Not that he require any great deal of convincing. Because Sunil Gavaskar, a man with tremendous personal pride, had suffered much more than the Indian players to see his country humiliated on the cricket field time and again. Since retirement he has hardly applied himself in exhibition matches. But some of us had guessed, and as it turned out quite correctly this was going to be a special match for him. A chance to salvage a little pride for the Indian contingent here.
So in walked Gavaskar, in the very first over. No, he wasn’t opening. But the number four batsman had to come to the crease as we were lettering 0 or 2 standing at the non-sticker’s end. I heard the umpire asking one of the fielders, “Are you going to have a lunch break in between or after the match?” But Gavaskar was in no mood to entertain him. I was intensely watching him. The man comes to the crease with a face that suggest, ‘Good day, guys, Beautiful, cool breeze, pleasant weather. I must share all these with you as long as possible’. And even before a bowler sent down the first delivery, he knew what was in store for him.
But whatever he was showing the opponents, Gavaskar was actually very worried – I figured out a little later. No, he wasn’t worried because of the opposition. His anxiety centered around his partner. Watching from the pavilion Gavaskar must have noticed how I ran the opening batsmen out by calling wrongly. A man who was talking the match as a kind of pride-salvaging opportunity had to be worried.
So, the first thing he advised me at the wicket, was “there are two calls, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. If you thing there is a run just firmly say, ‘Yes’. If you thing there is no run in that even if I call, you say firmly ‘No’. But don’t hesitate.”
Sensing the uncomfortable situation we were in- the strong winds, their well-build medium pacers and then finally, this dressing down from Gavaskar—I didn’t quite know what to do. Mentally, I was rehearsing bow firmly I would say, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. But then you can’t pass your exams if you just read on the very day. So Gavaskar was nearly done in by a wrong call. Luckily, he escapes, as the throw from cover was ill directed. But that was it, only once. Even my ‘talents’ were not good enough to run him out in the 116 run partnership of which 80 runs came from singles and twos.
You would have found it difficult to believe – the man was a forty three-year-old ex-cricketer. Still running between the wickets so excellently, and more importantly, still a very good judge of singles. The team he played that day was completely unknown to him. But he hardly takes any time to tell the bad fielders of the opposition from the good. Accordingly, he judges his runs. Against a bad fielder he will always try to put pressure, try to convert once into twos, twos into threes, but a good fielder will be treated with a safety –first-then-look –for runs attitude.
There were two state level bowlers in the opposing side. But even if they represented a northern Transvaal or Eastern Province side in the Currie Cup, when you are up against 10,122, you do shiver. And Gavaskar got two half volleys in his very first over which, surprisingly, he did not hit. There was a look on his face suggesting, ‘what’s the hurry’?
Well, little did he realize his partner’s predicament. I didn’t know what to do. The man who has scored more than ten thousand runs and 34 hundreds would watch my batting from the other end. I will run for my singles. Well, in my mind I wasn’t playing against the opposition anymore. I was playing against Gavaskar. And one was also remembering Mr Krishnamachari Srikanth and cursing him. Srikanth had always maintained that ‘batting with Gavaskar gave anybody a tremendous advantage. You begin to think, if this man can handle the bowling so easily, why can’t I? ’
What nonsense! I think watching him bat from 22 yards is bound to give anyone a huge inferiority complex.
So I suffer and suffer. Meanwhile, the left arm spinner came in to bowl. And I decided by now that I know how to get out. First ball. I drove him hard. Much to my surprise, it went to the boundary. I played out the remaining deliveries defensively. Then I saw the ‘Little Master’ coming towards me. I knew what he was going to say. He would say, ‘good shot’. Mentally, I had already told him, ‘thank you’.
But imagine the shock. He actually scolded me, ‘what is this? You hit the spinner on the very first ball for a four of the front foot. And then go on to the back foot for the last five balls?’ What he was trying to tell me was a golden price of advice. You established a mental superiority against the spinner in the very first ball. How could you give it away in the last five balls?
By the time ‘Master’ had moved on to the third gear. He was playing that famous flick shot of his. Almost colorlessly to an area near the mid-wicket where he knew there would at least be a few singles. The pace bowlers were treated with complete disdain; thrice he pulled the unfortunate bowlers over mid-wicket. The ball must have traveled nearly eighty years. And the bowler looked very worried. Not for his average, though.
“I had parked my car just outside the ground. Should I go and check”? He was asking the umpire. The umpire Mr. Darryl Johnson, who had officiated in a lot of rebel tour matches, was hardly listening,. He was asking the no striker, why did he retire? It must’ve been the greatest suicide in world cricket! And Gavaskar went on and on to score an unbeaten 131.
I was just thanking my luck. Even the most powerful binoculars in the Press Box wouldn’t have showed him so close. As to how he watches the ball, how he transfers the weight on his legs in the last possible second how, even while hitting fours and sixes, he keeps his head still- all the liner points of his repertoire were there on display for me from close quarters.
All very simple things, actually I was telling myself. Simple and easy to follow, just elementary. And then suddenly I remembered, genius is the art of doing impossible things simply.
Pity our present Indian cricketers in spite of their apparent talents can’t follow suit. No wonder there were many in SA who wished Sunil Gavaskar could make a comeback to take of the Indian opening and salvage India’s lost glory.
You begin to look so small in front of someone who play so straight, judge the length of the delivery so well and is such a complete player. We’re so tried of the modern pad-bat kind of cricketers that you enjoy him all the more. But, again as I told you, not from the opposite end.
But now Gavaskar had serried down and hit a few boundaries. All very sweetly timed shots, but at the end of the over quips, ‘I’ve picked the wrong bat.’ I saw in that an excellent excuse for me to get out. So readily I offered to exchange our bats. He says “We’ll exchange it during the drinks break, something he never does.”