A Sunny Sixty!

A Sunny Sixty!

Sunil GavaskarGreat men, history will testify, usually come in small packages. As in the case of Sunil Gavaskar, arguably the greatest opening batsman in the history of Test cricket.

India have produced numerous batting jewels before Gavaskar, and several glittering ones since. The Nayudus, Merchants, Mushtaqs, Manjrekars and Hazares showed glimpses of the joy Indian batsmanship can provide in the pre-Gavaskar era, while the Vengsarkars, Viswanaths, Azharuddins, Dravids, Laxmans and Sehwags have since carried forward that tradition in stirring fashion. Barring the phenom that is Sachin Tendulkar, though, no one has quite fired the imagination like Gavaskar did.

Impressive numbers notwithstanding, what Gavaskar will forever be remembered for is the belief he generated and the confidence he instilled in a country that, sporadic shows of individual brilliance apart, hadn’t bridged the gulf between passion and performance. So dexterously did the original little big man of Indian cricket handle the meanest of fast bowlers that his 16-year international career has come to be recognised as the seminal moment in Indian cricket history.

Far better credentialed individuals have analysed and elucidated the characteristics that made Gavaskar the overwhelming success he was as a batsman -- impeccable technique, unflappable temperament, immense powers of concentration, great stamina, a wide range of strokes, an intelligence more innate than cultivated. What makes the Gavaskar success story so captivating and inspirational is that these facets were developed in a country not short on cricketing heritage, but most certainly lacking in quality fast bowling and, therefore, in batsmen capable of holding their own against quality fast bowling.

Gavaskar’s remarkable rise through the ranks originated in the narrow by-lanes of Mumbai (then Bombay), and progressed to the maidans that have nurtured many a remarkable talent. The cricketing support within the family came from a Test player uncle, Madhav Mantri; so long as studies weren’t a casualty, his parents had no objection to Gavaskar living out his cricketing dream.

That dream was realised in the Caribbean in 1971, a series that changed India’s perception to opening batting, to the art of tackling the new ball, indeed their very approach to Test cricket. With the 21-year-old at the forefront, India registered their first series win in the West Indies. Gavaskar was an unqualified hit -- 774 runs in four Tests, an average in the 150s, a century in each innings in the final Test at Port of Spain. The run machine had arrived, bowlers beware!

Suddenly, India’s stock as a cricket nation grew dramatically. Ajit Wadekar marshalled another coup that same year by leading India to a maiden triumph in England. There was a buzz in Indian cricketing circles, and on the streets.  Twenty years before kids started picking up heavy bats and trying to belt the cover off the ball in an attempt to emulate Tendulkar, little boys began to focus on a high left elbow, a dead straight bat. The legend of Gavaskar had well and truly been born.

Unshakeable belief

The passage of time reinforced the unshakeable belief that the West Indies in 1971 had been no flash in the pan. This Gavaskar, he was the real deal. In rain and shine, at home and away, on shirtfronts and spiteful fliers, he had an answer to every probing, body and wicket-threatening question. With minimum of fuss, an economy of movement, no protective headgear, impregnable technique and, most crucially, a large, large heart.
To Gavaskar, every time he went out to bat represented a crusade. It wasn’t so much him against the bowlers as India against the world. He had a point to prove, an example to set. Of such single-mindedness are champions made. Oh, and of course, of 10,122 Test runs and 34 Test hundreds! His one-day record was less than imposing. That said, he was a member of the World Cup-winning side in 1983, and led with aplomb in 1985 as India went all the way in the World Championship of Cricket in Australia.

He had saved his one-day best for last, a memorable assault on New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup in Nagpur in his penultimate international outing bringing him his only 50-over ton, in 85 deliveries. A far cry from the 1975 World Cup, when he batted 60 overs to make 36 not out!

Gavaskar was a rebel with a cause as much off the field as on it, unafraid to speak his mind if he believed cricketers were being short-changed. He took on the officialdom -- a stance that hasn’t changed post-retirement! -- and seldom lost an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.

As he turns 60, Gavaskar can allow him a smile of satisfaction at a job well done. At a trail spectacularly blazed. And an example wonderfully set. Happy returns, indeed!

Sunny fact file

* Born on 10-Jul-1949 at Mumbai
* Right hand batsman and Right Arm Off –break bowler
* Ranji Debut: vs. Karnataka (then Mysore) at Mumbai on 20-Mar-1970
* Last Ranji: vs. Baroda at Mumbai on13-Dec-1986.
* Test Debut: vs. West Indies at Port-of-Spain on 06-Mar-1971
* Last Test: vs. Pakistan at Bangalore on 13-Mar-1987
* ODI debut: vs. England at Leeds on 13-Jul-1974
* Last ODI: vs. England at Mumbai on 05-Nov-1987

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