Sunil Gavaskar, The Original ‘Little Master’ At 60 Not Out – Some Unforgettable Memories
Before Tendulkar, there was Gavaskar. I profess to be a big admirer of the duo. I think it’s unfair to compare the two – I believe that it is not a good idea to compare sporting geniuses across generations. Gavaskar belonged to the era where TV and massmedia were just starting to get hold. An era where Test Cricket dominated and where One-Day-International Cricket was still a relatively new phenomenon.
Probably never in India’s history has one cricketer meant so much to his generation…Yes, not even Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar had many other great players around him – Kapil Dev in his early years, Dravid, Ganguly as his contemporaries; and then Dhoni, Yuvraj at present.
Gavaskar was the ‘Original Little Master’. This week, he celebrates ‘60 Not Out’ in his personal innings. This blog post is an attempt at recounting my ten important memories from his illustrious career. I must admit that there are many more; and this blog simply attempts to capture the ones that came to my mind before any others. I am sure readers will have their own lists. I would be interested in hearing about those.
Sunil Gavaskar played through the era that saw India win its first series in West Indies, in England and the World Cup. He was a witness and the key contributor to the evolution of Indian cricket to its present day world class sporting phenomenon.
I still vividly remember how everyone listened to the radio commentary patiently while eagerly waiting for Gavaskar to score yet another century. How if he got out early, many people used to lose interest in that Test Match. In so many numerous occasions, he single-handedly carried the Indian Cricket on his shoulders.
Here are my great memories of Gavaskar’s career – including some off-the-field ones.
1. 221 at Oval in 1979
Quite possibly one of the best test innings I have followed live. How he got India so close to an improbable and impossible win!
In those days, live TV coverage of Tests in England was not available…so radio was the only source for following the match.
That evening we were driving from Pune to Nashik. We had a reliable ‘Murphy’ Transistor Radio with us in the car and we followed the match pretty much ball-by-ball from from early afternoon through midnight.
Many years later, I actually got to watch the highlights of that match. It was an amazing innings. Imagine set to chase 438 in a little over a day’s play. And thanks to good contributions by Chetan Chouhan and Dilip Vengsarkar, India needed just 110 runs from the 20 mandatory overs with 8 or 9 wickets in hand! What followed was a sad collapse…and India ended up short by 9 runs. 429/8! I still remember that score very well. In fact towards the end it got so bad that we were in danger of actually losing the match.
Even today, I think if…only if had Kapil Dev not played that rash stroke towards the end, India might well have won…and won with a few overs to spare!
2. 97 against Pak at Bangalore in 1987
I think this was Gavaskar’s last Test Innings. And what a valiant single-handed fight he led on a crumbling Bangalore pitch as wickets tumbled all around him!
3. Century at Nagpur against New Zealand in the 1987 Reliance World Cup
It was almost like Gavaskar had decided to retire in style! How can one explain that this was the same batsman who made that infamous 36 N.O. in the 1979 World Cup in 60 Overs, chasing England’s score of 334!
There were glimpses of Tendulkar’s batting audacity in that innings. Gavaskar, who had firmly been indoctrinated in the ‘Test Cricket School of Thought’ for majority of his career, suddenly started lofting the ball. And the results were terrific. Even the swash buckling Srikanth was in awe! He eventually raced onto a century in just over 80 balls. Poor New Zealand that had earlier been demolished by Chetan Sharma’s hat-trick, were literally taken to the cleaners.
4. Century Number 29
How can any cricket lover from the 1980s forget Number 29! And Gavaskar equaled Bradman’s record in style. India was coming into the 2nd Delhi Test after an embarrassing defeat at Kanpur. Malcolm Marshall had literally destroyed Indian batting, scuttling them for 99 runs in the first innings of that Test.
Later on he discussed in an interview how he deployed the Hook Shot after many years. This shot that got him so many runs in that epic first series against WI in 1971, seemed to have been dormant for a while. He said, he had decided before hand that if the West Indian pace attack pitched short, he was going to hook. And this led to one of his fastest test centuries!
Still remember watching that innings on a grainy Black & White TV. Gavaskar also admitted later that he was in trance after reaching that coveted milestone, and it was no surprise that a fairly ordinary ball from Larry Gomes got him clean bowled.
5. Walkout at Melbourne during the 1981 Test.
This was probably one of the most ‘infamous’ moments of Gavaskar’s career. Professional sport is not for the faint-hearted. A combination of sledging by Dennis Lillie and the Aussies, and some bad umpiring decisions had really gotten to his head. Later on, he admitted that it was a mistake to ‘walk out’ of a Test Match.
6. That consummate businessman
Gavaskar was a cricketing genius on and off the field. Like Bradman, he too has had a very successful personal career, post retirement.
He was India’s first sportsman to make ‘big bucks’, marketing his personal ‘brand’. From the early Thumbs Up and Palmolive commercials to the present day endorsements, he has set the benchmark for many who followed in his footsteps. Remember those ‘Happy Days Are Hear Again’ Thumbs Up commercials of the early 1980s, starring Gavaskar, Sandeep Patil and Ravi Shastri? Or that 1970s Palmolive shaving cream ad with those special effects graphics – Gavaskar hitting that terrific square drive?
He also timed his retirements perfectly. Remember that totally unexpected announcement at the top – after winning the Benson & Hedges 1985 World Cup cricket in Australia – when he announced his intentions of stepping down as captain. And his final retirement in 1987, post the Reliance World Cup.
Unfortunately, as I discussed earlier in this blog post, his last innings of 97 couldn’t see India through. Also when it comes to ODIs, while his first (and only) Century against New Zealand in his penultimate match was great, he failed in his last match – the semi-final against England at his home ground Wankhede Stadium Mumbai.
7. Gavaskar – The Author
Along with his cricket, I have always admired Gavaskar as a writer as well. His first book – Sunny Days hit the stands in 1976 and was a huge success. I personally read it for the first time in 1979 (The Marathi translation by B.G. Pandit) and then an year later – the original English version.
Even today, Sunny Days remains one of my most favorite books. Not only did he discuss cricket at great length, but his description of the off-field life of cricketers was even more interesting! And his writing style was very engrossing.
He followed this book up with ‘Idols’, ‘Runs & Ruins’ and others. I have read each of his books quite a few times.
Today, he is an excellent columnist and TV commentator. I am still hoping that someday he publishes an overall autobiography – some kind of a combination of his earlier books.
8. That Stance
Different people will list different strokes as their favorites. For me, it started with his stance. I have yet to come across any other batsman with such an elegant, simple and relaxed batting stance. I think that stance alone was an inspiration to an entire generation of cricketers, Tendulkar included.
9. That straight drive
Gavaskar had many great strokes in his armory. But I liked his straight drive the most. Perfect balance and swing of the bat…the head position, the balance. Guess many cricket coaches even today would start with that video!
10. Gavaskar – the TV Producer & Anchor: ‘Sunil Gavaskar Presents’
Gavaskar was the first person to bring international cricket into the living rooms of millions of cricket crazy Indian fans in the mid-80s. Sunil Gavaskar Presents was a great TV show. In those days, we didn’t get many live international matches telecast in India. This show was the first opportunity to see some of the great games and players of world cricket. Still remember those great matches – the Melbourne test in the 1977 to commemorate 100 years of Eng-Aus cricket; India’s great win in England in the 1971 series, those 6 sixers from Gary Sobers, that amazing West Indian bowling prowess, Denis Lillie and Thompson bowling in tandem, those great innings of Vivian Richards, the list goes on and on and on!
As I mentioned earlier, these 10 memories came to mind this week. I will leave the readers with one more…probably one that many readers might be unaware of! Gavaskar – The Film Star J . He did a small role in a Marathi Film ‘Savli Premachi’ in the mid-70s. Remember watching that film on Mumbai Doordarshan a few years later…guess what?! He was pretty good at that as well!
To conclude, here’s a typical Gavaskar classic: