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'He really charmed the Caribbeans'

July 09, 2009 18:56 IST

When Sunil Manohar Gavaskar broke his longstanding record of 29 Test centuries, during his innings of 236 against the West Indies at Chennai in 1983, Don Bradman had described the Indian as "an ornament of cricket" in his special congratulatory message. Mind well, the Australian legend was never lavish in praise.

Bradman had actually echoed the feelings of many. Indeed, as far as his batting was concerned, not only Gavaskar's team-mates but also his opponents from abroad have only had good words about him. 

On the occasion of Gavaskar's 60th birthday, some of his illustrious India colleagues shared their views about him with Haresh Pandya.

Gundappa Viswanath

What can I say about Sunil Gavaskar? I know him very closely, as you know, and have played most of my cricket with him for India. I learnt a lot from him while batting along with him or watching him in the nets and from the pavilion.

His technique was amazing. And so were his footwork and hand-eye coordination. He saw the length of the ball much earlier than other batsmen. He played in an era dominated by so many fast bowlers. Remember, he never wore a helmet in his career.

His concentration and determination couldn't be matched. In fact, his concentration for his innings would begin from the moment he started padding up in the dressing room. Then he wouldn't speak with anybody.

Doubtless he was the greatest opener of his era; and also one of the greatest in the history of cricket. Not just as an opener, but also as a batsman he was outstanding, in a class of his own. It was always a treat to watch him play his favourite straight-drive. I doubt if anyone played this shot better.

I've seen him play a number of great innings on the most difficult of wickets and against the world's ferocious fast bowlers. Whether you talk of his 101 against England at Old Trafford in 1974, 102 versus the West Indies at Port of Spain in 1976, 127 against Australia at Perth in 1977, 221 versus England at The Oval in 1979, 236 against the West Indies at Chepauk in 1983 or 96 versus Pakistan at Bangalore in 1987, each one of them was a gem.

He was a very good captain, too. He would try to win. But if he saw no chance of winning, he would settle for a draw. It depended on the prevailing circumstances and other factors. He was indeed blessed with good leadership qualities and India.

Ajit Wadekar

Sunil Gavaskar is one of the legends of the game. He was one of the greatest openers of all-time. His statistics, his records and his mind-boggling achievements speak volumes for his genius with the bat.

It was amazing the way he batted right through the series in the West Indies in 1971. Though it was his first ever experience of Test cricket, he batted like a seasoned campaigner for one so young and making his debut against a team like the West Indies. He really charmed the Caribbeans.

He scored 774 runs at 154.80 in just four Tests and triggered a lot of expectations, which he had always to carry on his shoulders for the rest of his career. The West Indians, too, were in awe of him. And he went on to dominate them throughout his career.

Unlike today's batsmen, who are equipped with all sorts of protective guards and head gear, Gavaskar faced the world's most fearsome fast bowlers without ever using a helmet and did wonderfully well against them.

There were no restrictions on bouncers in those years and the fast bowlers could really make your life miserable if you were found wanting in technique or judgment. But no fast bowler ever frightened Gavaskar.

There were few better sights in cricket than Gavaskar driving a fast bowler in front of the wickets in copybook fashion. I think the straight-drive was his best and most attractive shots. In fact, he had all the shots and he knew when to bring them out of his repertoire.

Despite his lack of inches, he played the hook as well and perfectly as any master of this beautiful but risky shot. But gradually he curbed the hook for the sake of the Indian team, which depended so much on him.

Though he didn't live up to expectations in England in 1971 and 1974 under my captaincy, he was always trying his utmost to help the team. He was always an inspiring presence in the dressing room.

The wickets, the conditions were so different from what they were in the West Indies. But he came up with a truly great innings of 101 at Old Trafford in 1974. It was one of the few memorable moments for us on an otherwise forgettable tour. It was one of the best innings I've seen in my career.

The wicket was green and slow with unpredictable bounce. The weather, too, was adverse for batting. The English seamers couldn't have asked for more. But Gavaskar, demonstrating tremendous technique and willpower, overcame them.

Erapalli Prasanna

One of the greatest opening batsmen in the history of cricket, Sunil Gavaskar was technically and mentally very sound. He always put a prize on his wicket and it was always a challenge to dismiss him for the best of bowlers.

He was solid like a rock when defending; and delightful to watch when attacking. I liked many of the shots he played, but I thought he was magnificent when driving the ball between mid-off and cover. 

I think only Gavaskar could play the kind of innings he did against England at Old Trafford in Manchester in 1974. Yes, I'm talking about his 101. He conquered the difficult weather conditions and a formidable seam attack while playing that masterly innings.

Besides being a champion player, he was an excellent human being endowed with a brilliant cricketing brain. I think he was an excellent captain, too, all things considered.

Syed Kirmani

As one of his old friends and colleagues I'd like to wish Sunil Gavaskar all the happiness in life. We're all proud of his batting and his achievements. You do not often come across such a remarkable opening batsman. He was a role-model for any opener.

He was concentration and determination personified. I think in addition to his much talked-about technical expertise, these two particular qualities were the key to his enormous success against the world's best bowlers. Ask any bowler, fast or slow, and he'd tell you Gavaskar always troubled him more than any other batsman.

I had often batted with him in Test cricket and I've only fond memories of our association out there in the middle. It was an education to see him bat from the other end. I think his 236 against the West Indies was a brilliant innings. We had added 150-odd runs between us for the crucial ninth wicket.

People often try to make comparisons between him and Gundappa Viswanath. But it's totally unfair. There could be no comparison between the two. They're two totally different batsmen. They had their own different approaches and styles.

Viswanath was very aggressive, very graceful and very delightful to watch. Bowlers always had a chance against him as he would go for his shots. On the other hand, Gavaskar was very watchful and seldom or never gave a chance to the bowlers.

But when the mood seized him, Gavaskar also played his shots, which were splendid for their execution and placing. His straight-drive, on-drive and cover-drive, and occasionally hook as well, were a treat to watch.

How was Gavaskar as a captain? Well, everybody has his plus and minus points. So let's leave it at that!

Chetan Chauhan

I take this opportunity to congratulate Sunil Gavaskar as he is turning 60 today. He has contributed immensely to Indian cricket, not just as a player. I'm sure he'll continue to serve the game for many more years to come.

He was a truly great batsman and one of the finest openers the game has ever seen. His technique and concentration were superb, qualities that always stood him in good stead against the most formidable of attacks and in any situation anywhere in the world. I think they were his strength as a batsman.

He had all the strokes in the book. But I think his best shots were straight-drive and on-drive, both against fast bowlers and spinners. It was a sight to behold when he played his trademark straight-drive or on-drive. Few batsmen could play them better. 

It was always a pleasure to bat with him at the other end. We were involved in many long partnerships. I vividly remember his 221 against England at The Oval in 1979. We added 213 for the opening wicket while chasing a victory target of 438.

To me, it was one of his best or greatest Test innings. He was simply outstanding during that particular innings. We were actually trying to save the Test but he brought us so close to what would have been a sensational win.

Unfortunately, we fell short by just eight runs. We were all very disappointment in the end. But what an innings! You don't often get to see such a rare display of batting at its best under monumental pressure.