I had started watching cricket on TV at my maternal grandmother’s house in Lucknow during early months of 1981 where I heard about Sunil Gavaskar from my uncle and his friends during routine cricketing conversations. The first time I watched him on TV, was in a match between India and Pakistan in 1982.
A short fellow dressed in all white, wearing a cap was walking towards the pitch to bat. The first thing which struck me was the manner in which Sunny took his stance. No words can describe that process. The gap between his two legs was about ½ feet, very apt for both front and back foot drive. The master took his batting guard such that all 3 wickets were always visible. Sunny's head was always still and would ensure complete follow-through of the bat after offering a stroke.
His entire batting looked as if each word of books written on batting were translated into his batting style. Facing the likes of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Ian Botham, Imran Khan and others, Sunny never wore a helmet. This shows his tenacity and character besides the conviction he had in his batting
Masterful innings which I like
The one inning which I relish the most is his artful 236* against West Indies in 1983. Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts were bowling at their best, at a consistent pace of 90+ miles/hour. Not one to be bogged down by the pace, Sunny played some exquisite straight drives, square cuts, and off-his-toes drives. I still see this innings in my dreams sometimes.
Another knock, which all budding batsman should watch is his 96 against Pakistan in 1987. This was the last innings of his career. The pitch was a rank turner so much so that Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim were spinning the ball at huge angles. It was almost impossible for anyone to bat, but with his dogged perseverance, the maestro stood the ground. Sunny did not play any expensive shot and most of the time just defended with his bat and pad.
Anecdotes about Sunny
Of his many anecdotes, one which I like particularly is that if Sunny lost his concentration in the middle, he would stand at the batting crease and block his side view using both his palm just like a horse blinker. This, he said, brought back his focus to the game.
Another interesting story which I know is that there was a house party thrown by Ravi Shastri and all international greats like Imran, Marshall, Richards and Desmond Haynes had gathered there. Sunny, in his trademark style, arrived at the party, quite late. Everyone stood from their seat as a mark of respect and said ‘here comes the master’ and paid glowing tributes to him.
Wasim Akram, the legendary fast bowler was asked to pick the top 11 batsmen he ever bowled to. He picked Sunny as the number one batsman. Wasim was totally in awe of this great man. Narrating an incident, he said, once he bowled a short pitch bowl which swung all the way from outside of off-stump towards Sunny. Instead of taking his eyes off and ducking to the short-pitched delivery, Sunny watched the ball from the time it left his hand and until it reached the wicket-keeper. Never ever did the little master lose sight of the ball while batting, he said.
Glowing tributes paid to Sunny by legends
"I think this particular innings of Sunny should be preserved in video, and not only preserved, It should also be shown to all young cricketers as a model inning. I don't believe there were many moments in which there was any imbalance in the man's positioning. The feet were always in place, the head was well down and the left shoulder was leading him into the shots perfectly."
Alan Border - On Gavaskar's century at Lords - MCC bicentenary test
"A pocket-sized battleship armed with an impenetrable defense and astonishing gunpowder. The bigger the battle, the better the performance."
"The difference between Richards and Gavaskar is fairly expressive in the lifestyle of the two countries. The Caribbean life is like that, it’s excitable, it’s aggressive, it’s colorful, whereas in India there is method, there is thought, there is art."
David Frith - Editor of Wisden