Sunil Gavaskar scores a world record 774 runs on his debut series

Sunil Gavaskar… became only the second batsman to score a hundred and a double hundred in the same Test, while battling a painful toothache. It was just his fourth Test in a debut series where he scored 774 runs — 773 of those coming in seven innings! © Getty Images

On April 19, 1971, Sunil Gavaskar ended his final innings on that epoch making West Indies tour with a 529-minute effort of 220. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the feats of a hundred and a double hundred in the same match, and 774 runs in a series.

On the eve of the Test, Sunil Gavaskar had asked Ashok Mankad to pour a pitcher of ice cold water down his throat at the end of a gruelling training session. A small piece of ice got lodged in a tooth cavity, starting off spasms of excruciating pain that dogged him throughout the match.

And on the morning of the Test, Ajit Wadekar won a rather curious toss and asked Gavaskar to open the innings with Abid Ali.

Gavaskar had missed the first Test of the series afflicted with whitlow, and had made his debut in the second Test with 65 and 67 not out at the very ground in Port-of-Spain which was also hosting the fifth and final Test. At Georgetown, the third Test, he had scored 116 and 64 not out, following it up with one and 117 not out at Bridgetown in the fourth Test. Now, with India holding on to a slim 1-0 margin, Gavaskar literally gritted his teeth and proceeded to do bat and bat and bat.

The first hundred

Garry Sobers got Abid Ali early enough, and captain Wadekar did not last too long — but it made no impression on the young man from Bombay. A hook off paceman Uton Dowe past mid-wicket followed by a steer past gully warmed him up. Sobers tried to entice him by bowling just outside the off-stump, but Gavaskar left ball after ball with his infinite reserves of patience. When the great man overpitched, Gavaskar drove him through the covers. Apart from these occasional bursts of aggression, he looked prepared to bat through the six days of the Test.

Dilip Sardesai batted as superbly as he had done throughout the series, playing the role of the aggressor. As many as 122 were added for the third wicket. The bowlers were rotated to unsettle the two, and Sardesai fell to David Holford for 75. Gundappa Viswanath and ML Jaisimha were removed quickly. But Gavaskar could not be budged. At the end of the day he was unbeaten on 102, India on 247 for five. 

He saw through the second new ball on the following morning before snicking one behind from David Holford at 124. By then, he had rubbed vice-captain Srinivas Venkataraghavan the wrong way by trying to farm the strike. The off-spinner, not quite a mug with the bat, had shouted at him, “When I say run, RUN!”
As it happened, Venkat outlasted Gavaskar, scoring a vital 51.

Meanwhile, Gavaskar was writhing in pain from his toothache, unable to eat or relax. Team manager Keki Tarapore had advised against visiting the dentist during the game, fearing that the anaesthesia used for the extraction would make him drowsy.

When Venkat came into the dressing room at the end of his innings, he ticked off Gavaskar: “Do you think only you can bat?” The outburst, whatever its intention, took Gavaskar’s mind off the pain.

The second hundred

The third Sobers hundred of the series carried West Indies to 526, procuring a lead of 166 for the hosts. Two hours were left on the fourth day, with two more days to follow — giving the West Indians enough time to square the series. And when Sobers dismissed Abid Ali with India’s second innings score at 11, things looked bright for the home team. But, as Lord Realtor’s brilliant Calypso put it:

It was Gavaskar

De real master

Just like a wall

We couldn’t out Gavaskar at all, not at all

You know the West Indies couldn’t out Gavaskar at all

Of course, he was helped by John Shepherd spilling him in the slips, and Sobers dropping him off Holford. Gavaskar’s success in the tour owed a lot to the generosity of the West Indian fielders.

Soon, Vanburn Holder was hooked for four with panache and Dowe was driven between cover and mid-off. He had reached his 50 in just over an hour, before the end of the day. At the other end, Wadekar at long last seemed to have regained his touch.

Gavaskar essayed two pulls off Holford to get into his nineties. And with the other hero of the series, Sardesai, watching from the opposite end, Gavaskar went past his second hundred of the Test, the first Indian batsman to achieve the feat since Vijay Hazare in 1947-48.

“I remember him taking fresh guard after completing a hundred in the West Indies. He was preparing himself to go for another hundred,” Sardesai recalled later.

India progressed steadily and were ahead by 28 when Sardesai fell. Viswanath, room-mate, great friend and future brother-in-law, helped Gavaskar add 99 before being bowled by Sobers.

By the time the fourth day ended, India were 324 for four with Gavaskar still there on 180.

It was apt and also kind of sad that as Gavaskar approached his double hundred, at the other end was his childhood hero ML Jaisimha. It was his last ever Test match, and the Hyderabadi stylist looked a shadow of his earlier self. Three catches were missed off him on the final morning, and in the end Gavaskar was protecting the man he had grown up idolising.

The other batsman Gavaskar grew up revering also contributed to his success. In the Colin Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket Lecture of 2003, Gavaskar disclosed, “Rohan Kanhai occasionally grunted his disapproval from first slip if I played a loose shot. It wasn’t that these great cricketers did not want their team to win. It was just the fact that they had supreme confidence in their own ability and believed that helping an opponent only produced good cricket and was good for the game.”

Gavaskar himself felt the pressure when he spent half-an-hour in the 190s. Finally a cover drive off Dowe got him there, and the pitch was soon invaded by the numerous Indian fans who had thronged to the ground. The young hero was mobbed, garlanded and lifted prone off the ground. He had become just the second batsman alongside Doug Walters to score a single and double hundred in the same match.

A pull and a superlative straight drive off Holford were essayed to celebrate the milestone, before a ball from Shepherd took the inside edge and deflected to the stumps.

Gavaskar ended with 220, made in eight hours and 49 minutes. He had finished with 774 runs — 773 of those coming in seven innings — with four hundreds and three fifties, at an average of 154.80. It was the highest aggregate achieved in a debut series, beating George Headley’s 703.

As he walked back into the dressing room, manager Tarapore enveloped him in a hug. Gavaskar recalled that it was the best compliment he could have received. “From an individual who was more British than the British themselves, and known for keeping his emotions very much to himself.”

The batsman himself was perhaps relieved that at long last he could make that trip to the dentist.
“He fatigued the West Indian attack. Once he got set, the bowlers couldn’t beat him. He made them feel hopeless. Sunil was instrumental in our saving the Test series, whereas Sardesai won it,” recounted the late Ashok Mankad.

What followed

The West Indies were left with the task of scoring 262 runs from 155 minutes to square the series, a near impossible task on a sixth day wicket that was helpful to spinners.

They did try. Clive Lloyd was promoted to No 3 to push things along. He got things moving, eventually scoring 64. But, Abid Ali bowled both Rohan Kanhai and Sobers off successive balls, essentially ending the West Indian chase.

There was supposed tampering of fate by Wadekar which brought about the downfall of Sobers. The West Indian captain had been struggling in the series till roaring back to form in Georgetown. His Indian counterpart was convinced that the scores had begun to flow after Sobers shook Gavaskar’s hands.

Gavaskar later told Mid-Day in an interview: “On the crucial last day of the last Test, Ajit locked me up in the toilet when Sir Garfield came over to make his customary greeting to the Indian team. And guess what! Sir Garfield was out first ball for a duck.”

West Indies ended on 165 for eight, and India had triumphed for the first time in the Caribbean.

It was during the Test match that Bishan Bedi was blessed with the birth of a son [from his first wife, Australian Glenith]. The man who would have plenty of differences with Gavaskar down the years was moved enough by the latter’s heroics to name his son Gavasinder Singh.

Brief score:

India 360 (Sunil Gavaskar 124, Dilip Sardesai 75, Srinivas Venkataraghavan 51) and 427 (Sunil Gavaskar 220, Ajit Wadekar 54; Jack Noreiga 5 for 29) drew with West Indies 526 (Desmond Lewis 72, Charlie Davis 105, Garry Sobers 132, Maurice Foster 99, David Holford 44) and 165 for 8 (Clive Lloyd 64)

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)