On a memorable evening for cricket lovers, India’s legendary batsman Sunil Gavaskar was inducted as the fourth member of the Legend’s Club on his 64th birthday yesterday. Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare and Vinoo Mankad are the other members.
The Little Master wasn’t present for the special day but his longtime teammates Ravi Shastri, Milind Rege and Shishir Hattangadi reminisced about the times when the master batsman gave a good name to grit and humour on and off the pitch. Vinoo Mankad’s son Rahul, who played alongside Gavaskar for Mumbai and Nirlon too waxed eloquent at the Cricket Club of India.
Gavaskar’s “water-tight” technique and “rock-solid defence” are well documented over the years, but Shastri stressed on the courageous side of the legendary India opener. “Just because he rarely got hit (on the body), it doesn’t mean he wasn’t a gutsy cricketer. With the kind of bowling attack he faced, he hardly received any nasty blow which is a great thing,” Shastri told the gathering.
Shastri narrated an incident which illustrated Gavaskar’s daredevilry during the 1983 Guyana Test in the West Indies. “Malcolm Marshall had troubled all our batsmen. Gavaskar was batting on 49. Marshall pitched it short and it was so fast that Gavaskar had no chance of leaving or playing the ball. It hit him on his head,” Shastri said stressing on the fact that during those days there were no visors on the helmets.
“We were all stunned, but Gavaskar did not falter. No player from the opposition camp checked up with Gavaskar whether he was okay. That is how it was. Marshall was at the top of his bowling mark within seconds. West Indies knew how to catch batsmen unawares. They would ensure that the batsmen sh*t in their pants.
“Gavaskar was unmoved. Will Marshall bowl another bouncer or will he pitch it up? And Gavaskar smashed Marshall’s next ball straight down the ground for a four to reach his half-century. Now, it wasn’t just another four. There was game within a game. It sent a strong message to the opponent as well,” Shastri recalled.
Shastri said Gavaskar’s batting revolutionised cricket in India. “He transformed Indian cricket. He put India on the world map. No one expected an opening batsman from our country to take on the world. “Batting would have been a cakewalk for Gavaskar in today’s era where there are restrictions on the number of bouncers (two) in an over,” Shastri emphasised.
The respect for Gavaskar in the cricketing world was well gauged when Rege narrated an incident during a party at Shastri’s house. “The greats of West Indies cricket were there. I can never forget the moment Gavaskar arrived. He was a bit late, but as soon as he came, Sir Viv Richards, Desmond Haynes and Marshall stood up. I heard them say ‘here comes the Master’,” recalled Rege.
The evening was not without mirth. Shastri suggested to Mankad (chief organiser) to send the bill to Gavaskar to pay. He also stressed on how Gavaskar can mimic anyone. And Rege reminded everyone how Gavaskar had only recently hosted a party for cricketers who played with and against him in the same room of the CCI.
In the course of his speech, Rege, who is Gavaskar’s childhood friend, revealed how the master batsman did not want to play the fifth and final Test of the home series against the West Indies in 1983 because of a dispute with his captain. But Rege along with Gavaskar’s late father Manohar urged him to travel to Chennai. The great man went on to make his highest Test score – 236 not out – against an attack comprising Marshall, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Winston Davis.