And we move towards the 9th part of the series From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England, the days get ‘Sunny’. Sunil Gavaskar is the greatest opening batsman of all times. In 1982, he was the best batsman in Test Cricket. In 1981, playing under him, India had beaten Keith Fletcher’s England 1-0 in the home test series. On this high note, Sunil Gavaskar took the Indian team to England in the English summer of 1982. However, Gavaskar must not have been very happy with the side given to him. His trusted opening ally, Chetan Chauhan was mysteriously dropped by the selection committee like a hot potato, in spite of having performed admirably in the Australia- New Zealand tour of 1981.
Gavaskar was given Ghulam Parkar who had a questionable technique against quick bowling, and a young Pranab Roy, whose dad Pankaj had opened for India with reasonable success in the past. Rest of the batting line up was alright, and with the days of glory of the famous quartet of spinners over, the responsibility was on Dilip Doshi, Shivlal Yadav and young Ravi Shastri. Madan Lal and Randhir Singh were selected to assist India’s prime all-rounder Kapil Dev with the new ball. Syed Kirmani was the wicket-keeper. The England team too was fairly depleted; as Boycott, Gooch and a few other players had earlier chosen to go on a tour to South Africa, and were banned from representing England at that time.
For the choice as the captain, there was no disputing of Gavaskar’s claims. He was by far the best equipped batsman to succeed in England, with his impregnable defensive technique, an ice cool temperament and immense powers of concentration. Besides, Sunny was never shy of giving it back to the Englishmen, as he showed before the first test at Lords. Earlier, when England had toured India in 1981-82, captain Keith Fletcher had objected to the standing of a few Indian umpires in test matches, and Gavaskar returned the favor by objecting to the appointment of David Constant to officiate in the Lord’s test. The TCCB gave in and Constant was replaced by Barry Meyer. Yet it was the first test of an England tour, and Indians kept the tradition alive by losing it.
England batted first and scored 433. The erratic Derek Randall scored 126 and Botham and Phil Edmunds scored 60s. Kapil Dev was the pick of Indian bowlers, taking 5 for 125. The fact that he bowled 43 overs out of the innings’ 148 would underline the pressure he would have to bear in the series, and the ineptitude of the other bowlers. Indian batting fell apart and they were skittled for 128, conceding a 305 run lead to England. Gavaskar (48) and Kapil (41) were only substantial contributions. India had no answer to the English seam attack. Botham took five for 46. England asked India to follow on.
When India was keeping the tradition of losing the first test in England alive, Dilip Vengsarkar was starting a new personal tradition of scoring centuries at Lord’s. He bettered his performance in 1979, and scored 157 runs in an innings which exuded courage and beauty. Yet, India was still 53 runs in arrears and half their side had fallen when Vengsarkar got out. In walked Nikhanj Kapil Dev. In those days, he knew only one way to bat. And he did just what he did the best. He scored a whirlwind 89 in only 55 balls, hitting 13 fours and 3 sixes, and took India 66 runs ahead of England. England got the required 67 runs to win losing three wickets, all of them to Kapil Dev. Though India had lost the test, Kapil Dev was named the player of the match for his all-round display. As is the English tradition, he got a magnum of champagne as a prize. Wonder what the teetotaler Kapil Dev would have done with that. 😊
The second test at Manchester turned out to be a nothing test, as rain washed out a major chunk of play, and not even two innings could be completed. England, batting first made 425, with both their openers crawling to their respective half centuries, then Botham coming and hitting 128 brutal runs, and Geoff miller unlucky to miss his hundred by two runs. Dilip Doshi took 6 wickets, Madan Lal 3 and Ravi Shastri 1. When India started their innings, they were quickly reduced to 25 for 3 by Derek Pringle and Bob Willis, and a collapse looked in the offing. However, Veteran Vishwanath (54) and night -watchman Syed Kirmani (58) steadied the ship and took India to 112.
Yashpal Sharma fell cheaply, and Sandeep Patil and Kapil Dev added 96, Kapil scoring 65 off 78 again in his characteristic fashion. Madan Lal added another 97 with Sandeep Patil, and Patil remained not out on 129. It was a memorable century for Sandeep Patil, as he hit Bob Willis for 6 fours in an over during the course of that innings. The skipper failed to make a big score, and with the entire fifth day of the match washed out, the match ended in a draw.
The third and the final test was played at the Oval, where in the last tour Gavaskar had nearly won the match for India, singlehandedly. However, there was no single-handed display by the captain this time. England batted first and posted a mammoth 594. Geoff Cook made an even 50, Allan Lamb 107, and Derek Randall 95. But the star of the innings was Ian Botham. He scored 208 off only 226 deliveries, hitting 19 fours and 4 sixes. It was entirely Botham’s day. Such was his luck, that he removed India’s most prized batsman when he was batting. A blistering cover drive off Doshi’s bowling hit towards Gavaskar, who was fielding at silly point with brutal force shattered Sunny’s shin. Gavaskar couldn’t take any further part in the match. He had single-handedly pulled India out of trouble on this ground in 1979 but had to leave the same ground in 1982 limping on a single leg.
In Gavaskar’s absence, Shastri and Vengsarkar opened the innings for India and though Vengsarkar fell early, Shastri, Vishwanath, Sandeep Patil all made half centuries, and Kirmani a typically gritty 43. Kapil Dev made a fiery 97 off only 93 deliveries, hitting 14 fours and 2 sixes. India replied with a formidable 410 in the first innings, and England had to bat again. They made 191/3 in their second innings, with Tavare making 75, and Gower and Lamb a brace of 45s. India were given an improbable target of 376 in 36 overs. This time India opened with Ravi Shastri and Suru Nayak. India made 111/3, out of which Gundappa Vishwanath made a sparkling 75. The match was drawn, and the series was lost 1-0.
Much has been written about Gavaskar as a player, as a person and about his game. Me trying to write on it would result in a mere repetition.But I would still like to make an observation.
Gavaskar versus England, in England is a curious case. He had all the wherewithal to succeed in the English conditions, in terms of technique, concentration, reflexes, and temperament, yet he couldn’t match his own high standards while playing England in England. Albeit, he played what he himself rates as his finest Innings (57 at Manchester in 1971), and arguably what the critics call his best innings (221 a The Oval in 1979) came in England, he only made 1152 of his overall 10122 runs in England. His average in England is a good 10 runs lower than his overall average of 41.12. He has scored only 2 out of his 34 hundreds in England (5.88%) where he played 16 out of his 125 tests (12.5%). Much that I am a fan of Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, I must concede that he was a failure in English conditions.
However, this fact doesn’t devalue his contribution to the Indian Cricket, both in terms of runs, and psychology. In a country which lacked self-respect during Sunny’s playing days, it was he who exemplified standing tall against the opposition and giving it back to the opposition when the opposition cricketers used to dish out sledges and abuses to the meek Indian cricketers, both on and off the field. Till this pocket-sized rookie appeared in the West Indian tour of 1971-72, Indian batsmen had a world-wide reputation of being scared of fast bowling. By the time Gavaskar retired, tail-ender Shastri had become a regular opener, and even the likes of Shivlal Yadav and Madan Lal had developed courage to get behind the line of the ball when express bowlers were bowling. This might appear insignificant to the fans who have watched majority of their cricket in the new millennium. In today’s days of sledge-hammer sized bats and rules favoring batsmen, the fast bowlers look hapless more often than not. But back in the 70s and 80s, quick bowlers from West Indies, England, Australia and Pakistan invariably induced the fear of death in the minds of the batsmen then. There were no helmets then, use of chest guards and thigh guards was considered unmanly, and batsmen had to purely rely on their technique, reflexes and concentration for their own physical safety.
Gavaskar was never injured while batting. It was not that he was not capable of exhilarating stroke play. He has shown it in the 1983 Delhi test against the west Indian attack of Marshall, Holding, Roberts and Daniel, and again in the following Ahmedabad test, and again in the 1987 world cup match against New Zealand. But, for his entire career the Indian batting was hinged to him, and unless Vishwanath, Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath came up with their sporadic special performances, it was he who had had to hold the innings together. I dare say, that if he would have been allowed the luxury to bat more freely in his career, he would definitely have ended with 13,000 runs and 40 test centuries. But that was not to be, and Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was destined to carry the burden of Indian batting on his 5’5” frame for 12 of his 16 years in international cricket. And how admirably did he do it !
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