Gundappa Viswanath Biography
He was the best batsman of the world for a considerable while, a claim made by the then recently released computer ratings and underlined by his almost Bradmanesque run in the mid-1980s. During that decade, Dilip Vengsarkar was without doubt the best batsman of India, and that is in spite of the divine pedestal on which Sunil Gavaskar had already been placed.
To be the world’s best in the mid-1980s meant surpassing the feats of Allan Border, Viv Richards, Javed Miandad, David Gower, Martin Crowe, Gordon Greenidge and others, apart from Gavaskar himself. And from a large period between 1983 and 1987, Vengsarkar towered over this elite group, by some distance, all except Border by some 20 runs per innings.
It was a pity that he was way too professional and low-key to achieve absolute stardom in India. Vengsarkar’s mastery ended at the wicket. Neither did he strut about larger than life, nor did this tongue-tied stammering stalwart entertain the media with his views.
It has been said that if Gower been born Indian and Vengsarkar an Englishman, they would have been national symbols. Gower’s frivolous artistry made him enormously popular in India, but the English viewed him with suspicion. Vengsarkar’s low-key professionalism and ‘introvert’ tag jarred with the Indian image of the superstar, but was the blueprint for English acceptance.
His claims to captaincy were also ignored for many a year before an amazing run with the bat left the selectors little choice. Somehow, even fate conspired to keep him away from focus. Vengsarkar was a regular in the side for 16 years. Two of the very few matches that he missed turned out to be monumental — the triumphant World Cup final of 1983 and the Tied Test of 1986-87.
A gawky youngster who shot into prominence by scoring a swashbuckling hundred against Bishan Bedi and EAS Prasanna in the Irani Trophy, Vengsarkar remained the plinth of the Indian middle-order for a decade and a half. A superb player of the drive, especially through the covers and between mid-on and mid-wicket, he was the picture of elegance at the crease.
To watch Vengsarkar at his best, it was required to load the playing field with seemingly insurmountable challenges. He was at his best while battling the West Indian pace battery or scoring hundreds on wickets that saw the rest of the batsmen struggle to eke out means of survival. While his three hundreds at Lord’s are still remembered with awe, perhaps his best innings in England were 61 and 102 not out at Headingley in 1986, when the conditions rendered batting almost impossible, and thus caught our man at his best. His highest score was made on a minefield at Cuttack.
A decline in form and fitness towards the final few years dimmed the sheen of his achievements, but 6,868 Test runs with 17 centuries spoke eloquently about his immense class. In his early days he was also an outstanding fielder at bat-pad.