Gavaskar against the Windies: Part 3
The visitors were delighted to return to the Queen’s Park Oval for the
fifth Test. All they needed was a draw to win the series, but with Sobers
having struck form, they could not relax.
Kenia Jayantilal fancied his chances of selection in the injured Mankad’s place. The Hyderabad opener had scored 40, 76 and 65 in the previous two three-day games. However, the team management opted to persist with Jaisimha in the middle order, despite his lack of form. His strategic acumen, which Wadekar valued highly, might well have had something to do with it. Prasanna, who had not played since his finger injury in the second Test, was brought back, and Abid Ali asked to open.
At the end of a strenuous practice session, Sunil requested Mankad, who was performing the drink bearer’s job, to pour a pitcher of chilled water straight down his parched throat. The outcome was that a small piece of ice got lodged in a tooth cavity. He was destined to start and end his first Test tour in pain.
An individual who wanted to alter destiny was the Indian captain. Wadekar had been happy to lose the toss on the morning of the second Test at the same venue. But on the first morning of the fifth Test, he wanted to call correctly and bat first on a pitch that looked a lot healthier from a batsman’s perspective than its second Test counterpart. In accordance with the prevalent custom, the game was to be a six-day affair, as it was the last Test and the series was still undecided. Wadekar chose to call tails instead of his regular heads, and won! Sobers wasn’t very attentive, having presumed that his opposite number would call heads as always. It took him a while to realise what had happened. His tooth was throbbing, but Sunil stopped thinking about it the moment he left the confines of the dressing room. Sobers dismissed Abid Ali early but he could make no impact on the other opener.
Sunil warmed up with a hook off Dowe that flew past Noreiga at mid-wicket to the boundary. He then dispatched the same bowler past gully for another four. Sobers tried to entice him with a line just outside off-stump, but the youngster did not bite the bait. He preferred to wait and was rewarded when Sobers overpitched. Sunil cover-drove him for four and meted out the same treatment to a full toss a little later. Sobers had not had much success against Sunil as bowler and fielder, but the latter’s team-mates were not as lucky. The Windies captain dived to take a catch offered by Wadekar. The two skippers all but left the field together as the ball got jammed between the turf and Sobers’ diaphragm. The Windies captain was in pain but pulled along till the lunch interval. Joey Carew deputised for him after the interval. Sardesai and Sunil added 122 for the third wicket. As Sunil neared his third hundred of the series, Carew tried rotating the bowlers to unsettle him, but to no avail. The crowds exploded when Sunil reached three figures for the third time in the series.
The West Indies hit back with three strikes in the space of nine runs, and India were in a tight spot at 247 for six, with Sardesai and Solkar back in the pavilion. The second new ball was relatively new, and it was imperative that Sunil stayed in. He took it upon himself to protect the tail, which commenced with his vice-captain.
Palmistry was one of Venkataraghavan’s interests. He had read Sunil’s palm earlier on the tour and predicted success. Therefore it was not surprising that Sunil’s respect for him had grown manifold by the time the fifth Test got underway!
Sunil assumed that he would be allowed to dominate the strike. But he hadn’t accounted for his vice-captain’s temper. Venkat, utterly unimpressed with his junior’s refusal to run singles, let it rip, ‘When I say run, RUN!’
As it turned out, Venkat outlasted Sunil. The opener fell for 124 and the vice-captain carried on and got 51. He then strode into the dressing room, towards Sunil and let fly, ‘Do you think only you can bat?’ The verbal rocket did take Sunil’s mind off his toothache, which by now had affected his eating and sleeping. Keki Tarapore, the manager of the team, had already refused to let him visit the dentist during the game, lest the extraction make him drowsy. In the circumstances, Sunil had two options. He could crib and lose his composure. Alternately, he could remember the story of Lord Dhruva and his powers of concentration. He chose the latter.
A combination of good batting, particularly by Sobers who scored his third hundred of the series, some generous umpiring, and ordinary fielding enabled the Windies to reach 526. The innings, having ended with about two hours left on the fourth day, the hosts were well-placed to level the series. India’s priority was to bat as long as possible. Sobers dismissed Abid Ali with only 11 on the board, but his joy vanished once it became apparent that Wadekar had returned to form. And then there was Sunil Gavaskar.
Sunil was helped along the way by Shepherd, who spilled him in the slips. The inevitable then happened with Sobers failing to latch on to a streaky stroke off leg-spinner David Holford. Sunil reached his 50 in just over an hour, the strokes that stood out being a hook off Vanburn Holder and a drive off Dowe that went like a bullet between Maurice Foster at cover and Lloyd at mid-off. The Bombay duo batted into the fifth morning. When Wadekar fell for 54, India were only seven runs behind.
Sunil entered the 80s and crept closer to the 90s with two hooks off Holford. It was appropriate that Sardesai, the man who had initiated India’s golden run, was in the middle when Sunil completed his second hundred of the game. He had already become the fourth batsman after Patsy Hendren, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott to score 1,000 runs in a single cricket season in the Caribbean.
He possessed the patience and run-hunger that he displayed in the West Indies since his school days. I remember him taking fresh guard after completing a hundred in the West Indies. He was preparing himself to go for another hundred. – Dilip Sardesai, The Boy From Chikalwadi (PMG, 1999)
India were 28 ahead when Sardesai fell for 75. Viswanath then put on 99 with his room-mate before being bowled by Sobers. At stumps on day five, India were 324 for four with Sunil undefeated on 180. More than the imminent double hundred, he was excited at the prospect of visiting the dentist in less than twenty-four hours’ time. The pain had taken a lot out of him, but only off the field.
Much like Sardesai’s presence when he completed his hundred, the proximity of Jaisimha as Sunil crept closer to his double hundred was wonderfully appropriate. It was almost as if Sunil had willed his idol to be 22 yards away when he completed his double hundred, for Jaisimha led a charmed life. He gave three catches on the fifth morning, all of which were muffed. Sunil spent half an hour in the 190s and then took a boundary off Sobers to post the 50 of the partnership. A coverdriven boundary off Dowe brought him to the landmark and sparked off a spectator raid. Sunil was mobbed, swarmed with garlands and lifted off the ground.
‘He was destined for greatness. He had a lot of time to play his strokes, and his patience was second to none.’ – Clive Lloyd
‘Sunil was fortunate to be dropped a few times, but he was good enough to capitalise and play some long innings. 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.’ – Late Ashok Mankad
It was around 10 pm IST when Prof Chandgadkar, the BCCI secretary, conveyed the news to a speechless Manohar Gavaskar. Normally one would be nervous while making one’s debut overseas. But he adapted like a senior pro. Some of us could have learnt from him. – M.L. Jaisimha, A Tribute to 50 Glorious Years (PMG, 1999)
Another hook off Holford stretched India’s lead to 202. The next ball was magnificently straight-driven for another boundary. Clearly, Sunil’s appetite was far from satiated, the 500 minutes he had spent in the middle notwithstanding. But Shepherd produced the breakthrough, inducing him to play on.
Sunil returned to the pavilion with 774 runs from four Tests, including one double hundred, three hundreds and three fifties at an average of 154.80. His sequence of scores read – 65 and 67*, 116 and 64*, 1 and 117*, and 124 and 220. The last two scores made him the second batsman after Australian Doug Walters to score a century and a double century in the same Test. His aggregate of 774 was the highest by a batsman in his debut series, beating West Indian George Headley’s 703 against England in 1929-‘30. His series average of 154.80 was second only to Bradman’s 201.50 against South Africa in 1931-32. He finished the tour with 1,240 runs at an average of 95.38.
In the dressing room, Tarapore gave Sunil a hug. ‘It was the best compliment I could have received from an individual who was more British than the British themselves, and known for keeping his emotions very much to himself,’ Sunil would recall years later.
He showed the purposeful, dedicated approach of a champion to sustain India’s morale in the final Test. From Sardesai, Gavaskar learnt the most paying stroke – the dropping of the wrist to avoid the outgoing ball . . . when he lands in Bombay, there should be happy holidays for the faculty of economics at St. Xavier’s, who could study the many runs he has accumulated in this series.
- K.N. Prabhu, TOI, 21 April 1971
‘He succeeded because he wasn’t overawed by his opponents. He had immense confidence in his abilities. He handled pace very well despite hardly having played it in his formative years. Frankly, he knew how good he was even at that stage of his career.’
– E.A.S. Prasanna
The West Indies were further frustrated by the lower order and a brief shower which left them with 155 minutes in which to score 262. On a fifth-day wicket against India’s spinners, it was an impossible task. But they went for it. Lloyd, promoted to No. 3, got things moving. Abid Ali then pegged them back by dismissing Kanhai and Sobers off successive deliveries. For Wadekar, Sobers’ dismissal was a huge relief. He was convinced that his counterpart had begun his golden run only because he had touched Sunil at Georgetown.
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.
– Sunil Gavaskar, Mid-Day, 25 February 2007
Foster assisted Lloyd in adding 51, but his run out, and Solkar’s dismissal of Holford a few runs later, left the hosts with no option but to bat out time. Venkataraghavan snared two more batsmen, including Lloyd, but the hosts hung on. The score was 165 for eight when the umpires called time for the last time in the series. Ajit Wadekar and his team had done it! Sobers had started regarding Sunil as his lucky charm, although the latter was convinced that it was the other way round. The superman commented favourably on Sunil’s proficiency at essaying the hook, one of cricket’s riskiest strokes, and advised him to persist with it on the tour of England. His words of encouragement, as also Kanhai’s, capped what had been one of the most outstanding debuts in Test history.
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. – Sunil Gavaskar, Colin Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket Lecture (MCC, 2003)
It was a different era, that. The West Indian stalwarts were not alone in their attempts to encourage a talented youngster. His seniors had been a source of support, not only to him, but to all the junior members of the squad. Previous Indian squads had been notorious for the generation gap that existed between the greenhorns and grey-heads, but this side was different.
Wadekar had declared at the start of the tour that the door of his room would always be open, should any member have anything to discuss. In Jamaica, Sardesai even took on a fan for making some disparaging remarks about Sunil. The rooms that Jaisimha and Prasanna shared witnessed many a discussion on the sport, and life. At least three junior players – Sunil, Viswanath and Solkar – made it their daily destination every evening.
Sunil was overwhelmed when Bishan Bedi announced that he had decided to christen his son (who was born during the final Test) ‘Gavasinder Singh’.
He had little or no practice against quick bowling at home, and yet he went to the West Indies and scored over 700 runs against fast bowlers! How did he manage this? I guess only he can tell us how he did so. I hope he does. – Kapil Dev at the BCCI’s felicitation of the 1983 World Cup team, 22 June 2008
Fifteen thousand people congregated at the Bombay airport when the heroes landed early on 26 April, 1971. Wadekar and Sunil were requested to stand on a table outside the customs enclosure so that everyone could see them. The fireworks commenced after Sunil displayed the trophy presented to him by the Trinidad Cricket Council.
After the fireworks came the felicitations. The Bombay Cricket Association felicitated Sunil along with the Ranji Trophy side, which had won the title for the twelfth season in a row despite the absence of five stalwarts who were in the Caribbean. Sunil was named Bombay’s Senior Cricketer of the Year and awarded the Justice Tendolkar trophy. There were celebrations in the Bhagirathi buildings and in the Dadar apartment blocks where the Gavaskars resided.
‘I went to meet Sunil after his return from the Caribbean. We spent the night discussing the tour. The phone rang in the morning and I answered it. It was from Mrs. Gandhi’s office. She spoke to him for about five minutes.’
– Navin Ambulkar
His parents, friends, team-mates and newfound fans could only wish that the debut series was only the beginning of a long innings.
‘Though it might sound outrageous, one cannot resist the temptation to say that there is a Bradman-like streak in this 21 year-old . . . He has picked up his way by watching others and reading books, through tips gathered from the regular postmortem on the game at Dadar Union, and above all, by processing all the data and available evidence through his analytical mind.’
– Sunder Rajan, TOI, 2 May 1971
Extracted from ‘SMG, A BIOGRAPHY OF SUNIL MANOHAR GAVASKAR,' written by Devendra Prabhudesai, and published by Rupa and Co.