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When an angry Sunil Gavaskar exemplified his fierce pride and honour of being an India player

Sunil Gavaskar… the India cap and the playing attire are sacred for him © Getty Images
Sunil Gavaskar… the India cap and the playing attire are sacred for him © Getty Images

The Supreme Court has chosen Sunil Gavaskar to head the BCCI during the course of the much-maligned Indian Premier League. But in a country that has no dearth of carping critics, who are quick to pass judgments based on loose and unsubstantiated comments, one hears murmurs if Gavaskar himself is clean from the ills plaguing IPL. H Natarajan, who has known the batting legend well for over three and half decades, narrates two anecdotes that will answer the Doubting Thomases.

The first anecdote I would like to share was narrated by Kolkata Knight Riders Director Joy Bhattacharya recently. “Sunil Gavaskar was a commentator on the Indian tour of the West Indies in 2002. One of our younger cricketers had a fairly active night of passion and the lady involved demanded and got one of his India caps as a prize. A day later, she went to sign it from Sunny Gavaskar. He had one look at the cap and asked where she got it from. She refused to tell till he threatened to call the police and have her arrested. After he got the name, he stormed on to the team bus, something he never does, and told the player in question exactly what he thought of the incident, and why he should be ashamed to ever wear an India cap again. Forget that poor man, in five minutes, the entire bus learned more about what playing for India meant than a thousand lectures.”

How many Indian cricketers have you heard who have gone this distance the way Sunil Gavaskar did to value the honour of being awarded an India cap?

At a very young age, Gavaskar had learnt the hard way what an Indian cap meant. Gavaskar was still an innocent kid when he had asked his maternal uncle Madhav Mantri — who had kept wickets for India — his India sweater. Mantri refused his doting nephew by saying one has to earn it. Gavaskar never forgot the lesson and has felt very strongly on the matter ever since; he has voiced his opinion like no other international cricket in this respect and in no uncertain manner.

Full coverage of Supreme Court hearing on IPL 2013 spot-fixing and betting scandal

Gavakar wrote in his book Straight Drive: “Did you know that you did not have to be a player to get the India shirt or cap? All you have to be is a pretty face and give the Indian player a smile, and maybe an idea or two by acting coy, and you will get the Indian shirt off him in a jiffy. He will then conveniently forget that the shirt has been given to him by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) because he is deemed to be good enough, out of the millions, to be in the squad of 14 or 16 to represent India in international matches. He has got there by the dint of hard work, and when he first gets his cap and his India shirts, he will even wear it to bed at night and not want to part with it. But then he plays for a few years, becomes popular and rich, and the importance of the cap and the India shirt begins to wear thin. What the heck! He gets a cap for every tour. Why, sometimes his sponsor makes an India cap for him. The BCCI does not say a word to him for not wearing the standard issue cap for all the team members’ tour, and every series he has more Indian caps than he wants. Ditto with the shirts. He has more Indian shirts, again courtesy the BCCI and his sponsor, than he can wear in a lifetime… Where is he going to keep all this, especially while returning from an overseas tour, what with all the shopping and freebies he has got. What better way to make way for the shopping to be accommodated in the suitcase than by giving an India shirt or two to a pretty face! Who knows, he may get more than a smile from the pretty face! What a pity the India shirt and cap means so little to some of the members of the Indian team.”

Gavaskar believes, and rightly so, that the India shirt and cap have to be earned, and not purchased. Gavaskar further underlines his strong views on the matter: “There has to be a copyright on the colours, the logo of the Indian team. The BCCI must put down a clause in the players’ contracts that they will not give away any of the equipment that the BCCI gives them without the written permission of the BCCI President. Sure, one can exchange caps and shirt with opposition players, for one is sure that they will be kept as souvenir at home or not worn. Even giving a cap or a shirt for charity is fine so long as it’s genuine charity and approved by the board.”

I know for a fact that Gavaskar respects Gary Kirsten (the man who masterminded more success than any other Indian coach) because the South African always wore the sponsor’s cap than the India cap.

Volcano erupts

The second anecdote is one that I had witnessed from close range and could feel the molten heat of the erupting Gavaskar volcano. This was at a media conference at the Oberoi Hotel just prior to the 1992 World Cup. I and another senior journalist were talking to Gavaskar. And because Gavaskar knew us well, there was a comfort level between the three of us.

The senior journalist asked Gavaskar: “Tell me, Sunny, your money is on which team winning the World Cup?” It was a straightforward question to someone the journalist knew well and Gavaskar was comfortable talking to. But in a public place where a lot of non-sports people were seen, there were far too many who were awe-struck by the batting icon’s presence. The Little Master guarded — and understandably so among journalists unfamiliar to him — response was: “I’m not the betting kind.”

A drunk scribe — not even from the sports fraternity —and eaves-dropping on our  conversation made the huge mistake in his inebriated state of senselessly asking Gavaskar, “But we heard your uncle bets on matches…” That was it! What one saw was an atomic explosion. People on the road below the five-star may have heard Gavaskar exploding. He gave the worst possible tongue-lashing to the journalist from a non-descript vernacular paper. “Do you know my uncle? Do you know what it means to earn an India cap?” The Gavaskar tempest was seen in full fury — and for what seemed endless. The gathering at conference hall was stunned into silence. Everybody froze. I have seen Gavaskar get angry many, many times, but this took the cake, the bakery and the baker!

Would such a fierce nationalist ever sell his soul and country? Character assassination stories, like the one against Gavaskar, emanate from people who either don’t know him, or have a mischievous agenda to vilify him. And when these bazaar rumours get repeated on social media platforms with nil accountability, they gather ridiculous credence through repetitive sharing.

It remains to be seen how effective Gavaskar will be in his new role — given the paucity of time and the political machinations within the board — in cleaning up the Augean Stables, but one can be sure that he won’t allow hanky-panky stuff to flourish with the impunity it did in the Indian Premier League (IPL). All said and done, the task before him is lot more onerous than facing the likes of Andy Roberts and Michael Holding. The swift opposition from the BCCI to his taking over from N Srinivasan is an indication of what he is up against.

Watch out for political beamers, Sunny!

(H Natarajanformerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan)

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