March 7, 1987. After 110 years of the traditional format of the game at the highest level, Sunil Gavaskar became the first man on the planet to score 10,000 Test runs. H Natarajan, who was present at the ground, recalls the defining moment in cricket history.
Who was the first man to land on the moon?
Anybody with a passing General Knowledge would know the answer: Neil Armstrong.
Who was the first man to conquer Mt Everest?
Again, most people would have no difficulty in answering that it was Sir Edmund Hillary.
But, if one were to randomly ask:
Who was the second astronaut to land on moon?
Or, who was the second mountaineer to conquer Mt Everest?
Most people would struggle to get it right. Probably, about ten in 1000 people may get the correct names.
Pioneers in any field have a special place that no else can occupy. That’s the first-mover advantage. That’s why anybody with a passing sense of cricketing history will quickly answer that the first man to cross 10,000 runs in Tests was the legendary Sunil Gavaskar. The feat has been accomplished by 10 other batsmen since, but even the most passionate of cricket fan would probably be guessing to name the other ten.
Sunil Gavaskar long reached a point in his Test career when all that he could do was to pack more muscle to his existing records. He came into the Ahmedabad Test against Imran Khan’s Pakistan needing 58 runs to complete 10,000 runs. Unlike today, there was no hype whatsoever about impending milestone. And when the milestones were accomplished there were no over-the-top celebrations or mindlessly hyped. In contrast to the nationwide celebrations and the media blitz — headlines splashed across front page of national newspapers, and TV channels going on an overdrive — that follows major cricketing moments like Sachin Tendulkar’s 200 in One-Day Internationals or his 100th century in international cricket, Gavaskar’s feat of becoming the first cricketer in the 110-year of Test cricket to score 10,000 runs hardly raised a ripple.
Gavaskar reached the milestone by late-cutting Ijaz Faqih for a brace to third man shortly after tea on Day Three. The graying maestro, who said later that the landmark took a lot of pressure off him, raised his bat in delight as set out for the 10,000th run. Even as non-striker Dilip Vengsarkar walked up to Gavaskar to congratulate him, spectators invaded the field to spoil the special moment for the maestro. Gavaskar would have been livid on any other occasion, but at this moment he was just relived that a huge pressure was released.
As Raju Kulkarni says in SMG, Devendra Prabhudesai’s biography of the Little Master: “I roomed with him during the series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Although he was the type who never looked at the scoreboard while batting, and was known to switch off once he was off the field, the fact is that he was edgy as he approached the 10,000 mark. That was the only time I have seen him tense.”
Gavaskar did not last long, trapped lbw by Imran Khan for 63. But by then he had yet again extricated India out of trouble by adding 111 runs with Vengsarkar, after Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Mohinder Amarnath fell with just 46 on the board in reply to Pakistan’s first innings total of 395.
The Test ended in a draw — the fourth in a row — which meant the fifth and final Test at Bangalore was decisive. In what was one of the greatest-ever innings on a minefield of a pitch, Gavaskar single-handedly tried to win the deciding Test, and with it the series, by battling the vicious spin of Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim. Needing 221 for victory, Gavaskar defied the odds, the spinners, the wicket and the pressure the way only he could. Sadly, he was eighth out, still 41 short of victory, when he became a victim of a poor umpiring decision. Gavaskar fell four short of a hundred in his final Test innings and India 17 short of their victory target. Gavaskar had started the series with 91 and ended the series — and his Test career — with 96. What a player!
Going back to Ahmedabad Test, I had the good fortune to get a tangible piece of the momentous day in cricket history. In my cricketing memorabilia is a photograph of the great man raising his bat as he moves towards his 10,000th run in Tests. The icing on the cake was a personal message and the autograph of the man who climbed cricket’s Mt Everest that day!
Pakistan 395 (Rameez Raja 41, Younis Ahmed 40, Manzoor Elahi 52, Imran Khan 72, Ijaz Faikh 105; Kapil Dev 3-46, Shivlal Yadav 4-109) and 135-2 (Rizwan-uz-Zaman 58) drew with India 323 (Sunil Gavaskar 63, Dilip Vengsarkar 109, Kapil Dev 50 not out; Wasim Akram 4-60)
(H Natarajan, formerly 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 facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at twitter/hnatarajan)