Sunny's golden jubilee ton

Updated: Apr 30, 2020, 07:15 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Sunil Gavaskar, who decided to donate a lakh for each of his 59 centuries under a Mumbai and India cap towards COVID-19 relief funds, scored the first of those three-figure knocks 50 Aprils ago

Sunil Gavaskar in 1971. Pic/Getty Images
Sunil Gavaskar in 1971. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloIndia's cricket icon Sunil Gavaskar made a donation of R59 lakh towards COVID-19 relief funds on April 7. The reason behind 59 was fascinating — the sum total of 34 Test centuries, one ODI hundred and 24 tons for Mumbai in domestic cricket.

Interestingly, the first of those 59 centuries for Mumbai was scored 50 Aprils ago in the 1969-70 Ranji Trophy final against Rajasthan at the Brabourne Stadium.

It was Rajasthan's seventh Ranji Trophy final of the decade against Mumbai, with no victory to show. This, despite roping in some big names as professionals over those years like Vinoo Mankad, Vijay Manjrekar, Subhash Gupte, Rusi Surti and Arvind Apte apart from having charismatic players like Hanumant Singh and Salim Durani.

Mumbai-bred fast bowler Kailash Gattani started playing for Rajasthan as a schoolboy in 1962 and in the 1969-70 Ranji Trophy final, he was trading punches with four of his St Xavier's College teammates — Gavaskar, Milind Rege, Ashok Mankad and Atul Mehta.

Rajasthan won the toss and batted without making full use of the good batting conditions. Before the curtains came down on Day One, Rajasthan had been bowled out for 217 with Gavaskar and Mankad ending the day on 16-0.

Pace bowler Abdul Ismail, who like Gavaskar, was in his first Ranji Trophy season, claimed 4-58 while one-Test man Ajit Pai returned 2-43. It was Ismail who sent back Rajasthan's captain Hanumant Singh for a duck, caught by his opposite number Ajit Wadekar.

Earlier, the loss of Laxman Singh with the scoreboard reading only 16, didn't deter Test all-rounder Salim Durani from playing his aggressive game. He put his punitive blade to good use in an innings which included eight hits to the ropes. In a second wicket stand of 58 with Hanumant's brother Suryaveer, Durani's contribution was 41.

Solkar, who came on first change bore the brunt of Durani's aggression; Ismail too. "I remember one ball sailing towards the East Stand before I had even completed my follow through," Ismail recalled on Tuesday.

Future Test batsman Parthasarathy Sharma top-scored with 67 before putting on 92 with former Test batsman Arvind Apte for the fifth wicket.

Day Two saw Gavaskar (114) and Mankad (171) blossom to a Ranji Trophy record opening stand of 279. Gavaskar's 255-minute knock was embellished with 16 fours.

According to the 1970 edition of Indian Cricket annual, "Both batted extremely well, true to the traditions of the team to which they belonged, grafting the runs with concentration and perseverance. But both had their share of luck, which, however, did not disturb their approach, Gavaskar was missed when he was only 11 by wicketkeeper (Sunil) Benjamin off Gattani, who was troubling the batsmen in the early overs of the morning."

Mehta, who contributed an unbeaten 24 in the total of 531 beefed up by Solkar (82) and an entertaining 58 (7x4, 2x6) at No. 8 by Pai, recalled Gavaskar's friends jokingly telling him to send Rajasthan wicketkeeper Sunil Benjamin a Christmas card every year.

When I spoke to Pune-based Gattani, who was most unfortunate to miss out on an India cap, over the phone on Tuesday, he rued the fact that his side dropped many catches in the match and that Rajasthan's preparation for the season was warped. "And when you drop someone like Sunil, his bat gets bigger and bigger," Gattani exclaimed.

Gavaskar was playing only his third first-class game for Mumbai. His returns from his debut — the 1967-68 Irani Cup against MAK Pataudi's Rest of India — were 5 and 0. When he returned to the XI for the 1969-70 Ranji Trophy semi-final against Mysore (later Karnataka), he got a duck and 27 not out so the hundred in the final, reached through a single off Gattani just before tea on the second day, must have been one of relief.

Gavaskar's childhood friend Rege stressed how pressure-free the Mumbai camp was during that game and in that era in which 15 Ranji Trophy titles were clinched from 1958-59 to 1972-73: "We were never casual, but we were completely relaxed. We did not know what was it to lose and we had the great Wadekar leading us. He was not a demonstrative captain but scored very high on strategy."

Rajasthan could manage only 255 in their second innings with off-spinner Rege accounting for Suryaveer, Sharma, Gattani and Hemendra Surana. Mumbai clinched the game by an innings and 59 runs and Mumbai's next batting star for India had played a significant part in it. That Gavaskar held three catches in Rajasthan's second innings like in the previous game against Mysore, must have contributed to the thrill of his first triumphant Ranji Trophy season. It was Mumbai's 12th Ranji triumph on the trot.

KN Prabhu, the doyen of Indian cricket writers had taken note. In his Ranji Trophy review for The Cricketer International's July 1970 issue, he wrote: "Gavaskar, whose front foot drives are a delight to watch, is expected to maintain Bombay's tradition."

For pacer Raj Singh Dungarpur, the former Cricket Club of India and BCCI president, it was his last first-class game for Rajasthan at the Brabourne Stadium.

The everlasting hurt of seven final losses to Mumbai is evidenced in Raj Singh's decision to skip a reunion of Mumbai players for which he was invited, at the CCI in February 2000. "After ending up on the losing side in seven Ranji Trophy finals against those players, I didn't want to open old wounds for myself," he reasoned.

A certain Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was at that function, enjoying himself in the CK Nayudu Banquet Hall, not far away from the pitch on which he scored his maiden first-class century for his beloved city.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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