It is always a special moment when a man or a woman turns 60, more so if the person concerned happens to be an international sports personality and a close friend. I take this opportunity to wish the former Indian skipper Sunil Gavaskar a very happy birthday when he turns 60 next week.
In fact it had been a great joy to lead the national team with two of the greatest batsmen of that era – Sunil Gavaskar and his brother-in-law Gundappa Vishwanath, who according to me are like the two faces of a gold coin during their playing days.
I had the privilege of watching Sunil Gavaskar graduate from schoolboy cricketer to an international star. His talent was quite evident even when he was playing schools cricket in Mumbai. His concentration and determination, even as a young lad, was marveled even when he was playing under-14 cricket and I had no doubt in my mind that this lad would one day play for the country.
Luckily for the Indian cricket fans Sunny's talent got noticed very early when he started playing in the Kanga League and invariably we would meet in the 'Battle of Roses' every year. The Shivaji Park Gymkhana, which I used to represent, and Dadar Union, which Gavaskar used to play for, would make it to the finals regularly year after year and I just could not stop from admiring Sunny's high level of concentration on treacherous wickets during the rains.
It was way back in 1971, just before the twin tours to the West Indies and England, I happened to mention Sunil's (Gavaskar) name to the then chief of selectors Vijay Merchant. Even though many were shocked at my suggestion, Merchant, who too was very impressed with the progress Sunny had made, promptly included his name in the list and the rest is history as they say.
In fact, Merchant later told me that he had watched Sunil's 325-run knock in one of the Inter-University matches and was very impressed with his batting and since then had been following the young man's progress till he picked him for the twin tours which came as a big relief to all of us as Sunil was an unknown commodity at that time but soon went on to establish himself as one of the best opening batsmen of all time.
It was not a rosy start to Sunny's Test career by any means as he missed the first Test against the West Indies due to a blister on his finger and I think Jayanthi Lal played in the first Test. After Jayanthi Lal failed, I brought in Sunil for the second Test and immediately he proved his class by scoring a polished 63 against the most feared West Indies attack. The world had indeed witnessed the birth of a star and Sunil did not disappoint any of us as he went on to score a record 774 runs in his debut series itself.
I would also like to mention an interesting incident which took place in the Indian dressing room even as Gavsakar was battling the West Indies bowlers. Though I am sure that Gavaskar was eyeing a Test century on his debut, we in the dressing room were praying he would not get it as we were well aware of the jinx associated with previous Indian batsmen who had scored a century on debut – None of them ever scored another century in their career after scoring one on debut.
Every captain prays for his young batsman to get to the magical figure (century) but strange as it sound to many now, I was praying that Sunil would not get to the three figure mark soon after he got his maiden Test fifty as we considered it a jinx (scoring a century on debut) and when Sunil ultimately got out for 63 there was a sigh of relief all round.
Sunil also liked to dictate the bowlers from the word go and would eye a century every time he went out to bat. In fact in one of the Tests during the West Indies tour, Sunil was so frustrated with former all-rounder Abid Ali, who not only kept the young lad out of strike but also got out during a crucial time, he was reduced to tears when he came back to the pavilion as he valued his wicket even during his early parts of his career.
Probably that was the main difference between Sunil and another great Indian batsman of that era Gundappa Vishwanath. Sunny was an accumulator and once he crossed his fifty he would eye for a big score while Vishwanath, who was equally talented and could play any shot in the game to perfection, was more attacking and believed that a ball was there simply to be hit. Sunil would be very cautious at the beginning of his innings while Vishy would hit the very first ball he faced.
It was indeed a great pleasure to lead the national team with two of the best batsmen India has ever produced and to me they were like the two faces of a coin, not just an ordinary coin but a gold coin at that and I take this opportunity to wish Sunil Gavaskar a very happy birthday and hope that he will go on to complete yet another century as he was always hungry for runs.
(As told by Mr Ajit Wadekar to V Veera Kumar)
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