Gundappa Viswanath: An artist who ruled over the Indian cricket fans
Dennis Lillee had once said to this gentleman, “Little giant man, I like your brother-in-law (Sunil Gavaskar), but I like you much more. You are made of steel”. Well, the debate between who was the better batsman amongst the two occupied the cricketing discussion of most Indians in the 1970s. The gentleman is Mysore-born Gundappa Ranganath Viswanath fondly called Vishy, who can be said to be one of the most stylish batsmen to have ever donned the India cap.
Confirming this division of loyalty between Gavaskar & Vishy among the Indian cricket fans, my father says that he too was one of the many who would debate about these two great cricketers. Apparently, back then my father was a die-hard Gavaskar fan, whereas my uncle (father’s elder brother) preferred Vishy.
Vishy’s career was not all about stats
Now, to people of the current generations, it might seem odd that Vishy was once rated as good as the great Gavaskar. Especially, if we take into account Vishy’s moderate test average of 41.93 in comparison to Gavaskar’s average of over 50. But then, with due respect to Gavaskar’s extra-ordinary records, sometimes statistics do only tell a part of the story.
If we go just by stats, then Vishy’s record over 91 test matches are good, but definitely not something great to write home about. For, the batting records of Vishy will tell that he scored only a half-century in the first innings against the West Indies at Madras in 1975. It doesn’t tell that this knock of 97 was the highest score in the team total of 190. Nor does it tell that the next highest score in the innings was Ashok Mankad’s 19 runs. Cricket fans of the 1970s will remember that Andy Roberts had the Indian innings in dire straits with his fiery spell of bowling in the match. In these trying circumstances, Vishy had stitched together 73 runs with the last two wickets. He remained unbeaten till the end and was denied a well-deserved century.
Played one of the best innings on Indian soil
Recalling that innings, Mid-Day group Sports Editor Clayton Murzello recently wrote, “As for Gundappa Viswanath’s unbeaten 97 against the West Indies in Chennai (then Madras) in 1975, pundits reckon it is the finest below-100 innings ever played on Indian soil. Rajsingh Dungarpur who was one of the selectors had gone on record to say that they would never see an innings like this ever again. Vishy’s knock got ample praise from the opposition camp as well. Roberts who took 12 wickets in the match had said that it was a truly great innings and no one had killed him so softly with such wristy stroke play before or since.
Thrived in tough situations
Vishy was more an artist than a cricketer. The cricket field was his canvas and he would paint it as he wanted with a bat in his hand. One of his trademark shots was the square cut which he played very late, bisecting the army of fielders deployed to guard the boundary. He was a good player of both spin and fast bowling. Another quality of greatness in him was that he thrived in crisis.
There are many more innings like the Madras epic which established Vishy as India’s go-to man when the going was tough. Some of his other great innings are - 83 & 79 in Christchurch in 1976, unbeaten 79 against England in 1977, 124 against West Indies at Madras in 1979.
This aspect of performing in trying circumstance is also highlighted by his record of four centuries at an average of well above 50 in 18 matches against the mighty West Indies team, who had a fearsome bowling attack in those days. Another interesting fact is that India never lost a test whenever Vishy scored a century.
A gentleman to the core
This artist was also a thorough gentleman. He had famously recalled England’s Bob Taylor after the umpire had given him out in the ‘Golden Jubilee’ test when England were reeling at 58 for 5 wickets. Later, Taylor was then involved in a mammoth partnership with Ian Botham and India eventually lost the test. Vishy’s decision had come in for heavy criticism from all quarters. This was one of the two tests in which Vishy was India’s captain.
Today, although he occupies a special place in the heart of cricket connoisseurs, he may not be as popular with the current generation unlike some of his peers. But if we have to listen to Gavaskar, the subject of the debate of the best Indian batsman along with Vishy, even the current generation may be able to understand more about this elegant batsman. In Sunny Days, Gavaskar writes, “For sheer popularity in India, I don’t think there is anyone to touch him (Vishy).”
The great Gavaskar further goes on to say, “In Bangalore, he (Vishy) is ‘King’ but then the Bombay and Calcutta crowds love him no less. The applause when he walks in to bat is to be heard to be believed. He is aware of this tremendous affection that people have for him and he is always striving to give the crowd a lot of pleasure by his batting”.
Indeed Vishy’s innings was all about pleasure.