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Sunny-ka suraj ast ho gaya!
By Padam Pathi Sharma
That was the headline used in the Hindi media after Sunil Gavaskar was out cheaply in the Kanpur test in 1983.
The West Indians came to India with the intention of taking revenge for the defeat in the 1983 world cup final. Their attack had the necessary venom and the Kanpur pitch was just what they could have ordered for. Tailor-made for the quickies like Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding. Marshall, in particular, was in the best of his rhythms. In one of his bouncers, Sunil Gavaskar tried to defend it when the ball lifted awkwardly and Gavaskar, in his attempt to lose the bottom hand, lost the control of his bat and the bat had fallen out of his grip. People thought the best batsman against fast bowling was past his best days and as the test ended in three and a half days, critics all over the country were after him.
We were following the Indian team as usual. The next test was in Delhi. We reached there couple of days early. Feroze Shah Kotla was ready to host the test. But before two days of the test, in the morning, when we went to Feroze Shah Kotla to see how the Indians were practicing, we could not find Gavaskar.
Where is he? What was he doing? We all were worried to know.
We met Wes Hall in the way. And when we asked him what should Sunny do to combat with the pace and swing of the Caribbean fast bowlers, Hall was surprised. “I was a bowler who has only a fifty in test matches and you are asking me to find the way for that batsman who had countered the faster bowlers better than any other batsman?” However, he did point out one or two things like, take the right foot behind, allow yourself a split of a second more etc.
Along with a senior journalist, we were looking for Gavaskar when Karsan Ghavri told us, he was practicing in the Ambedkar nets. Immediately we went there and found Gavaskar in the nets, trying o do something he had never done previously – hooking and pooling bouncers!
Actually, in the beginning of his career, he was a very good hooker and pooler of a cricket ball but as things stood, he became the backbone of Indian batting line up and to erase that minimum amount of risk from his batting, he did not try to hook or pool. But when the bouncer from Marshall got his wicket in Kanpur, he was preparing to reply Marshall in his own terms.
So, there were quite a few local fast bowlers who were bowling only bouncers at him from 20 yards on that morning. He did it purposefully. Knowing that the local lads would never reach the speed of Marshall, he wanted to have lesser amount of reaction time and for that the distance was lessened two yards.
The next day, too, he did the same. On those two days, after seeing him practice so hardly for almost nine hours to perfect his hook, I was more confident that it was going to be his day in Delhi and the West Indian battery of fast bowlers would then see what Gavaskar is all about. But that was not enough to convince our News Editor to allow me to write a piece on Sunil Gavaskar. I was ready to go miles to convince him that Sunil would emulate Sir Donald Bradman’s 29 hundreds in that very test and in Bradmansque manner. After long hours of conversation, he allowed and my article was published on the first morning of the Delhi test where I did predict that Sunil was going to do it in that test match itself.
Even there were doubts in my fellow cricket-reporters’ mind that I would be proved wrong. But the greatest opener in the history of test cricket stood beside me! He ddi reach his 29th test hundred that day, leaving the Marshalls and the Holdings surprised by hooking every bouncer targeted at him. It was an innings we could never forget because it made us, Indians, proud. We could not think about any other Indian who could have emulated Sir Don’s number of test hundreds and Sunil made history.
My association with Sunil Gavaskar went a few more years before that. I first saw him in 1966 when he came to Benaras Hindu University ground to play an exhibition match at the Art College Maidan. He scored exactly 27 in each of the innings, but the impression was very much there. Actually, it was said that a ‘copy of Vijay Merchant’ was coming to Benaras and we did not want to lose that opportunity to watch that very batsman. The most significent thing was that Sunny hit effortless six in both of his inning by hooking Subrat guha then the fastest bowler of the country.
That match had a ever-lasting impression in my mind since it was something I had never seen before. I was in love with the young guy who was going to rock the cricketing world soon. And he did it four years after when he had scored 774 runs in his debut series in West Indies and announced his arrival to the cricketing world.
Thanks Sunil Gavaskar, for all the memories right from that art college maidan to Feroze Shah Kotla to the Bicentenary test match at Lord’s in 1987. We never had a batsman of your stature and there will be no one like you, too!