The day of July 10, 1806 had witnessed the first instance of a large-scale violent mutiny by Indian sepoys against the East India Company. Exactly 143 years later, a person by the name Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was born in Bombay (now Mumbai). Although, there was nothing violent about him, but with a willow in his hand and in a calm demeanour, he ruled over the cricketing world.
Since the time he made his Test debut in 1971, he has been one of the most sought-after cricketing icons in India. Despite the absence of television sets (for a large part of his career) and social media, so much has been written about him that it can be compiled into multiple encyclopaedia volumes. So, what more does one say about India’s original Little Master?
In a bid to rewind the clock to sunny days in the 70s and 80s, we caught up with his opening partner Aunshuman Gaekwad. Incidentally, both Gavaskar and Gaekwad were born at Dr. Purandare’s Clinic on the Marine Drive in Mumbai in different years (So, maybe if you want your future son/daughter to be an opener for India, then this is the place to go).
A statue of calmness
Having opened with Gavaskar in 49 Test innings, he surely knows a thing or two about his legendary partner. “If I could give years of my cricketing life to Sunil and Vishy (Gundappa Viswanath), I would have loved to do so. To keep seeing both of them bat was a dream come true. You couldn’t pinpoint a single mistake in them”, said Gaekwad.
As per him, the master was a statue of calmness and his batting would give confidence to others. Take the case of Gaekwad who wasn’t a regular opener when he had arrived on the Test arena. It was in the third Test at Port of Spain in 1976 (fifth Test of his career) that he was asked to open the innings for the first time. Despite the initial hesitance, he agreed and it is to his credit that he was able to show immediate results.
Along with Gavaskar, he put together an opening stand of 69 in the second innings which laid the foundation for the mammoth chase of 403. In the next Test at Kingston, against all odds they stitched together a century (136) partnership. It was in this match, with his captaincy under scrutiny, that the West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd had asked his fast bowlers to bowl bouncers. Gavaskar had complained against this to the umpires. In response, Douglas Sang Hue, who was one of the umpires said that everything was fine, and the Indian opener was probably not used to facing short-pitched bowling on a bouncy wicket. This left Gavaskar fuming and it was one of the rare times, when Gaekwad had seen his partner lose his cool in the middle.
Although, this match saw Gaekwad and many other Indian batsmen get injured, this opening duo was there to stay. With time, the two became a successful opening pair. Even today, they are the fourth-most successful opening pair for India with four century and nine half-century partnerships. Both of them were known for their resolute technique against fast bowling, which would have been one of the reasons behind the success of their partnership. But irrespective of everything else, walking with Gavaskar used to give that extra confidence to Gaekwad.
Elaborating on this he said, “To be very frank, because of Sunil’s technical soundness and his ability to get into position so early against those quick bowlers, I used to get the feeling that there was nothing in the bowling. It was a big big advantage.”
“Anshu, what is happening, there’s something wrong”
A spectator watching the two on the pitch might feel that they would be discussing a lot about the bowling and charting out strategies. However, as per Gaekwad they would rarely talk in the middle. They would walk half-way down, without looking at each other, just tap the wicket and go back. This minimalistic chat between the two didn’t bother Gaekwad as watching Gavaskar bat from close quarters was an education in itself.
As far as Gaekwad’s memory goes, one of the few instances when they spoke in the middle of a partnership was in a Test match in 1983 when the great man thought that he was having a problem with his batting.
Gavaskar walked up to him and said, “Anshu, what is happening, there’s something wrong”. Coming from the best batsman in the world, Gaekwad said that he must be joking. Nevertheless, he provided his suggestions to the legend.
“If you hit a fast bowler for a boundary, never look up to make eye contact. Look down and go back”
In return, there would have been many tips that he would have got from the master batsman, but there are two things that has always stayed with him. The first was when the little master had told him, “If you hit a fast bowler for a boundary, never look up to make eye contact. Look down and go back”. And the other was, “Every time you go into bat, go with the assumption that there is nobody behind to bat. You are the only one to carry through and you have to finish it”.
With such mental strength in addition to the impeccable technique, the magnitude of Gavaskar’s achievements is not a surprise. Among the master’s many knocks, the one which Gaekwad still remembers vividly is the double century (221) against England at the Oval in 1979. Chasing 438, Gavaskar had taken India to the brink of victory. India eventually finished just nine runs short of the target in the drawn match.
Not only in that match, but for a large part of his career, to borrow from the calypso tribute on him, “It was Gavaskar the real master, just like a wall” who stood tall for India.
Today, as Gavaskar takes a single to move to 71 in the innings of life, Gaekwad feels that much like in many of his long innings, his partner was getting better with age and in fact looked younger than earlier. He also hoped that Gavaskar continues talking cricket and enlightening the youngsters with his knowledge.
And like Gaekwad said, “A legend is always a legend”, the little master will forever remain a legend of the game.