SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Sunil Manohar Gavaskar. Born in Bombay. 10th July 1949. Scored a whopping 771 runs on debut against the West Indies. Was largely instrumental in an epic series win in the Caribbean isles in 1971….
I knew all about him.
As a young boy who had just then made the acquaintance of a game called cricket and was slowly falling in love with it in the by lanes of Saraswathipuram in the 1970s, to me Sunil Gavaskar was god.
The name itself was so lyrical. And the way it sounded was accentuated by a plethora of commentators of those days from the evergreen Suresh Sariah to the pleasant sounding Anant Setalvad to the dulcet voiced Tony Cozier.
From “Gavaskaaaaaar quickly turning it off his hips, the ball racing away to the fine leg fence for fooour; the bowler doesn’t have a clue as to where he should bowl to this maaan, Gavaskaaaaaar” to “Gavaskaaaaaar is gone, taken in the slips; the West Indians are jubilant; Murray rushing to Lloyd in glee; India in deep, deep trouble…”
I had heard it all like a faithful listening to sermons from the pulpit, ears glued to the old beauty, the Bush Baron transistor in my house, with the Donald Duck sticker on the dial!
The radio waves ebbed and heaved. And so did the fortunes of India, built as they were around this short but charmingly handsome man from Chikalwadi in Mumbai, when it was still Bombay. They said taxi drivers in Bombay got angry if you tried telling them how to reach Sunil Gavaskar’s house. They knew it all right!
They said bowlers felt like they were up against a wall made of resolute doggedness when they bowled to him. Chris Old, Bob Willis, Mike Hendricks, Derek Underwood, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Lance Gibbs, Malcolm Marshall, even Gary Sobers.
Not to mention Imran Khan and his cavalier band. “They couldn’t out Gavaskar at all…” sang Lord Relator in the famous calypso that went on celebrate the Indian victory of 1971.
I always wondered what mettle this man was made of, what guts, what mental steadfastness and daring to take on the might of the world’s fast bowling machinery; mean, remorseless, unending, unbending, callous and maniacal as it was in the 1970s.
Gavaskar played for an Indian team that did not really boast of very many similar men who could puff up their chest and say, ‘bowl at me if you can’. It comprised mostly of men, save for one Gundappa Vishwanath and the sporadically brilliant Mohinder Amarnath, who seemed happier in the dressing room than out there in the middle.
A bunch of men who clearly did not have the nerve and the verve to strap on the buckles of their pads and walk out to the middle to do battle for the country. I remember a cricketer-friend telling me about a batsman from Karnataka who went on the 1975 tour to the West Indies who had confided in him that he was relieved not to have got a chance to play a single test match on that tour!
And then I remembered Sunil Gavaskar. How many times in his career did he not take on bone crushing balls bowled by big, strong men with the incessantness of a Cherrapunji monsoon!
I always wondered how Gavaskar could play fast bowling with such mind boggling consistency despite coming from a cricketing background which simply did not have pace on the agenda.
In a country where ‘fast’ bowlers seemed to have as much pace as a mail train in the outbacks, Gavaskar’s was sheer genius.
To him fast bowlers in the Ranji Trophy or the Duleep Trophy circuit, the only source of practice in between Test matches, surely seemed like vanilla ice cream, in terms of their malleability. Yet he played the cannon balls of the world in the heat of competition at the international level like he was licking a cone of vanilla ice cream! How amazing this man was surely.
Sunil Gavaskar definitely had his foibles. His eccentricities even. Like when he pushed his opening partner, Chetan Chauhan, out of the playing field, in an act of defiance of the umpire’s ruling of lbw to Dennis Lillee’s bowling in Australia.
Or mockingly playing left handed against Karnataka in a Ranji match, seemingly in contravention of the dignity and decorum expected of a batsman on a cricket field. Even his seemingly firm adherence to players from Bombay.
The legendary exponent of Hindustani music, Bhimsen Joshi, is apparently fond of drink. They say there have been times when he has got on to the stage, in a state of more than just minor inebriation. But then, the alaaps have always flowed with the same magnificence as a silvery stream down a mountain slope.
The musicologist-legend Balamurali Krishna is known for his indiscretions too. Of the type that cannot even be discussed openly in august company. But then, his voice and his renditions have always left indelible impressions on the soul.
The Oxford dictionary describes the word petulant as, “unreasonably impatient or irritable”.
Maybe Sunil Gavaskar was impatient to ensure that his country’s flag always flew high on the cricket fields of the world and was irritable when most of his team mates did not measure up to the task on hand!
As for being unreasonable in his quest for cricketing greatness, maybe, just maybe, it was a part of him as well.
Record books are for ever. And if you ever flipped their pages, they will show that Sunil Manohar Gavaskar scored 34 hundreds in Test cricket. And also that the team he played for was India. Not the Chikalwadi XI! Ever!
So, to all those who ask if he was the most petulant Indian cricketer ever, I can only paraphrase C.L.R. James: “What do they know of Gavaskar who only Gavaskar know?”