On the Sunny side of the street
Rohit Sharma's recent twin tons is a big feat, but Gavaskar is clearly the king of two-centuries-in-a-Test achievement among Indians
Rohit Sharma draped himself in glory at Visakhapatnam last week, when he became the first Indian to score two centuries in a Test on his first appearance as an opening batsman.
It's a feat that sent his critics scurrying for cover. It's also an achievement that his supporters will hope to see replicated considering he does possess an extraordinary appetite for runs.
A century in each innings of a Test is a massive achievement to have on one's cricketing CV and to have three batsmen in the current Indian team to have accomplished this (Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and now Rohit) provides more than just a pointer as to how strong the current side are.
Thanks to Rohit's twin strikes, we got reminded about Sunil Gavaskar scoring a century in each innings of a Test thrice and he was at Visakhapatnam to see Rohit's remarkable comeback unfold from the commentary box.
If Rohit did it in his first Test as opener, Gavaskar achieved it in his debut series – against the West Indies at Port of Spain in 1971. He performed similarly in the Karachi Test of 1978-79 and against the West Indies again that very season at home.
It is important to throw light on Gavaskar's 'treble'. One, because of the kind of significance it has in Indian cricket. And two, because the current generation should know more about Gavaskar the great batsman, who they are used to seeing as a media expert on television. No Indian batsman has been able to match SMG's 'treble'. Rahul Dravid came close with his two memorable Tests (v NZ in 1999 and Pakistan in 2005).
Let's start with Kolkata 1978-79, against the West Indies. Gavaskar scored a duck in the first innings of the previous Test at Bangalore, where Sylvester Clarke dismissed him off the first ball in the innings – caught brilliantly by Sew Shivnarine at gully. India's second innings didn't come about because the Test was suspended due to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's arrest in New Delhi.
Eden Gardens was not a productive venue for Gavaskar; his previous four visits to the crease there producing only 38 runs. Gavaskar worked his way to 107 on Day One of the third Test, even as five of his partners departed rather early and it took a whirlwind 61 off 62 balls (9x4, 1x6) from Kapil Dev to help India reach 300.
West Indies, thanks to Basil 'Shotgun' Williams's hundred, claimed a 27-run lead over the hosts but their satisfaction ended there. For Gavaskar cracked an unbeaten 182, and along with Dilip Vengsarkar, put on a record, unconquered 344-run stand for the second wicket. Cricket writer Pradeep Vijayakar felt he was lucky to survive a leg before shout from Malcolm Marshall when on 82, but he was chanceless for his next 100 runs before declaring and setting the West Indies a target of 335.
India had to claim only one wicket for victory but the Test was called off because of bad light on January 3, 1979. This did not impress the spectators but pundits believe that the umpires should have called off play even earlier.
Less than two months prior in Karachi, Gavaskar's two centuries against Mushtaq Mohammad's formidable side merited a better result than a Pakistani victory in the third and final Test of the historic series. Bishan Singh Bedi finally had some luck with the toss and Gavaskar, along with Chetan Chauhan put on 58 in 90 minutes, before Chauhan was consumed by Sarfaraz Nawaz for 33. Not enjoying much support at the other end, Gavaskar reached his century on the second day when he and Mohinder Amarnath copped a barrage of bouncers from Imran Khan and Sarfaraz. That was before Kapil and Karsan Ghavri got together and put on 84 for the eighth wicket.
In the second innings, after putting on 117 runs for the second wicket with Mohinder, Gavaskar saw five of his teammates sent back in the space of 51 runs. His 240-ball 137 stood out in an innings that had only one 50-plus score (Mohinder's 53). That India managed 300 in both innings was only due to Gavaskar's sublime centuries and Pakistan were set 164 to win in 35 minutes and 20 mandatory overs. Victory was achieved with more than an over to spare. That must have been heartbreaking for the batting beacon, a complete contrast to what he experienced at Trinidad 1971 – the previous occasion on which he scored two hundreds in a Test.
India went into that fifth Test at Port of Spain 1-0. Garfield Sobers's side faced the possible humiliation of losing a home series after Gavaskar's 124 became the cornerstone of India's first innings total of 360. Sobers (132), Charlie Davis (105) and Maurice Foster (99) dented India's will to make it 2-0 as West Indies amassed 526. But Gavaskar was not going to give up easily. Shrugging off a toothache, he scored 220 to put the pressure back on the hosts. When he reached his double century, the spectators ran on to the field and lifted him. In Sunny Days, he revealed that the force in which he was put down rattled his entire set of teeth. He was only allowed to extract the troublesome tooth after the innings! The game ended in a draw with West Indies's second last pair surviving the final two overs, but a historic, unprecedented series win over West Indies was achieved.
KN Prabhu, the doyen of cricket writers hailed his "Bradman-like streak" at the risk of sounding "outrageous" since Gavaskar was only playing his first series. Prabhu's colleague, Sunder Rajan, who published a book after that engrossing series, highlighted how Gavaskar made a mental note of all the advice he received at a function organised by his club Dadar Union before departing to the Caribbean.
Doubtless, Rohit's feat will be followed by expectations; probably pressure too. And that accolade-filled robe will feel a lot lighter once he gets his next century.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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