Gavaskar was the founder member of the 10,000-run club in Test cricket. Many other greats followed him. In a slight deviation from being the first to many a milestone on the cricketing field, the ‘Little Master’ was the fourth to join an elite club of Indian greats.
On his 64th birthday on Wednesday, Gavaskar became the fourth Indian great after Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare and Vinoo Mankad to be inducted into the Cricket Club of India’s Legends Club, 10 years after its formation.
Though Gavaskar was not present at the induction ceremony in the midst of some of the greats of Indian and Mumbai cricket as he was in the United Kingdom, the narrative descriptions of his rise to greatness and anecdotes by his close friends and team-mates ensured that he was not missed.
Ravi Shastri has been as close to Gavaskar as anyone can be, from the cricket ground to the commentators’ box. The former India all-rounder said that there are a few cricketers who would leave a legacy behind. “MAK Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni come in that category. Nobody expected an opening batsman from India to leave a legacy,” Shastri said. “Players of his generation and the following generations wanted to emulate this man. Sunny transformed Indian cricket in a way that when opening batsmen from this part of the world were unheard of. ‘Shorty’ put India on the world map.”
Shastri said that Gavaskar would have found today’s bowling easy to tackle. “In this day and age, with the rules, the protective gears and the quality of bowling around, it would have been a piece of cake. The quality of fast bowling in the 1970s and 1980s was far better than today. You have to give him credit to what he did.
“I have not seen a better opening batsman. There were greats like Gordon Greenidge, Graham Gooch and Matthew Hayden. But Sunny stands alone. He had the nerves of steel. You call people who got hit by fast bowlers and came back as gutsy. What would you call Sunny, who hardly got hit? What amazes me was his hunger for runs.”
Shastri also recalled how in the West Indies, after he struggled to score in the initial Tests, he was determined to make amends. “He did not get runs in the first two Tests of 1983 tour of the West Indies. A couple of days before the third Test at Guyana, he took me out for dinner. I was only too happy to pick his brains and all I noticed was that he wanted to unwind. He was very relaxed. What happened two days later was what Gavaskar is known to, batting of the highest quality. He was batting on 49 when Malcolm Marshall, bowling round the wicket, hit him on his head. The impact was such that the ball bounced back 10-15 feet towards the bowler. None of the West Indian fielders bothered to check how Sunny was. He did not flinch. West Indies bowlers knew how to catch the batsmen unawares. There were mind games going on as to what the next delivery would be. Sunny was balanced, the ball was pitched up and the next moment, it went like a rocket past Marshall to the boundary and the bat was up to acknowledge his fifty. The counter-attack, his body language sent a message to the opposition. The seniors in the West Indies team then knew what Sunny was up to. He ended up with 147 not out!”
Shastri, who has known Gavaskar for more than 30 years, credited the sexagenarian for changing his career. He recalled: “Sunny changed my career. He had the confidence in my ability that he called me to New Zealand when Dilip Doshi was injured. I straight away got wickets.
“Another instance that changed my life was in Pakistan. Against the pace attack of Imran Khan and Sarfaraz Khan, and umpires Khizar Hayat and Shakoor Rana also to contend with, Gavaskar was fighting a lone battle on that tour. A few days before the Karachi Test, I was unwinding with Patla (Sandeep Patil) when there was a knock at the door. Patla was down with hamstring and I had five stitches in my hand.
He asked when the stitches would be removed and I said it would be taken off the next day. Gavaskar said that I would not only play the next Test but also open with him. I did not want to let him down and eventually I got 128. Sunny was not worried about the criticism he would get for promoting his Mumbai mate. He believed that I had the technique to get the runs.”
Shastri said that Gavaskar “hated to fail”. He said: “The moment you put on a strong player in the opposition, his ‘A’ game arrived.”
Gavaskar’s childhood friend and former Mumbai captain Milind Rege said “Sunil was half as good as Sachin Tendulkar when they grew up. For us, the most talented was Eknath Solkar, whom we tried to emulate. Technically, Gavaskar was not sound as he was much later. Also, Gavaskar never got any formal coaching.”
Rege recalled how a young Gavaskar batted for hours in their colony garage. “Sunil batted, batted and batted, and never got out. We would declare him out, break his bat or did other things that would stop him from batting. He did not like these methods. He never like being cheated, and that was perhaps the reason why he wanted to pull the Indian team out during a Test in Melbourne as he felt cheated against Dennis Lillee.”
Rege said he ought to be credited for converting Gavaskar into an opener. “It was a Giles Shield match and our school (St. Xavier’s) were playing Anjuman HS. By virtue of height, I was the captain. I used to open while Gavaskar used to bat at No. 3. Against Anjuman, I told Gavaskar to go at No. 1. The rest is history.
“Also, in college, Gavaskar was not even half as good as Ramesh Nagdev, who was an outstanding player. Gavaskar was not getting runs in college. Then, our coach, Vinoo Mankad told a few points and his game changed.”
It was an evening to celebrate Gavaskar. He has, for sure, slipped into the Legends Club.
Rahul Mankad, son of Vinoo Mankad, and former Mumbai batsman Shishir Hattangadi also spoke on the occasion.