Nostalgia can play tricks with memory, magnify and exaggerate the past, make it appear much larger and grander than what it may have been in real time. Having made this disclaimer, let it also be stressed that there are certain eras and players who have withstood the scrutiny of time and if anything, the present may be dwarfing and not doing justice to their achievements.
Watching Vivian Richards and Sunil Gavaskar in the commentary box sharing their opinions on the Antigua Test with the viewers, set off a chain of thought that evoked a magnificent era of batsmanship that even the best today would find hard to emulate.
No two people could have been as different as these two. One was broad, muscular and exuded self-confidence in such abundance that even before he had faced a ball, much of the battle had already been won. In his vocabulary, the grammar of batting was meant to be broken and flirted with. He could emasculate the leather with his raw power. He was audacity personified and the bowlers feared him as if they were about to face a nightmare.
The other was a midget in comparison. You wouldn’t notice him in a crowd and even feared for his life, wondering how he would cope against the fearsome pace and hostility of the West Indian fast bowlers. But he had masterly skills, was orthodox to the core and had monk-like resolve and patience that mesmerized the world. He did not annihilate an attack, he just subdued them with his text-book defensive technique and scored runs as if paying respect to the best coaching manuals was his duty.
One played for a team that dominated the world stage, the other for a country that rarely knew how to win. The only thing they had in common was that they played without wearing helmets! Richards and Gavaskar are the two most outstanding batting maestros the game has ever known, their careers running almost parallel to each other in the seventies and eighties. They were supreme examples of what genius can achieve, though following contrasting paths. One was a worshipper of technique and perfection, the other twisting and turning technique to create a new template that surpasses even the most innovative of strokes played in T-20 cricket.
Gavaskar made his debut against the West Indies in 1971 and scored 774 runs in the series, an aggregate that earned him a place in the record books. Richards’ debut came four years later, in India, and his Delhi Innings of 192 set the tone of a career that still invokes awe among the followers of the game.
It is widely debated what would have Richards’ response been had he to face his own bunch of fast bowlers, who were the scourge of batsmen the world over. And what would Gavaskar’s averages have been, had he been playing for the West Indies, and not for a team whose batting started and ended with him alone.
Those who believe Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest ever batsman, Indian or in the world, should revisit those times. May be they will revise their opinions and see Gavaskar in a new light.
And nothing will satisfy the curiosity of a cricket fan more if these two legends of the game discuss their own game, technique, what they think of each other’s batting while reliving that glorious past. For Ten Sports, which has both of them as commentators for the India-West Indies Test series, this is an opportunity that should not be wasted.