Robin Jackman once said of a batsman as to how he didn’t let him see the off stump for an entire spell and made me bowl where he wanted Robin to bowl rather than where Robin wanted to bowl. Legendary Imran said, off the same batsman, that he impressed Imran on the 1978 tour and has continued to do so ever since. He is the most compact player Imran ever bowled to, playing near to his body with a straight bat with the ability to make late adjustments – a great asset for an opening batsman against the moving ball. He was terribly difficult to dismiss after seeing off the new ball. He always seemed to know where his off-stump was, and his wide array of strokes meant he could easily keep the scoreboard moving in an unspectacular fashion. Both these men, were referring to an Indian legendary Opener – Little Master Gavaskar
Sunny, as he was popularly known, was was one of the greatest opening batsmen of all time, and certainly the most successful. His game was built around a near perfect technique and enormous powers of concentration. It is hard to visualize a more beautiful defense: virtually un-breachable, it made his wicket among the hardest to earn. He played with equal felicity off both front and back foot, had an excellent judgment of length and line and was beautifully balanced. He had virtually every stroke in the book but traded flair for the solidity his side needed more. He held the record for the highest number of Test hundreds for almost 22 years until it was recently overtaken by Sachin Tendulkar (2005), but statistics alone don’t reveal Gavaskar’s true value to India. He earned respect for Indian cricket and he taught his team-mates the virtue of professionalism. The self-actualization of Indian cricket began under him.
Sunil began his international career with the toughest oversees tours of those times – a tour to Caribbean islands to face world’s best and fastest bowling attack. He returned figures of 65, 67*, 116, 64*, 1, 117*, & 220. Four tests series had produced 650 runs @ 162.50, with 3 tons in 7 innings!!! He continued his love for the Caribbean land as he went on to score at an average of 70 (his best against any country anywhere) in 13 tests he played over there. He amassed 2750 runs against West-Indies attack when they were the #1 side in the world and hit 13 tons in 27 tests including 3 double hundreds. During his record-breaking 30th ton at Chennai, when he scored an unbeaten 236, Sunny batted at #4 and when he walked out to bat, Viv Richards said: “Man, it don’t matter where you come in to bat , the score is still zero”, as he had walked in with scores at 0/2.
Gavaskar’s debut series was also India’s First ever win against the West-Indies and it was followed by another memorable victory over England in England. Gavaskar experienced his first stint as India’s captain in New Zealand in January 1976, taking over from Nawab of Pataudi, making 116 and an unbeaten 35 in India’s eight-wicket win in Auckland. However, India lost by an innings in the final Test in Wellington and the series was drawn 1-1. Bishen Singh Bedi was appointed captain for India’s next series in the Caribbean. After an innings defeat in Bridgetown, Sunil Gavaskar struck an unbeaten 156 in the drawn second Test in Port of Spain. However, the highlight of the tour came in the third Test, at the same venue, when Gavaskar and G Viswanath hit centuries in the fourth innings to help India chase down a target of 403. The feat was a record at the time for the highest target chased in a Test. In 1978, during the tour of England, at The Oval, he made 221 in the fourth innings as India pursued 438 for victory, but fell just nine short.
When re-appointed as a captain, Gavaskar was a key in India succeeding their first drawn series down under (1980-81, 1-1). He tasted his biggest success as captain of the one-day team, leading India to victory in the World Championship of Cricket (1984-85) in Australia with an eight-wicket win over Pakistan in the final. Many people criticized him as a defensive test captain, but he was the most successful India captain of his times. Australia was at the receiving end of Gavaskar’s excellent form in the drawn three-Test series in Australia 1985-86 where he struck two centuries. But perhaps his best innings against Australia came in the famous Tied Test in Chennai, where he made 90 in chase of 348. Gavaskar reached another major landmark in his final Test series, against Pakistan at home. His late-cut off Ijaz Fakih in the Ahmedabad Test brought up his 10,000th run in Test cricket, the first batsman to have achieved that feat. He signed off with a classy 96 in his last Test innings in Bangalore, on a land-mine of a wicket, but the game ended in a heartbreaking defeat for India.
He made his last international appearance in the 1987 World Cup and in his penultimate game, smashed an uncharacteristic 103 off 88 balls to help India top their group with a win over New Zealand. This was his maiden ton in the shorter version of the game, finishing with an average of 35.13 in 108 games. His greatness lay in the fact that he knew his limitations; he was a more refined version of Geoff Boycott. He was always there when his side needed him most and played marvelously to bring his team to victory or pretty close. His value was clearly seen even after his retirement, as it took team India, about 28 months and 22 Tests to get their next century stand for opening pair.
After his retirement he earned a reputation as an incisive commentator and columnist. He also headed the ICC’s cricket committee for some time. He lent some instrumental advise and a set of pads to Sachin Tendulkar during his school boy days as cricketer. His son Rohan, was a decent talent, who represented West-Bengal, India, and ICL, IPL leagues. Gavaskar was the first and the original Wall of India who put a hefty price on his wicket and never deterred from his ultimate goal: seeing his side safely home.
-Nikhil Sharad Jadhav