says father Manohar: “All this weakness against pace bowling would have gone if the Indian cricketers were allowed to play with Packer.”Controversial Image: His tryst with Packer was not the only time when Gavaskar found himself at the centre of controversy. It began in right earnest with his autobiography Sunny Days, published in 1976 where he made forthright, if sometimes rude comments on people, umpires, officialdom and even places.If his saying that he wasn’t impressed by Lord’s upset the British, the Jamaicans were outraged by his calling them savages who wanted blood every time a West Indies fast bowler came in to bowl. He was widely accused of having deliberately tried to harm Venkataraghavan’s chances as captain by playing that innings of 36 not out in 60 overs while chasing England’s 334 at Lord’s in the first Prudential Cup tournament in 1975, and the Cricket Control Board sought his explanation for it in writing.Says Gavaskar: “It was an inexplicable innings and I wish I had been given the chance to forget it,” and indignantly denies the suggestion that it was deliberate. “The crowd, clanging beer cans, made such a din. I got into some kind of a mental block. Even when I tried to hit in the air and get out I was dropped. I just don’t know how it happened,” he says.Most controversial was his near walkout at Melbourne, upset by an LBW decision and abusive language from Dennis Lillee. “That was silly of me,” he admits now. Once again he was widely accused of getting Mohinder Amarnath axed from the side that toured England in 1982, and including Bombay teammates Suru Nayak and Ghulam Parkar against form.Counters Gavaskar: “Okay, they did not do well. But neither did Gursharan Singh and Ashok Malhotra on the last tour to West Indies. They were from the north. Did someone accuse Kapil of having been parochial?” Gavaskar believes that he has always got the rough end of the stick from a section of the press.Says he: “After my century in Delhi, someone wrote that I survived a confident appeal at 63 when I was hit on the back foot off holding. I said to myself, doesn’t this guy know, I was hit on the front foot? Maybe that’s why he is in the press-box while I am in the middle.”But there is no denying that all Bombay cricketers look to him for help and guidance. Says Ravi Shastri: “He’s a father-figure, a terrific man. Need I say more?” Adds former team-mate Eknath Solkar: “Even though he played under my captaincy for the Indian schools, I always looked forward to him for help and guidance.”Difficult Phase: The controversies only snowballed as he was appointed captain in the 1978-79 series against West Indies following the exit of Bedi in the wake of the disaster in Pakistan. Gavaskar had in fact celebrated his first appearance as captain with a century and victory in the Auckland Test against New Zealand while Bedi was indisposed.But now, against a depleted West Indies team, he somehow failed to marshal his decidedly better resources into securing a more authentic win. Though he collected 732 runs from the series his captaincy showed a lack of killer instinct and India won only one of the six Tests. Alvin Kallicharan’s West Indies managed to draw the rest. True, this was the phase after the great spin quartet had faded out but Dilip Doshi and Kapil did not bowl badly. In fact from his own slow approach to batting it seemed the Indian captain wanted to play safe and hang on to his 1-0 lead. But he was not a selfish, record-hungry captain as was evident in his declaring the innings at Calcutta while he was batting fluidly at 182, on the threshold of a double-century. The defensive approach was yet again clearly visible in the third Test against the MCC at Bangalore in 1981 when he took 11 hours 42 minutes to score 172, an Indian record for the longest innings and one that he would perhaps like to forget.It was his ponderous, reticent nature that did not allow him to become an attacking, high-profile captain like Ian Chappell or Tony Greig though he did flatter to deceive when, in the home series against Pakistan, he succeeded in getting his boys motivated enough to inflict a remarkable 2-0 defeat on an opposition which, on paper, had better batting and bowling.Mellowed Man: Even when he took the team to Australia later, he gave the indication of developing into an attacking captain as, in his first meet-the-press after arriving in Australia he declared: “I have told the boys to play as if they were playing against Pakistan.” But it was his persistent failure with the bat in that series which left him a much mellowed man.Gavaskar seemed to disintegrate to some degree in the return series in Pakistan earlier this year as he struggled with form and saw, to his amazement, Indian batting collapse again and again on perfect batting strips. The losses made him even more of a loner and as a former team-mate remarked: “He had very little to offer the boys off the field.”Even Ajit Wadekar says: “He was a defensive captain though you can understand that because he commanded limited resources. But he was also sometimes difficult to understand. For example, he gave Dhiraj Parsana just two overs against England in Delhi.”His strongest defence comes from his father who says Sunil isn’t such a loner. “He began organising the Sunday club on tours,” he says. Gavaskar explains that the Sunday club was an institution meant to provide a light interlude to team-mates on a difficult tour. Said he: “They all came to the club, dressed in weird costumes decided for the week and enjoyed themselves in an informal atmosphere. But we gave it up on the Pakistan tour as we found that some of the blokes who had become senior did not enjoy it any more.”Gavaskar’s detractors admit that there is hardly a shrewder judge of the game than him in India. Says Bedi: “He has such concentration, such single-minded devotion. So wrapped up is he that I think he would have made a magnificent golfer.”He is also ambitious, enjoys power and that is why the most disappointing phase of his life was when he was replaced as captain by Kapil Dev after the disastrous series against Pakistan earlier this year. While he would himself not comment on it his father would pull no punches and says: “How did he fail when he averaged nearly 50? How was Kapil’s performance any better? It was a great injustice.”Loss of captaincy suddenly meant the loss of all power and even little privileges that matter – like an independent hotel room on tour. In case of Gavaskar it also meant loss of form and it was through sheer determination that he overcame the shock to retain his place as the country’s topmost opening batsman. Today, he puts it more philosophically: “That’s the game. A particular approach succeeds, they pat you on the back. You fail, they kick you in the backside.”While his stodginess and reticence have origins in his humble, middle class upbringing and in his persistent fight to make it to the top all on his own, his patronising attitude towards the Bombay cricketers comes from the fascinating fact that almost all of them come from the Dadar-Shivaji Park area and have played together as little children: Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, Wadekar, Subhash Gupte, Balu Gupte, Madhav Mantri, Sudhir Naik, Sharad Hazare and Milind Rege – the list would read like a who’s who of Bombay cricket.And almost each of them learnt the game in these humble surroundings, graduating through the Bombay schoolboys’ Giles and Harris Shield, the club’s Kanga League and finally to the Ranji Trophy via the Indian Schoolboys’ team and Vizzy and Rohinton Baria trophies for the universities where Gavaskar rewrote practically all batting records.Childhood Obsession: Gavaskar today nostalgically shows visitors the narrow courtyard in front of the old flat where he was born on July 10, 1949 and where he played with a tennis ball for the first few years. “There are buildings on both sides and the only way you could get runs was by driving straight. And if you hit a window-pane you were given out. Now you know why my straight-drive is so good and why I lift the ball so rarely,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes.Recalls childhood pal and cricket companion Subhash Ambiye: “He would never get out. So we appealed even when the ball hit his arm and declared him out by majority verdict so that the others could also bat.”Under the watchful eye of his parents – his father played club cricket and his mother captained the locality’s women’s cricket team – and his uncle Madhav Mantri who had kept wickets for India in one Test, he graduated to Shivaji Park.Recalls father Manohar: “We sent him to Xavier’s for both schooling and college education. They had always had the best cricket teams.” At 19, he made his mark in university cricket, and later his way to the Bombay Ranji team. It took him just four matches in first-class cricket to impress the selectors enough to include him in the team touring the Caribbean in 1971.These humble beginnings also made him a loner to a degree. He has often been accused of retiring with his books at the end of a game rather than spend time with teammates even when he was captain. His persistent fights with the selectors, board officials and the press have cemented the impression of his being short-tempered and stodgy. But Bishan Bedi recalls that all great batsmen have been loners and that includes Bradman, Barry Richards and Boycott. Says he: “Only we bowlers enjoy ourselves perhaps because it is a batsmen’s game.”Introverted Nature: At home Gavaskar is a retiring person and spends most of his time with his parents, wife Marshneil and son Rohan who plays cricket left-handed like Rohan Kanhai after whom he has been named. Says Marshneil: “It’s amazing because he writes and plays all other games right-handed.” His own finances are managed by his father. Says Gavaskar with a mischievous grin: “I don’t know how much I own. Ask my father. I only own myself.”His preoccupations like writing and business leave very little time for other interests though he reads thrillers and watches dishum-dishum movies on the video. Says he: “Give me a free evening and I’ll watch Prakash play a game of badminton, anywhere.”Gavaskar was a keen student and old Xavierites remember him as a serious type. Says alumnus and former college team-mate Rajiv Haksar: “He was a serious person. But on the cricket field it was impossible to get him out though as a fielder he had butter-fingers.”It is a combination of the triumphs and pains of his 13-year innings, that today works on the mind of the cricketing colossus. And it is this that often makes him inclined to call it a day, as he threatens to do now, at the end of this series. “I have played enough cricket,” he says quite unhesitatingly and has even begun laying out plans for his retirement. Ideally he would like to open an indoor coaching centre with modern facilities like bowling machines and various kinds of wickets “if someone gave me the finances”.Continuing Dedication: Most of all, although he does not say so, he would like to do something that helps sportsmen in the country get more, in terms of money, respect and facilities: “I hope someone could suggest how to do it. Perhaps I, Prakash, Vijay (Amritraj), Mike Ferreira and others like us could join hands and do something.” It is obvious that even after he hangs the bat, Gavaskar will continue to be in the midst of it all.Yet there are few – and that includes his family – who believe that he will call it a day so soon. Says brother-in-law Viswanath, who holds the second highest aggregate (6,080) for any Indian batsman: “I think he will continue to play and become the world’s first to aggregate 10,000 runs in Tests. He’s still got everything in him.”Mother Meenal would like him to play till he is 40 but father Manohar would want him to go on only as long as he enjoys it. The shrewdest appreciation of his retirement plans comes from Bedi. Says he: “Cricket is his livelihood. He will not quit because I or someone else wants him to do so. He will take the decision after weighing all factors and convincing himself of it. He does realise that with all the pressure he has exhausted his natural resources. But I do not think he will quit so soon.”West Indies Captain Clive Lloyd, a sprightly 39, says it will be a sorry thing if he were to leave now even though “as we grow older training becomes harder and you may say in the morning, hell, is it all necessary? Why should I slog?” In fact it is hard to find anyone in Bombay – where taxi-drivers look at you scornfully if you try telling them Gavaskar’s address – who would believe he will quit so soon. ‘And perhaps, with all the persuasion, he will not, at least not as long as he is sure of being the country’s number one opening batsman. A team-mate summed it up: “He wants to quit like Vijay Merchant; when people will ask ‘why’ and not ‘why not?’ But why should he quit when everyone will say ‘why the hell’?”last_img

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