Amitabh Bachchan was captivating the audience with ”Zanjeer” and ”Deewar” while Kishore Kumar was belting out iconic chartbusters during those heady days of ’70s. And what was Sunil Gavaskar doing? He was carrying a young nation’s hopes on his shoulders, using cricket as a metaphor for life, giving a lesson or two in “how to fight a good fight”. Come March 6, Gavaskar will complete 50 years of his association with Indian cricket — five decades when he has remained ever-relevant taking on a variety of roles. “Mr Bachchan still is India’s greatest icon and the late Kishore Kumar is evergreen and unforgettable. So if you ask me, I am humbled to have been even thought of in the same bracket,” Gavaskar told PTI in an exclusive interview on the eve of the 50th anniversary of his Test debut in the West Indies.
So, how was the feeling when he walked in to face the Caribbean attack on this day five decades back at the Port of Spain.
“There was elation at finally being able to wear my country’s cap. There was nervousness too because we were playing a team led by the greatest, Sir Gary Sobers,” he said.
His 774 runs in his debut series have stood the test of time but when Gavaskar looks back, he feels that he would have been happy to score even 400 runs.
But it did feel surreal at that time, didn’t it?
“It sure took a long time to sink. All I wanted at that stage was not to make a fool of myself. If I had scored even 350 to 400 runs I would have been satisfied,” Gavaskar said.
“I did say later on that I would have been happy to have 374 out of the 774 runs being divided between my hero ML Jaisimha and the large-hearted genius Salim Durani so that they could have kept their places for the tour of England that followed the West Indies trip,” he added.
While he burst into the scene in 1971, Gavaskar feels that until 1974, when both Dilip Sardesai and Ajit Wadekar retired, he didn’t feel any pressure.
“Well, there really was no pressure till the end of 1974 when suddenly so many stalwarts either retired or went out of reckoning. That’s when the realisation came through,” Gavaskar said.
“…and with no disrespect to the others in the team (back) then but if the team had to put up good totals then Vishy (G Vishwanath) and I had to get the bulk of them.”
In his 17-year career, Gavaskar never wore a helmet against even the most fearsome fast bowlers because for him, bouncer was a scoring opportunity.
It didn’t matter if it was Jeff Thomson, Michael Holding or Malcolm Marshall, the short ball never unnerved him.
“Look, even when I was beginning my club career the opposition bowlers were bouncing at me,” Gavaskar said.
“Yes the pace was not as great as at the international level but I had got used to it and I always looked at the bouncer as a scoring opportunity. That way you kept your eye on the ball always and could bail out if the ball came quicker at you,” he said.
And what if he had someone like Virender Sehwag for company as an opener with Virat Kohli at No.3 and Sachin Tendulkar at his second drop position. Would he have changed his batting approach?
“It’s a hypothetical question,” the opener left the ball alone just as he used to do in ’70s.
How about a bowling attack in which Kapil Dev had company from a Zaheer Khan and Jasprit Bumrah. Would he have changed his style of captaincy?
“Never mind the personnel, if I had the confidence that even after losing back-to-back series, I would not be removed as captain, then may be I would have had a different approach,” he answered.
No names taken but just a statement made.
“Remember, those days captains were removed after losing a series. I was even removed as captain after winning a series in which I scored 732 runs,” he said, recalling the 1978-79 home series against the West Indies after which S Venkataraghavan took over.
He was the voice of Indian cricket even during those years with his columns, and books. He spoke his mind on sensitive topics pertaining to Indian cricket, players and establishment, something he would be “more subtle than then” if the eras were to be changed.
For the post-90s generation, Gavaskar is the “voice of Indian cricket”, who has seen the landscape of broadcasting go through a sea change.
“When I first started commentary, we were told that if you had nothing to add to the picture then don’t speak.
“However, with the advent of commercial TV the commentators are encouraged to speak more especially towards the end of the over as the advertisements come on at the end of the over.
“Since technology dominates our everyday world, it’s no surprise that it finds its way in TV coverage too.”
How would he have handled Twitter, Instagram and Facebook trolls, who are all over the place and about whom the celebrities constantly complain about?
“I don’t take myself seriously so have never felt the need to tell the world what I am doing here and there. If I have to wish somebody, I will either call or send a personal message rather than do so publicly.
“And no, I don’t lose sleep over what somebody who I don”t know has to say about me.”
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