Sunil Gavaskar recalls fan-boy moment in South Africa

Updated: Jan 24, 2018, 09:47 IST | Anand Vasu

Cricketing legend, in the rainbow nation as commentator, reminisces about a prized possession, a signed book from the late Nelson Mandela

Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar stands with a Muhammad Ali painting in Louisville, USA, last October
Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar stands with a Muhammad Ali painting in Louisville, USA, last October

When you have scored 10,122 Test runs, a number most Indians know by heart, and led your country with distinction, you are the kind of person who is in demand for autographs - now selfies - and also memorabilia. Who would not want the gloves Sunil Gavaskar wore in a Test match? Or the bat with which he scored a century against the West Indies? But, once in his life, Gavaskar was the one asking.

Sunil Gavaskar
Sunil Gavaskar

When the great Indian opener met Nelson Mandela in 1991 (the year of the unification of the two SA cricket boards), the batting legend realised this was a special moment, and one that should not be passed up. After an official dinner, he approached Mandela, requesting the great man for a souvenir to remember the evening by.

Title page of the book given to Sunil Gavaskar by the late Nelson Mandela in 1991Title page of the book given to Sunil Gavaskar by the late Nelson Mandela in 1991

"He went back in, and returned with a pair of boxing gloves. He told me that those gloves were given to him by Muhammad Ali," Gavaskar, a television commentator then as he is now on the current tour, told mid-day recently. "I was thinking, what better gift could there be? A pair of gloves worn by The Greatest, given to me by Mandela. But then, once he thought about it, Mandela said it wouldn't be right to give those away, especially as he was such a boxing aficionado."

Once again Mandela walked away, and this time he returned with a book, titled: Theory of the Moral Life, written by John Dewey, the American philosopher and father of the school of Pragmatism, who lived from 1859 to 1952. The book, written by a man considered to be one of the fathers of functional psychology, was a prize catch in itself. But, it was when Gavaskar turned to the first page that he realised how blessed he was.

"To Sunil, to a great friend whose performance has been a source of inspiration to us all," Mandela wrote, signing off. Gavaskar, a student of life, not just cricket, knows just how big an honour it is to be spoken of in these terms by one of the most revered men of the modern era.

For perpetuity, the India-South Africa Test clashes have been named the Freedom Series, and the team that wins gets the Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela Trophy. Gavaskar has a series named after him and Australian rival Allan Border, but even that honour pales in comparison to Mandela's warm words to the Little Master.

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