Sunil Gavaskar: Amalgam of milestones and myth © Getty Images
Sunil Gavaskar: Amalgam of milestones and myth © Getty Images

Sunil Gavaskar reigns the cricketing consciousness in India with many of his monumental deeds, and some that he did not quite perform. Even in these days of data being available at the click of a button, many misconceptions about his feats persist. Imaginary innings are appended, while true achievements are rendered obscure. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the days of growing up with the Gavaskar legend, and tries to decipher the why myths and legends merge with the facts to create a confusing composite.

Disclaimer: This is not an article that says Sunil Gavaskar was not a great batsman. He was. No one can deny that. Yet, it does say that there were chinks in his armour, gaps in his record. It underlines that he was as human as the rest of the men who don the whites and represent the country.

It looks at the many stories and mythologies built around the man, which are almost universally believed today, but are not necessarily true. 

This also tries to decipher why such stories were created around this one man.

This exercise, in our opinion, is necessary, because a lot of the genuine greatness of Sunil Gavaskar is often pushed to the background because of obsession with mythical feats.

Godhead

I grew up in an environment where Sunil Gavaskar was worshipped.

Yes, worshipped. Not just a sporting hero, but much more. And my environment was just a snapshot of the era.

His batting feats had already been immortalised in umpteen conversations. That was but natural. Before cricketing consciousness dawned upon me, through the 1970s, his popularity soared above anything witnessed in Indian cricket. People waited in queues whenever Gavaskar was sighted going into a shop, just to catch a glimpse in the time-honoured darshan concept of India. He was the godhead of batting. Infallible. No weakness, no chink whatsoever. The platonic ideal of the art of batsmanship. Best in the world.

There you go. Darshan. Glimpse of the god. When I say he was worshipped I am not exaggerating.

Before I go further, I would request you to look at the words immediately below this paragraph. Read them, try to memorise all the words. Don’t write them down. Be honest to yourself. I will come back to this after a while.

Copybook, forward, back-foot, white, floppy, armguard, discipline, dedication, block, straight bat, drive, skullcap, face of the bat, front-foot, backward, technique, manual, solidity, compact, sunhat.

Let me get back to my story. Yes, we worshipped Gavaskar. There was total agreement that he was the best one could ever hope to see. Suggesting anything else was scandalous, sacrilegious, blasphemous.

It still remains so in many quarters, forged further by the passage of time. Especially on the minds that had been impressionable in the 1970s.

I remember having Sunny Days read to me as a six-year-old. It took me almost a decade after that to find out that it was not the only one written about cricket.

Yes, I liked other cricketers. Of course, all of them were Indians. In those days we did not get to see Australia playing West Indies or Pakistan playing England. We saw Viv Richards in 1983, then in 1987. In between we read of his deeds, never really following his career in detail. Greg Chappell never visited India, so there was no question of knowing much about him. Our world was our backyard, our heroes almost always home-grown.

And we had Gavaskar. Technique, temperament and Test aggregate could not be better.

Those days in sports shops for kids, the bats often had names of cricketers inscribed on them. I remember a few, with a yellowish finish, that had ‘Viswanath’ written on the blade. There were some ‘Kapil Dev’s as well, the other great hero of that time. But most of them had ‘Gavaskar’ running across their faces. The art of batting could not look further. It was a foregone conclusion.

Gavaskar was not only a batsman per excellence. He was, like every other Indian great, a role model. He talked and wrote more about dedication, discipline, determination as the three Ds of success than the most enthusiastic moral science teachers. He was an icon, almost a spiritual guide.

Someone who had made all those runs and centuries against the scary battalion of West Indian bowlers.

I saw the West Indian bowlers live for the first time when India played them in the World Cup final, 1983. There were Roberts, Garner, Holding, Marshall. Bowling together. It was indeed terrifying. Not that Gavaskar scored too many that day. But I was told of the many, many centuries that he had scored against them.

“Imagine. In their backyard, in 1971. They had even greater bowlers earlier, Hall, Griffith. And Gavaskar made 774 runs at 154.80,” I was told by a ‘statistically aware’ avuncular elder. “Again in 1976, when we needed 400-plus to win. Those were the days of emergency. And again when India went just before the World Cup. He again scored centuries.”

“Century,” I corrected, for I had started following cricket by then. “He made one the last time. He did not get runs in any other innings.” The century had come when India started their first innings on the last day at Georgetown in a rain-washed Test. The rest of the innings were ordinary. He averaged 30 on that 1982 tour. Incidentally that was the only time he played four fiery West Indian fast bowlers together in their backyard, more of that later.

“One? Check again, there should be more. May be, but that’s not the point. He is head and shoulders above the rest of them.”

When Gavaskar had gone past the world record of hundreds, scoring his 30th ton, a reputed Calcutta-based sports magazine ran a headline, “Gavaskar is not as good as Bradman, but very close.”

Most of us believed it. Most of us nodded in agreement. Yet, a couple of heads not quite satisfied that he was not as good as Bradman. “Cricket has changed a lot. Bradman never had to face West Indian pace,” I heard.

There is a new manifestation of this phenomenon these days, with Sachin Tendulkar compared to Bradman, but that is another topic.

I remember that in the summer of 1986 I was sitting with an edition of World of Cricket, that excellent magazine that unfortunately went defunct down the years. The cover photo showed the hero of the tour of England, Dilip Vengsarkar, pulling a ball past mid-wicket during the hundred at Lord’s. I was joined in the room by a relative. She was in her sixties and still curious about the world.

I remember her asking, “Who is that?”

“Dilip Vengsarkar.”

“Is he a good player?”

“Yes, he was brilliant in England this time.”

“Does he play better than Gavaskar?”

I remember smiling indulgently at her. Better than Gavaskar? No one could play better than Gavaskar. It was not permitted by the laws of nature.

Many still think so. Again, those who had the idea embossed in impressionable minds in the 1970s.

It was also cricket that got me interested in numbers, and ultimately drove me into the world of statistics. Beyond cricket statistics. I pursued my higher education in statistics the subject, finishing with a Master’s Degree. The primary thought which guided me was to put all the data available in cricket under the scientific microscope. To develop scientific tests, comparisons.

But that came much later. The seeds were sown by the numbers against the cricketers that were tabled and presented in magazines and newspapers.

Whenever I looked at career averages that were splashed at the beginning of each forthcoming series, I found Gavaskar at 50-plus. The rest of them at 40 or thereabouts. My elders nodded with affirmation: “Head and shoulders above the rest.”

The tables showed career averages and averages for that particular series. No other view was readily available. Remember, those were days before online scorecards, and cricket databases.

In March 1987, Gavaskar played his last Test. Of course, we did not know it then, because he announced it only after scoring 188 in the MCC Bicentennial game at Lord’s.

Immediately after the Lord’s match, eulogies were showered. People remembered the heroic deeds against ‘scorching West Indian pace’ of 1971, and then the last Test match at Bangalore, where he had scored that fighting 96 as the rest of the batting had collapsed.

What a legend! Maintaining the same performance from the start to the end of his career, miles ahead of the rest even at 38. Did I smile remembering the old relative’s innocent query: “is he as good as Gavaskar?” I might have.

And then something remarkable took place just as Gavaskar had called it a day. I got hold of several bound copies of magazines that dated from the early 1980s. There were scorecards, and tables of career statistics that I could locate for several series.

Out of curiosity and fascination for numbers, I did some calculations.

The results flummoxed me.

It told me that from 1984 onwards, till his retirement, Gavaskar had got his runs at 45.47. A very good average for any player, but certainly I expected Gavaskar’s average to be much higher. During the same period Dilip Vengsarkar had scored more runs at 66.03. Mohinder Amarnath at 53.61. Mohammad Azharuddin at 52.17.

I did the calculations again, just to be sure. I perhaps pinched myself. The old lady’s question was not so rhetorical any more.

And all that talk about being at his best till the last day. He was not nearly near his best. He had averaged 56 in the 1970s. There was a drastic drop. Down to 44 in the second half of his career.

All of a sudden the computer’s verdict that Vengsarkar was World’s No 1 batsman suddenly made sense. The same verdict that we had scoffed at as nonsensical.

Gavaskar across his career Runs Average
First 62 Tests (1971-1980) 5,901 56.74
Last 63 Tests (1980-1987) 4,221 44.9

And then I ran to the others, my elders, to make sense of this counter-intuitive nonsense. How was it possible? People were outscoring him by 20 runs per innings.

“Obviously you have made mistakes,” said one of them. I checked again, painstakingly. The numbers refused to change.

Another said openers average less because they get out more often.

By then I had started reading cricket books from the British Council Library. And then there was the wonderful World of Cricket magazine, which probably went defunct because it had too many excellent articles on cricket history.

So I asked, “What about Hobbs and Sutcliffe?”

“Who and Who?”

“Check against the West Indies.”

“Well, in 1982-83, the only time he played against four fast bowlers in their backyard, he averaged 30. Not the best as you said… Mohinder Amarnath did better, much better.”

The answers were rattled off, thick and fast, against this ignorant, irreverent whippersnapper of a kid.

“He plays for a weak side.” Well, given three other batsmen had averages more than the best player in the world, it certainly did not seem so.

“One has to understand Gavaskar. It is just because he is in the team you see people scoring at those high averages. They know Gavaskar is there.”

And not for the last time I heard, “Numbers don’t mean anything. Lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Only, there was no statistics here. The problem people had was with long division. Runs divided by number of completed innings. They still do.

Of course there were two other outstanding arguments that have stood the test of time — not in logical content, but in timeless scope for repeatability.

“You had to be there to know.” An argument that puts several excellent historians of their jobs.

“He did not wear a helmet.” More of that later.

The arguments were akin to ‘you cannot know and measure God with science.’

I also had another puzzle that I simply could not solve.

I had been presented Tony Cozier’s West Indies: Fifty Years of Test Cricket. Towards the end of this excellent book were the details of the cricketers, with the date of their debut.

I looked up all the known cricketers. Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner. Their debuts had been made at various junctures, 1974 onwards. Malcolm Marshall had come later, and hence was not included in the book. I looked up Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith. They had retired in the 1960s.

So, who were the bowlers in 1971? Against whom did Gavaskar score the runs?

I put this question to the household, the fans of Gavaskar who I expected would be able to fill every missing detail.

Alas, they didn’t know. “In West Indies, even if you shake a tree, a few fast bowlers fall at your feet. There must have been some good ones. Don’t recall.”

None of them had heard of Uton Dowe and Grayson Shillingford. Not surprising. Not many in the cricket world have heard about them. Their deeds are not really legendary.

Let us come forward to 2016. By now I knew Gavaskar’s career more or less by heart. If not, there is always the internet to look up anything I may have forgotten. Believe me, online cricket databases do not require special skills, they are available for everyone.

I was having a conversation with a statistics professor (!), and we were discussing cricket. By then I had written articles about West Indian pace and who the best players were against them when four great bowlers bowled together.

When I told him that much of Gavaskar’s exploits against West Indian pace bowling were mythical, he was aghast. “Why, even in his first series he made plenty of runs.”

“Who were the bowlers in the first series?”

“I don’t know, but …well …”

“Do you know that in 1971, West Indies were in the middle of a seven year phase when they won nothing at all? They had to recruit club-class bowlers like Jack Noreiga?”

“Well, I actually don’t know.”

Even now, after the cricket scorecards and statistics are available to all at the click of a mouse, the myth is as strong as ever.

The myth has been fused into the Indian cricket consciousness.

Many years later I carried out a detailed analysis of the best performances against the fire-breathing quartet of West Indian fast bowlers. Gavaskar did not figure among the best.

I did face severe reactions.

There were similar arguments. One had to be there. One cannot measure greatness with numbers.

Finally the gem of a counter: “No one wrote a calypso on the ones that the article says were better players of pace. They did on Gavaskar.”

Once again, it demonstrates the divine equation.

Remembering cricketing icons resemble mythology recounted in folk art — calypsos, poetry, epics. Not objective analysis.

Unfortunately, scientific study of performance cannot cater for calypsos.

Mythological stories are remembered that way. Not history.

Even an editor nearly fell out with me when my otherwise glowing tribute to Gavaskar on his birthday included some of the misconceptions. I had pointed out that he was nowhere near as good as he is made out to be against pace. And he did not sustain his form in the 1980s. Every argument was backed by numbers.

The editor responded saying that I had put in extremely strong opinions. Fact-based arguments backed by numbers were opinions? Yes, not everything can be explained by numbers, the editor argued. I cannot question the abilities of Gavaskar the cricketer, he added.

The same man had asked me to find statistical holes in the career of Don Bradman.

You cannot measure God with science. But if nuclear physics suddenly finds that matter is an illusion I will be extremely happy.

If you are still reading it, please take a moment and without scrolling up try to recall all the words that were used at the beginning of the piece. You know, the part where I told you to read and try to remember because we would come back to it.

Try to write down as many as you remember. After jotting down every word that you remember try scrolling up and checking. Don’t cheat.

If you have jotted down defensive, straight drive, or determination or similar words, you have fallen to the normal trick of memory. Appending actual facts that you have seen with what you expect to see.

Similarly, we expected Gavaskar to be the greatest Indian batsman, expected him to score huge runs against West Indies, expected him to remain at his peak and retire when people asked ‘why’ and ‘why not’. In every analysis we expected to see him at the peak. Mainly because that is what we had been led to believe.

Memory acts like a filter, yielding a clearer, understandable, image of the past, shunning things we find difficult to accept as true. The impurities are removed, producing a distillation both logical and meaningful.

If we look back at the 1960s , we forget, for instance, that back then the music business made a lot of money from silly songs like “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,” or that Sergeant Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets” outsold “Give Peace a Chance.”

We recall Che Guevara’s success in Cuba but not his humiliation in Bolivia.

Examples abound through the tales of the world.

The fact is most of us, and even most of the ones who were following the game diligently in the 1970s, did not see him bat except when he played Test matches nearby. No one had the technology to do so. No one had much of an idea about the others who were performing around the world.

It was a preconceived belief that Gavaskar was the greatest, created because of several reasons. When India played abroad we had to do with late-night commentary, and read half-baked reports from patriotic journalists who sent down the details from the far-off lands. They were not accurate. We appended the facts we heard with the illusions we created.

If we analyse his career in detail, we will find that his best phase of run scoring coincided heavily with the Packer years. When he played Australia and West Indies without most of the lethal bowlers.

We have analysed his career in assiduous detail to show that when the bowling was moderate he did exceedingly well. When the bowling was relentless and great, actually Virender Sehwag performed better. As expected, tampering with age-old beliefs have resulted in outrage and, not seldom, abuse.

We have shown that if the Packer years were taken out of the equation, his average drops sharply. It gave rise to some vehement comments from irate fans, including one of his biographers. Our numbers supposedly meant nothing compared to a letter Vijay Merchant had sent him after a hundred.

The problem people have with long division is rather pronounced.

“I am not a cricket historian, neither am I a statistician,” ran one complaint, “But I remember grainy images of the young boy in 1971, battling fast bowlers in West Indies alone.”

The crux of the problem. Nothing other than grainy images are produced as evidence, the rest of it is made up by our propensity for confirmation.

The legend of fast bowlers in West Indies in 1971 runs so deep that Dilip Sardesai was credited with “teaching Indian batsmen how to face fast bowling.” That stalwart was instrumental in winning the series in West Indies, as much as Gavaskar was responsible for holding on to the lead once it had been taken. However, there was no quality fast bowler to be faced, nor a decent spinner. It was an attack desperate enough to include club class bowlers. Dowe, Shillingford, Noreiga: not really the cream of bowling talent.

Associated with this was the helmet factor.

The study of batsmen against the four pronged West Indian attack has kick-started numerous debates. In one of them, the names of Wasim Raja, Bruce Laird, Graham Gooch, Alan Border, Dilip Vengsarkar et al were uttered as men with a better record than Gavaskar against that bowling. I was quite flabbergasted to find a respected man close to cricket, who did deal with data analysis, countering, “All of them wore helmets.”

Well, first and foremost, Gavaskar, while facing the four West Indian quicks, donned the skullcap. In his analysis of the great opener Frank Tyson, a far cry from the patriotic local journalists, did mention that Gavaskar discarded the helmet because it was too heavy for his weak neck muscles. This is too prosaic a fact in the face of lionisation to be repeated often. Post retirement there have been added corollaries that a blow on the skullcap would have surely killed him. Why go through all the elaborate trouble to create a niche and special apparatus that was not tested? If one was good enough, as repeatedly claimed, to bat without it? The skullcap has forever remained under the floppy hat.

Secondly, if Bjorn Borg decided to play the Wimbledon in 1987 with his wooden racquet, would he start at 30-0 before a game began? Would he be declared winner even if he lost because the others were playing with graphite racquets?

If the argument is that Gavaskar would have scored a lot more if he batted with a helmet, then he did not serve his own and the team’s cause with his bravura, did he? And if that was not the argument, why should we look at it? Ultimately the runs count and headgear does not.

I have never been able to understand the argument. One is the best against a particular bowling attack because of his runs, not because of his choice of headgear. Jack Gregory batted without gloves. Eric Rowan did so against Keith Miller. They did not have helmet in those days. But, that is too far into history. The window of Indian history starts at 1971 or 1989 or 1996 or (again) 1996 depending on the chosen God.

The myths abound even in these days of technology.

Another major problem with this is that while creating myths around imaginary superpower, there are genuine aspects of greatness that are clearly ignored. Few remember the details of what I consider to be his best series, against Pakistan in 1977-78.

The question remains what was it about Gavaskar that gave rise to such mythical stories about prowess.

Myth and 1970s

There is always mythology flowing through the annals of cricket. Victor Trumper was probably not as successful a batsman as his contemporary Clem Hill, especially when stronger attacks were considered. However, his legend was powerful enough to make people resist the claims of even Bradman on the batting throne. In retrospect, it is even more ridiculous a comparison than between Gavaskar and Bradman.

The reasons for this were aplenty, and can be discussed elsewhere. It had a lot to do with Australia being formed as a new independent country in 1900 and Trumper’s batting style dazzling important writers on the game in one summer of 1902.

Are there similar reasons for the myths surrounding Gavaskar to become as deep rooted as they are today?

If we look back at the 1970s, there were a lot of spectacular stories that sprung up from cricket of those days. The quartet of spinners, Gundappa Viswanath, the esoteric fielding of Eknath Solkar, all these are part of folklore. And above all there is Gavaskar. Much of it is deserved, but there are limitations.

It is about the four spinners that we have studied in detail. According to our analysis, Ghulam Ahmed was at least as good a bowler as any of the four. Srinivas Venkataraghavan, on the other hand, would struggle to be abreast with even men like Shivlal Yadav in any decent analysis.

Yet, many seethe and bristle even if we put Ravichandran Ashwin above Venkat. And of course, there is very little gold dust surrounding the names of Ghulam or Yadav.

When we talk about Viswanath, the age-old base-rate-fallacy does occur in glorifying his adventures against crisis. But that does take place even today. Much as representativeness bias equates the straight bat and calm demeanour of Rahul Dravid as a great player against tough bowling, whereas the truth remains he failed in the most difficult conditions (averaging 30 in South Africa, 33 in Sri Lanka, 38 against Australia)

However, when we come to the spinners, the mythological strain is a bit too strong.

And towering above all this is the legend of Gavaskar. The infallible Gavaskar.

“Fair weather batsman,” said Michael Holding in his biography. “I could mostly get him out,” said Richard Hadlee. Dennis Lillee always put Viswanath above him.

They had no reason to worship Gavaskar, for they knew of his fragility.

When Clive Lloyd came at him with his four-pronged attack, Gavaskar’s average dropped to 40.

In the 8 Tests Gavaskar played against Hadlee he scored at 36 an innings. In the only Test where Hadlee was absent, he got 116 and 35 not out.

Gavaskar scored 5 hundreds in Australian soil, but when Lillee played his numbers went down drastically, to 118 at 20 from 3 Tests.

But we refuse to believe them. We would rather go with Imran’s “Give us Gavaskar and we will win the world.”

Of course, Imran had his reasons as well: Gavaskar did master Imran, with 1,622 runs at 58.

We went by words. We never wanted to find out why they, great bowlers, all of them, had their own opinions of the man.

Confirmation bias helps us search for and absorb only information that does not allow rejection of the hypothesis.

So, what is it about the 1970s. Why do we have so many extraordinarily powerful myths that append every legend from that era and make him unrecognisable when matched against his actual deeds?

One explanation is that we did not know much about the world.

Heck, we did not even study much about world history. Those were days way before the internet and satellite television. We believed the West was degenerate, and Americans always divorced two days after they married. Our culture was the best in its family values, and all that utter nonsense that some of us hold dear to this day, powered by archetypal Bollywood films.

We believed homosexuality was a crime, in school responsible teachers told us that masturbation was sin.

We did not have the data or knowledge to make judgements. There were lots of misconceptions.

Myths are caused in attempts to make sense of a world that is way too complicated to understand through the information available to us.

Coming to forming heroes, we did so within these constraints. It is in some ways similar to a child thinking his parents are all powerful. He does not know the rest of the world. Parents are all-important, the best duo in the entire world. Father the best man, mother the most beautiful. However, the opinion undergoes changes when suddenly he grows up.

That is one accepted explanation of local views of heroes and heroes being idealised into gods.

Can one see the parallels in a closed fraternity of cricket fans?

However, one may ask why the 1970s in particular? Things were more closed before that.

True. Even the young adherents of Gavaskar had to deal with the pink tinted glasses of their elders telling them that Vinoo Mankad batted better than the little master and was a superior bowler than Bedi. Numbers? What numbers? He played in a different era. You had to be there. The conditions were different. He did not earn as much from the game.

One understands the plight.

However, the myths never materialised around Ghulam. Vijay Merchant, who was perhaps the first great batsman of India, did not give rise to that particular concept of infallibility. So, what was it about the 1970s. What was it about Gavaskar?

We have often tried to make sense of it. We have discussed events like Emergency, and the demographical truth that the fans from 1970 are the ones who are still active in the cricket space and still voice their opinions that have frozen beyond scope of change.

While these may be causes, we cannot call these conjectures scientifically valid.

There is, however, some explanation in the works of Mircea Eliade, a historian of religion and philosopher.

According to him, hagiographies of celebrated figures transform them into near-gods and their sagas into myths. Myth describes how, in primeval times, a god or near-god created a phenomenon. Outright gods are credited with creating natural phenomena, culture heroes with social phenomena.

A myth honours its subject’s establishing something in the physical or social world, that continues to this day.

Let us pause here and think of the 1970s. India went to West Indies and beat them, and Gavaskar scored 774 runs at 154.80. It was a very, very weak West Indian bowling attack, but it had not been done earlier. Neither had some Indian batsman scored runs with that regularity. Indian batsmen had performed, even overseas, but never had someone scored 774 in a series. The sheer volume inspired awe.

Next India went to England and beat them. India beat England again at home.

The team was definitely strengthened. The performance of India through the 1970s was not spectacular.

Summer of 42 did take place and the disastrous World Cup, but in the second half of the decade, coincidentally or otherwise the major cricketers of the world going into the Packer circus, Gavaskar enjoyed a phase that was unknown in the history of Indian cricket. India lost against a third-string side in Australia, but managed to win two Tests. They lost against Pakistan, but beat them in the home series that followed. They lost against England home and away, but beat Alvin Kallicharran’s West Indians and Kim Hughes’ Australians.

For the inward looking Indian fan, unaware of the rest of the world, all these were novelties. There was a regularity of wins, never before achieved in Test matches.

What was more, Gavaskar romped through the second half of the 1970s as a mammoth compiler of runs. He stood at 5,901 runs at 56 per innings. He was without doubt one of the best in the world. India had never had a world-class batsman of this quality who created milestone after milestone. He was a first.

Read the lines again.

“Hagiographies of celebrated figures transform them into near gods and their sagas into myths. Myth describes how, in primeval times, a god or near god created a phenomenon. Outright gods are credited with creating natural phenomena, culture heroes with social phenomena. A myth honours its subject’s establishing something in the physical or social world, that continues to this day.”

The 1970s team did not rule the world. No, they did not. They were not the best bunch of cricketers ever. No they were not. If anything, barring New Zealand, they were probably the weakest of all Test-playing nations; and South Africa were not even playing.

But they were the first to win that many matches. Often their opponents were Packer-afflicted sides, and the result in Australia, a 2-3 loss, in my own opinion was a failure. But they were indeed the first.

And in Gavaskar there was absolute novelty. An Indian great who was right up there with the very best of the world. Who created records as no one had ever done before. That was indeed a phenomenon of which he was the creator. In some ways there were bound to be myths that honour this.

The rest of the steps are easy enough.

The West Indians were a scary lot of bowlers. Gavaskar ended with 13 centuries against them. That was enough for the creation of the pace-bowling myth.

The Australians have always been a terrifying force, especially at home. Gavaskar scored a hundred in each of their major Test venues. That was enough for the creation of a legend who rose to the biggest of challenges.

Looking at the granular details with scientific eyes is, by definition, contrary to the aims of the mythologist.

From this, the misinformation effect and labelling has taken over.

Thus we have the infallible ideal godhead of a batting template called Gavaskar that cannot be bettered.

The myth continues, passed on from one misty-eyed generation to the next, from the era of late-night radio commentaries to the generation of grainy footages to the internet era, refusing to be pinned down by cold numbers.

And just like the man, the myth, too, dons a skullcap — one that shields him from the easily-pushed-away ammunition that goes by the name of data.

Aftermath

November 25, 1987. Feroz Shah Kotla.

Indian walked out to play their first Test after the retirement of Gavaskar. It was against the West Indians. Patrick Patterson scythed through the innings. India were all out for 75.

There were lots of sagacious shakes of the head in our environment. “They will realise now what Gavaskar meant. No one is there to take on the new ball. Indian cricket will sink without a trace.”

India lost that Test, but only after a fierce battle. The West Indian response on the same day amounted to 118 for 8. The ball was swinging like never before in Delhi. And at the end of the series, they had held the mighty West Indies 1-1.

The next year Hadlee produced miracles with his ball. But India won the series 2-1. Half a year later, one of the avuncular elders refused to believe India had won against New Zealand. “I saw it with my own eyes. Hadlee destroyed them and there was no Gavaskar to save them.”

Confirmation bias has never been more pronounced.

In fact, India did not lose another series at home till 2000. So much for Indian cricket sinking without a trace.

The game moved on, new stars arrived, another Bombay boy started doing things even Gavaskar had not done before … dominating attacks and batting audaciously against the best of bowlers. Inevitably, the ones born later started creating new mythologies around this new phenomenon.

There have been other icons and other mythologies. Different parts of India indulged in 1996 …. and the story went on.

But, the 1970s remain special as the primordial origin of mythologies in Indian cricket. And Gavaskar will continue to rule the consciousness of Indian cricket fans. As the pioneering godhead in the mythically loaded folklore of Indian cricket.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history of cricket, with occasional statistical pieces and reflections on the modern game. He is also the author of four novels, the most recent being Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets here.)