Continuing with our series on the greatest cricketers of all time, here’s No. 17 on our list.
No. 17 – Sunil Gavaskar
After the retirement of Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad, India struggled to find a quality opening pair for quite some time. The makeshift arrangements with Budhi Kundaran, Dilip Sardesai, Vijay Manjerekar and Farooq Engineer worked for a while but never produced the desired result – a strong opening partnership that would lay the foundation for the Wadekars and the Vishwanaths to fire.
With the tour of West Indies coming up, the Indian selectors picked a young man who had created havoc with his run spree at the domestic circuit. The young man grabbed the opportunity with both hands and unleashed himself on the world stage. And by the end of the tour…
It was Gavaskar, the real Master
Like a wall, they couldn’t out Gavaskar at all
Not at all,
You know the West Indies couldn’t out Gavaskar at all.
Yes, that’s exactly what happens when you score 774 runs in your debut series against the most fearsome opposition imaginable – people write songs about you and your exploits become a part of folk lore. 10,122 runs in 125 Tests at an average of 51.12 with 34 test hundreds – Sunil Manohar Gavaskar has been one of the greatest that India has ever produced.
Gavaskar was the first batsman to go past 10,000 Test runs and 30 centuries. During the 70s and 80s, Sunil Gavaskar became the hinge around which the Indian batting revolved. Arguably the first great batsman from India, he was known for his flawless defence and the ease with which he faced the short ball.
Coming through the ranks of various Mumbai (then Bombay) junior teams, Gavaskar built his game around technique and concentration. The display of the straight bat, the soft bottom hand grip, the erect left elbow and the tremendous focus often disheartened the best of bowlers. His immaculate balance at the crease and the ease with which he played off both the front and back foot made his batting a treat for the purists of the game.
Though he was one of the most adept hookers of the ball, Gavaskar was often labeled a defensive batsman. His innings of 36 not out off 174 balls against England made the claims of his detractors even stronger. However, he managed to quieten his critics a little through his blitzkrieg of a century against New Zealand, which ended up being his only ODI ton. He stayed unbeaten on 103 off 88 deliveries in that innings, proving that he didn’t lack the strokes or the flair, but deliberately cut down on his stroke making.
Being an opening batsman, Gavaskar’s job was to see off the new ball. But hailing from a team that hardly had any batting prowess to boast of, he often had to bat through the innings. An early exit by him almost invariably led to a batting collapse, which more often than not resulted in a humiliating defeat. So the man stuck to solidity instead of flashy stroke play.
Sunil Gavaskar’s contributions to Indian cricket go way beyond the numbers in the record books. He was the first batsman from India who stood up against quality bowling and amassed big runs consistently. A career average of 65.45 against the Invincible West Indies team bears testimony to that. He was the first cricketer who taught his fellow mates that even India could compete at the top level on a regular basis. A true professional, he not only earned respect amongst his team mates, but also among players and spectators all round the globe. Though his captaincy record isn’t very flattering, he was, in essence, a true leader of Indian cricket.
Gavaskar’s sign-off from international cricket was as dazzling as his career. He crafted a gritty 96 in his final innings against Pakistan on a Chinaswamy track that turned a square mile – an innings that is rated even higher than many double hundreds. He then went on to score a dazzling 188 in his final first class game against the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Richard Hadlee and Clive Rice at Lord’s, which remains his only hundred at the Mecca of cricket.
Even after cricket, Sunil Gavaskar’s success story hasn’t stopped scaling newer heights. He served as an advisor of the Indian cricket team and was the chairman of the ICC cricket committee. He has also authored four books – Sunny Days, Runs and Ruins, Idols and One Day Wonders.
A master with his words, Gavaskar now charms us with his witty commentary and often laments that he would have loved to play in an era that has spinners open the bowling. Well, after facing 73 fearsome fast men successfully throughout his career, he would have definitely enjoyed driving on his front foot!
Here’s a video tribute to the ‘original’ Little Master:
These are the other players who have made it so far:
No. 20 – Bill O’Reilly
No. 19 – Fred Trueman
No. 18 – Dennis Lillee
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: