On August 22, 1987, Sunil Gavaskar scored his first First-Class hundred at Lord’s. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the Little Master’s last First-Class innings.
Despite being almost universally successful there was one stigma that remained throughout Sunil Gavaskar’s illustrious career: he had never scored a hundred at Lord’s in any format of the game. His highest score at the ground in any format was the 59 scored in the 1979 Test; he did not get to play a single match at the hallowed turf during his stint for Somerset; and though he could seek some solace from the fact he was a part of the World Cup-winning squad, it must be admitted that he had also batted out 60 overs in a World Cup match in 1975 to score a 174-ball 36 with one boundary at the very ground.
India had lost their home series against Pakistan earlier that year after the first four Tests were drawn. On a minefield at Bangalore, Gavaskar carved out a virtually impossible innings of 96 against Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim — two quality bowlers who were turning the ball almost square. The innings had converted this columnist into a cricket fan for good.
Gavaskar was a part of the Rest of the World XI when Marylebourne Cricket Club (MCC) announced its Bicentenary match at Lord’s in August 1987. Both sides had exceptionally strong sides: MCC, led by the English captain Mike Gatting, mostly consisted of cricketers playing in England that season while their opponents, led by Allan Border, were picked from the remainder.
The visitors were scheduled to play two practice matches. The first of these, against Lancashire at Old Trafford, was called off due to rain without a single ball being bowled. Gavaskar had opted out of the next match against Gloucestershire at Bristol. Dilip Vengsarkar scored 173, Desmond Haynes got 130, Maninder Singh picked up five for 71, and time ran out for the tourists as Gloucestershire finished on 221 for seven chasing 386.
The teams then moved on to Lord’s for the big match. As Wisden had pointed out, the only ‘titans’ the match missed were Ian Botham, Martin Crowe — and perhaps the biggest of them all — Viv Richards. Even the umpires were Dickie Bird and David Shepherd, the best in contemporary cricket.
Day One: Harper’s magic
Gatting won the toss and decided to bat on what looked like a flat pitch. As predicted, Day One was dominated by the bat. It was a surreal sight when the tall Courtney Walsh’s silk smooth run-up culminated in a delivery to his teammate, a sombre Gordon Greenidge.
Imran Khan gave Rest of the World XI the first breakthrough when he trapped Chris Broad leg-before for a 14-ball ten. Broad’s failure was a disappointment given his achievements Down Under last season. Graham Gooch walked out.
Watching Greenidge and Gooch bat in tandem was a strange experience. Greenidge, perhaps the hardest hitter of the ball of the era, batted like a dream when on song: the famously moustachioed Gooch, on the other hand, with his high back-lift and determined eyes, was all about the typical British grit and determination.
Unlike in the disastrous ICC World Series over 18 years the two batted beautifully before Roger Harper took a blinder to dismiss Greenidge off Abdul Qadir. The champion batsman had scored 52 in 94 balls with nine fours, and was just beginning to look threatening when Harper stopped him.
David Gower struggled uncharacteristically, hanging on for over an hour before edging one to Jeff Dujon off Harper. He had scored a 54-ball eight out of a partnership of 55. Out walked Gatting, and between them the two G’s took control of the match — the way they would in the World Cup semifinal a few months later.
The 200 came up, and then 250. And then, something miraculous happened — the kind one gets to see once in a lifetime. Harper crammed down his usual dart; Gooch stepped out in anticipation and drove fiercely straight to Harper.
What happened next was a scene straight out of a Matrix or a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: whatever it was, it could not have been an act by a fielder. Harper swooped down as if there were no bones in his body; in a single fluid motion he picked up the ball, which then went past Gooch and hit the stumps before the Essex great could even react.
The gallery sat stunned in disbelief for a few seconds before breaking into a thundering applause, enthralled at what they had just witnessed. Gooch found himself on all fours, then carried his bat, and took the long walk back to the pavilion, his famous moustache drooping. He had scored a 211-ball 117 with 18 fours, and had added 103 with Gatting.
Clive Rice walked out and kept Gatting company till stumps. The day ended with MCC on 291 for four: Gatting was on 68 and Rice on 14.
Day Two: Gavaskar takes over after Gatting blitz
Day Two began with some ferocious batting from Gatting, with Rice keeping him company. Age had not caught up with the 38-year old: he let Gatting dominate the partnership as he held one end up. Then, with a strong batting line-up to follow (Bruce French was scheduled to bat at 11) Gatting began to play his strokes.
The hundred came in due time, and once that was out of the way there was no stopping ‘Gatt’. Perhaps bolstered by a sumptuous lunch (or maybe some less likely source of inspiration) the English captain raced to a breezy 150. He declared the innings closed when he was bowled by Walsh for a 272-ball 179 with 26 fours. Rice remained unbeaten on 59 from 157 with eight fours, and MCC had scored 455 for five.
Gavaskar walked out to bat for what could well have been his last outing at Lord’s. As in the case of Walsh and Greenidge there was no sign of patriotism as Malcolm Marshall steamed in to bowl to Haynes. The rather unlikely duo of Gavaskar and Haynes, however, batted for close to an hour against Marshall, Hadlee, and Rice.
Haynes was the first to go, caught by Rice of Marshall. Rest of the World XI were 46 when Dilip Vengsarkar, having scored a hundred in each of his three Lord’s Tests and the greatest batsman in the contemporary world by a mile, walked out to join his Bombay teammate.
Whatever rifts might have separated them in the past did not reflect on that day at Lord’s in a match that Wisden called “a game rather than a contest.” They batted for over an hour adding 47 before Marshall had Vengsarkar caught by Gooch. “He [Vengsarkar] is the one cricketer I have ever disliked and the only one I have felt consistently hostile towards,” Marshall had said in his autobiography Marshall Arts. He must have been a happy man that day.
Border then played an uncharacteristically quick 39-ball 26 with three fours and a six before he was caught by Rice off Shastri. The top three wickets, all of them quality batsmen, had reached their 20s, but none of them had gone past 26; Border sent out Dujon, and he remained unbeaten on eight as Gavaskar took the score to 169 for three at stumps. He remained unbeaten on 80: it was already his highest score at the Headquarter of Cricket, and he was only 20 runs away from the landmark he had so craved for.
Gavaskar announced his retirement from First-Class cricket that evening, despite being in complete knowledge that he might not reach the magic figure. “My appetite for top cricket and plenty of fans has disappeared. I am not hungry, just like someone who has eaten a good meal,” said the great man.
He added: “This is my last five-day match. I will not be available for our series against West Indies after the World Cup. I will not play in the domestic competitions because I do not feel that it is fair to block a young player. There may be a couple of knockabout games.”
Day Three: Conquering the final frontier
Gavaskar began very confidently from the very onset the next day. “He [Gavaskar] seemed absolutely certain he would mark the occasion with a hundred”, wrote the Indian Express the next morning. He lost Dujon early, caught by Gooch off Marshall, but carried on with Imran for company.
He soon placed one from Shastri and ran for a single to bring up the hundred in 214 balls and 246 minutes. It was a typical innings from the man who had been the epitome of concentration and grit throughout his career. Once again he had pulled off a masterpiece when others had let him down.
He was not finished, though: he let Imran play the big shots as he himself carried on with the grafting. As the partnership grew and the follow-on was avoided, Gavaskar started to unleash his shot, matching Imran stroke by stroke, eventually lighting up the historic ground with an amazing display of batsmanship.
Imran was bowled by Shastri after a 145-ball 82 with 10 fours and two sixes; however, he was paled in 159-minute partnership of 180 with Gavaskar. Kapil walked out, hit a couple of boundaries, and holed out to Marshall off John Emburey; and then, after 404 minutes of resilience, the great man hit one back to Shastri.
It is difficult to say whether Shastri was happy or not to dismiss his mentor 12 runs short of a double-hundred. The last 88 had taken Gavaskar only 137 balls, and had included 12 fours, as opposed to the first phase of his batting. The entire ground stood up in a thunderous ovation he walked out.
Walsh joined Harper and produced some outrageous strokes, reaching 21 in 19 balls with two fours and a six. Rain came in 20 minutes after tea, and the rest of the play was ruled out. The visitors were 421 for seven, 34 runs behind, with Harper on 17 and Walsh on 21.
Day Four: The anticlimax
Border declared on the overnight score, and Kapil responded immediately when he was brought on early, dismissing Broad for two. That was, however, the last bit of joy the visitors had for some time as Greenidge and Gooch raced to a 135-run partnership in even time.
When Gooch was eventually bowled by Harper for a 117-ball 70 with 12 fours the visitors were no longer in the game. Gower then produced a cameo, scoring 40 off 74 balls with seven beautiful hits to the boundary. Soon afterwards, Greenidge became the fourth G to score a hundred in the match. He eventually fell for a 223-ball 122 with 12 fours and two sixes.
With the match taking a the mood of a festival contest, Gatting promoted Hadlee, Shastri, Emburey, and Rice above himself, and declared the innings closed at 318 for six, asking Rest of the World XI to score 353 in a day and a bit.
Gavaskar, coming out to bat amidst a standing ovation, was bowled by Marshall rather anticlimactically in the third ball of the innings for a duck. Border sent in Harper as night-watchman and he and Haynes played out the 4.3 overs from Marshall and Hadlee before play was called off for the day. Haynes remained unbeaten on three and Harper on nine as the tourists finished the day on 13 for one.
The last day could have produced some aggressive cricket given the quality of batsmen in the line-up, but not a single ball was bowled due to incessant rain. The match ended in a draw, and one of the most illustrious careers in the history of the sport came to an end that day. The openers have ceased to face fast bowling in sun-hats ever since.
Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) 455 for 5 decl. (Mike Gatting 179, Graham Gooch 117, Clive Rice 59*, Gordon Greenidge 52) and 318 for 6 decl. (Gordon Greenidge 117, Graham Gooch 70, David Gower 40) drew with Rest of the World XI 421 for 7 decl. (Sunil Gavaskar 188, Imran Khan 82; Malcolm Marshall 3 for 53, Ravi Shastri 3 for 130) and 13 for 1.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42.)