By Tim Holt
As an old man it always gives me goose bumps hearing the Indian national anthem and the meaning behind the words. I was born in 1952 and my parents were in India prior to the Partition in 1947. I heard stories of the beauty and spirit of the Indian people. And with passage of time, I have seen the emergence of India as an independent nation, free from the shackles of British rule.
For me, the one individual in Indian sport who has made the tricolor flutter with honour and Indians puff their chest with pride is Sunil Gavaskar - the original Little Master who carried the aspirations, hopes and dreams of India with his awesome batting in the field of cricket.
I can reel off Gavaskar’s exceptional statistics and the adjectives that the world showered him to extol his unparalleled batting skills as an opener who would have been a near certainty in the greatest-ever team picked by most pundits of the game. But, for me, Gavaskar was worth much more; he is the architect of the edifice Indian cricket built today, the master who gave India a new respect in international cricket.
When Gavaskar began his international career in 1971, India was the butt of jokes with just 13 victories from 116 Tests. The Indian players then had low self-esteem. It was drummed into their subconscious that they didn't belong among the cream of world cricket and lacked the skill and will to even compete, let alone win.
Gavaskar, however, was a polar opposite. From his very first innings, he showed the approach of a winner – a man who was on a mission to refurbish India’s image in the eyes of the world. What the world saw was the mindset of a champion. The gaze in his eyes reflected a new resoluteness. His determination was relentless. It was Gavaskar who ensured that Indian cricket was not only look respected but, indeed, feared.
If India is a potent force in world cricket today, it was largely due to the mastery of Gavaskar who showed with extraordinary brilliance how it can be done which inspired generations of cricketers that followed. If India is ruling world cricket today, it’s because of his legacy of making Indians believe that they can be among the best. He battled great odds and fearsome opposition to earn the respect. It was on the foundation that he laid that Indian cricket built their fortunes.
Gavaskar’s epics are now part of cricketing folklore. When India were asked to chase 403 on the fourth innings by the West Indies in 1976 at Trinidad, the target was hitherto never been accomplished in Test cricket. But India took up the challenge in style. Gavaskar’s 102 inspired the rest of the line-up to create history against a West Indies pace attack spearhead by Michael Holding. It was a watershed moment in Test cricket, Indian cricket and West Indies cricket as well; it was this defeat which saw skipper Clive Lloyd sow the seeds of attacking the cricketing world with four fearsome fast bowlers. But even as batsmen around the world quaked in their shoes by the assault of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall, Gavaskar mastered the Windies pace attack like no other batsmen in the world. Gavaskar vs the Windies pace battery was great theatre of a bygone era that is still recalled with much awe and respect.
Gavaskar’s water-tight technique and amazing temperament was iconic. He was a master tactician in accumulating his runs with singles and twos and, in the process, grinding the opposition to dust. He was an impenetrable wall who would make Rahul Dravid look like his wall of balsa wood!
But when Gavaskar was in the mood he was like a bottle of soda ready to explode when shaken. Against the West Indies at Delhi in 1983, he eschewed the duck and weave movements to the rising deliveries, and unleashed the hook and pull from his repertoire. The world saw with dropped jaw as Holding, Marshall, Winston Davis and Wayne Daniel were taken to the cleaners. Gavaskar’s furious assault saw him score a run-a-ball 121. That knock saw the Little Master score his 29th Test hundred and drawing level with the legendary Sir Don Bradman.
Happy Birthday, Sunny. And thanks for the memories!
(Tim Holt was born in Northern Ireland in 1952. He found his love for cricket when he was sent to South Africa between 1964 and 1966. He is an unashamed cricket purist who feasts on Test cricket. His passion for the game cuts across geographical boundaries and into the domestic competitions. Tim, who has a background in journalism and teaching, has lived and worked in many places across the world)