Sunil Gavaskar is the best opener I have seen in world cricket: Ravi Shastri

Ravi Shastri (above) said Sunil Gavaskar put India on the cricketing map. Photo by Sudatta Mukherjee.

By Sarang Bhalerao

Mumbai: Jul 10, 2013

“As an opening batsman, he put India up on the cricket map. He became a folk hero for our generation and the later generation of Tendulkars, Dravids and Laxmans,” opined Ravi Shastri. He was talking about Sunil Gavaskar, who was inducted into the Legends Club in Mumbai as the fourth member after Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare and Vinoo Mankad. Shastri said that Gavaskar remains the best opener he has seen in world cricket.

“Over the last 40 years, the three best openers I have seen are Gordon Greenidge, Graham Gooch and Matthew Hayden. But Sunil Gavaskar stands apart. I have not seen a better opening batsman [than Gavaskar],” said Shastri.

The former Indian all-rounder stated an instance in 1983 to underline Gavaskar’s competitive side. “It was in Guyana. He had not got many runs in the first two Tests. He came to my room and called me out for dinner. He wanted to unwind… Two days later I saw batting of the very highest order from him. Gavaskar was batting on 49 when a Malcolm Marshall bouncer him smack on the forehead and bounced 10-15 meters in front of him. But Gavaskar was unruffled; he didn’t flinch. No one in the West Indies team went up to Gavaskar.

Marshall went back to the top of his run-up. It was a big moment. But the next ball was driven firmly past Marshall for a boundary to get his half-century. That was an important moment and sent a strong message to the opposition. Sunny ended on 149 not out,” said Shastri.

It on Gavaskar’s insistence that Shastri got a SOS from to reinforce the 1981 Indian team in New Zealand after left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi was injured. Shastri was not in the best of form, but Gavaskar’s belief in him did wonders and Shastri made a huge impact by taking loads of wickets on his Test debut. There was no looking back from thereon.

Sunil Gavaskar is the best opener I have seen in world cricket: Ravi Shastri

A caricature by Austin Coutinho which was unveiled by Ravi Shastri at the Legends Club on this occassion of Sunil Gavaskar’s birthday and when he was inducted as the fourth legend in the club. Photo by Sudatta Mukherjee.

Shastri related another interesting anecdote that underlines the steely toughness of Gavaskar. This was on the 1983 tour of Pakistan when India were trailing 0-3 in the series. Before the final Test in Karachi, Gavaskar came to Shastri’s room and asked him to open the batting. “I was injured with five stitches on my hand.
Sunny came into our [Shastri and Sandeep Patil’s] room. Both of us were injured — ‘Patla’ was down with a hamstring. We were having gin and tonic. ‘I see you guys are having a party’, Sunny said. Patla said he was injured. Sunny looked at me and asked, ‘When are the stitches coming off’? I replied, ‘tomorrow’. He then said, ‘you are playing the game and opening the innings with me’! He had so much confidence in me that I did not want to disappoint him. I made 128,” recollected Shastri.

Milind Rege, former Mumbai player and Gavaskar’s close friend, also spoke on the occasion. He talked about Gavaskar’s childhood where he only batted, batted and batted. “He never got out, so we broke his bat,” said Rege.

It was Rege who converted Gavaskar into an opening batsman.

Rege also revealed something few knew about. “Gavaskar wanted to be an actor. If you watch the song Dum Maaro Dum from the movie Hare Krishna Hare Ram, you can find him somewhere in that song.”

Also talking on this auspicious occasion was former Mumbai skipper Shishir Hattangadi who had opened the batting with Gavaskar on his First-Class debut. He talked about how Gavaskar set trend in the Nirlon dressing room about reading a book or listening to music while unstrapping the pads.

Gavaskar could not attend the function because of his business commitments in the UK, said Rahul Mankad, another former Mumbai teammate of the legendary opener.

Mankad concluded the function by saying that whenever the going was tough, Gavaskar stood up and fought for India. “Such guys are rare,” said Mankad.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)