Celebrating 50 glorious years of the legendary former team India Captain Mr. Sunil Gavaskar's Test debut today (Image Ctsy. BCCI Twitter)
This day of March 6 marks the 50 years of Gavaskar’s sensational Test debut in West Indies, which remains one of the prolific moments of Indian cricket.
Back in 2004 in Dhaka Sachin Tendulkar came out from a marathon press conference on a day when he had equaled Sunil Gavaskar’s 34 hundreds in Test cricket. Though he was quite difficult to be persuaded for one-on-one interviews, we somehow managed him to say something special about getting past Mr. Gavaskar’s record.
“No one can surpass him ever in Indian cricket. I am delighted for the fact that he is happier than me on this occasion,” said Tendulkar to this writer.
Seven years down the line, this writer also attended a significant press conference in England in 2011 when another modern Indian great Rahul Dravid too equaled Gavaskar’s 34 Test hundreds.
“I wouldn't like to compare myself with Mr. Gavaskar who is a legend of the game. I grew up as a kid trying to be either Mr. Gavaskar or Vishwanath in my backyard. To now equal something he has done is fantastic,” said Dravid.
Of Course, only Tendulkar(51) and Dravid(36) are the two Indians who have scored more Test hundreds than Gavaskar yet both of them are first to acknowledge that the 71-year-old living legend is simply incomparable.
Even though Gavaskar didn’t play the first match (due to a finger infection) of the series, he still ended up with a record 774 runs at an average of 154.80.
Till this date, no player in Test cricket has scored more runs in his debut series.
Greatness was entwined with West Indies
Gavaskar’s greatness was entwined with West Indies- the most dominant team of his era or arguably the finest of all-time. The former Indian captain scored a staggering 13 centuries against one of the most ferocious attacks of all-time with a mind-boggling average of 65.45.
Only Don Bradman (19 against England) has more tons against one particular opposition than Gavaskar. Doubtless, no one can be compared with Bradman’s prowess but on this specific parameter, Gavaskar could certainly hold his own against the greatest batsman of cricket.
Bradman played 37 Tests against England, while Gavaskar appeared in 27 matches against West Indies. Before Bradman felt that Tendulkar reminded him of his own style, it was Gavaskar whom Bradman thought of as an ornament to cricket.
Some of his most iconic innings came against the Caribbean attacks. Be it his hundred at Port of Spain in 1976, when India chased 406 in the last innings, or the Delhi century off 94 balls in 1983, or his highest Test score 236 in Madras.
The best player of spin bowling.
However, it was his masterly 96 against a rank-turner in Bangalore against Pakistan in 1987 which is hailed as the finest exhibition of batsmanship against spin. That innings incidentally was the swan song of an illustrious career.
“It is tempting to write an appreciation of Sunil Gavaskar in extravagant language so that it matches the pinnacle to which he took his batsmanship,” wrote Tony Lewis in the venerable Wisden Almanac’s 1989 edition in an essay ‘Sunil Gavaskar: the best player of spin bowling'.
From 1971 to 1987, Gavaskar with his deeds taught the Indians how to be world-class. Along the way, he broke countless records and set many milestones for posterity to achieve. If he was the first to play 106 matches in a row then he also became the first one to reach the mighty 10,000 runs in Test cricket.
A hundred in each innings of a Test is a remarkable feat. Virat Kohli has achieved this only once and even Tendulkar could never accomplish that even once. Dravid did it twice but it is Gavaskar who staggeringly did it on three occasions.
Forever a benchmark for greatness
From 1975 to 1980, which was distinctly the peak of his career where Gavaskar scored at an average of nearly 60 in 45 matches with 18 hundreds. In his last two years, Gavaskar was equally successful in his 16 appearances where he got 4 tons at nearly the same average (58.27) as his peak. Leaving on his own terms and when people were still asking ‘why now’ separated him from even the many stalwarts of the world.
It is a timeless quote and perhaps is suffice to illustrate what Gavaskar meant to Indian cricket.
“Every person likes his own identity and that is important. It is good to have heroes. When I was growing up, I had a couple of heroes. I wanted to be a combination, a mixture of Vivian Richards and Sunil Gavaskar,” said Tendulkar during his 40th Birthday celebration. Can there be a better tribute in one quote to someone who is inarguably the greatest opener of all-time?