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Determination and concentration were the key: Gavaskar

Little Master retraces his life in this exclusive interview...

india Updated: Jul 10, 2009 20:12 IST
Anand Vasu

Sunny days

As player
He was the first to break the 10,000-run barrier and also to overhaul Don Bradman’s long standing record of 29 Test centuries (Tendulkar surpassed him in 2005). He still holds the record of most runs in a debut series.
As official
For a brief period in 2004, he was appointed as advisor to the India team for the Australia series. He has also been the chairman of the ICC cricket committee, but was later asked to step down due to his broadcasting commitments.
As writer
After his retirement in 1987, Gavaskar has penned four books on cricket, including his autobiography — Sunny Days. His other works include Idols, Runs n’ Ruins and One Day Wonders.
All four have been
As commentator
A year after his retirement, he starred in the major hit, Malaamal, starring Naseeruddin Shah. That was the only movie he acted in. With the advent of cable TV, he joined the esteemed commentary team of ESPN Star Sports. Like his game, he excelled in this role.
...and the honour
Recipient of the Padma Bhushan. He was also made the ‘Sheriff of Mumbai’ in 1994 for a year. The Border-Gavaskar Trophy has been instituted in his honour. He has also been inducted in the ICC’s Hall of Fame.

Little Master retraces his life in this exclusive interview

One of the strongest childhood images for a generation was Sunil Gavaskar, frozen in his stance, having left the ball alone, bat pointing down the pitch, holding the stare of a glaring fast bowler. Since then he has been an earnest leader, trenchant columnist, decisive official and all-round icon. Thankfully, he didn’t shoulder arms when HT asked him a few questions on his 60th birthday.

You were a pioneer in a lot of ways. Where the did the self belief come from at a time when India were not enjoying as much success on the field as they would have liked?

To be perfectly honest, I did not have plenty of self belief when I made my debut. But I was optimistically confident and maybe that helped me in that series.

What made it possible to be such a successful opening batsman against all attacks in all conditions when you did not really grow up facing attacks of that variety or quality in India?

Well really the fact that I was an opening batsman from the schooldays and was playing against the new ball. That helped me enormously in developing a method to combat the attacks in test cricket. Sometimes it worked, many times it didn’t.

How did you develop the mental strength as well as the technique required to be successful against the best in the world?

It could be the fact that I had to wait so long to play for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy that made me determined, and I think determination and concentration were the key.

In many ways you are the father of modern Indian batting. Since your time there have been people like Sachin, Rahul … How does this make you feel? It’s a huge honour but it’s also a burden for every batsman who makes the grade will inevitable have to match up to you, especially openers.

Sachin and Rahul have already scored many more runs than I did, so obviously it is not a burden. And Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are on their way too. So it is not a problem for anybody.

Today we’re struggling to find a conventional opener who lasts the distance. Virender Sehwag himself is a converted opener. We’ve had some high quality batsmen coming through in the middle order, but the cupboard has remained pretty bare when it comes to opening batsmen …

I disagree.. in Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir we have a fabulous opening pair and that pair is doing wonders for the country in all forms of the game.

What is it about the challenges of opening the batting? No. 3 batsmen are happy to walk out as early as the first over at the fall of a wicket. But when it comes to opening it’s a whole different ball game?

It really is a bit of mental adjustment. And those who made it like Virender Sehwag and Anshuman Gaekwad, go on to do top jobs in the opening position.

For a long time you were India’s most successful and iconic captain. What made you tick as a leader?

May be it is that I was prepared to be their spokesperson and put forward their issues to the board and in the public domain which made them believe in me.

No interview can be complete without talking about the 1983 World Cup and the 1985 World Championship of Cricket. That was some team you put together.

Yes, the 1983 World Cup win is the greatest win in Indian cricket. And to me to be a part of that is really huge. The 1983 win made the 1985 win a little bit easier because we now had the belief that we could beat anybody anywhere.

Just like you were one of the pillars of Indian cricket. There was also Kapil Dev. Much has been said about your relationship with him. A word on Kapil the cricketer and Kapil the person and the relationship you two shared.

Kapil the cricketer was the greatest match winner in Indian cricket because he could turn around the match with bat or ball. I have rarely seen anybody with such natural athleticism as he and he would have been a champion in any sport that he had chosen. He is also instrumental for all the new-ball bowlers that we have today because it was only after the youngsters saw what he did with the ball that made them take up quick bowling in a country that was, keen till he came along, only on batsmen and spinners. As a person he has matured fabulously from the uncertain and diffident youngster to the man of the world that he is now today. He was the one I turned to when I wanted a wicket or wanted runs on the board. Contrary to public perception we got along very well during our playing days and now he is one of the handful of cricketers (that can be counted on fingers of one hand) who I call on their birthdays. He calls me too.

You were at your peak when India and Pakistan resumed playing in 1979. From a personal point of view what was the buzz around playing Pakistan?

Well, the pressure playing Pakistan was far more than playing anybody else. For starters we were all made aware of the history by various people you ran into in India and Pakistan and how important it was not to get beaten in Pakistan. So there was an extra effort by the both teams when playing each other. It was always satisfying to do well against them.

Looking back, how do you view the Melbourne walk out of 1981 … It’s another subject that only you can really provide insight into …

I regretted doing that the very next day at the press conference in Melbourne after India had won the game. Even today I feel that as the captain of the country, despite the abusive provocation, I should have kept my cool. By the way just to elaborate further, it wasn’t the bad decision but the abuse that I had got when I was making my way back to the pavilion that made me turn back and ask Chetan to leave the ground with me. If the abuse hadn’t happened, I would have carried on to the dressing room and taken my anger at the wrong decision in there. After all it wasn’t the first time that I had received a bad decision, nor was it the last time. And since you are taught at an early age to accept the umpires decision, that’s exactly what I would have done. What you are not taught however is how to deal with the abuses and that’s why I snapped..

You were one of the first cricketers to usher in professionalism in Indian cricket in terms of payments for players, endorsements … How important was that?

It was important because players have a limited career and they spend the best part of their youth playing the game. Once they are done with the game, there are very few avenues open to earn the same kind of name, fame and money as when you are playing. And that’s why to ask on behalf of the players for a decent remuneration and insurance which was something that I didn’t need to be prod too much.

How have you managed to sustain commentary and column writing over such a long period of time?

I enjoy writing and I was doing it even when I was playing which in hindsight was not such a great idea. And since I enjoy writing even now, I continue doing so. What commentary does is to provide me with the chance to follow the modern game to see how the game is changing and evolving and also to witness at first hand the modern greats. And I can’t thank the Almighty above enough for giving me such a life.

It must have been tough for Rohan to grow up in cricket with the famous surname. He has always said it was a huge honour and never a negative. How do you view his achievements as a cricketer and his own career?

You are right that he had to grow up with a surname which can be a huge burden. But more than that he had to contend with people who were trying to get even with his father for perceived slights, imaginary or otherwise. So considering all that, he didn’t do badly at all and the other problem was that his father used up all the luck, so he didn’t have much when it came to some close decisions, which could have made a difference.

The challenges of T20

The T20 format is the most exciting format to have come into cricket. And it has brought in some breathtaking new shots in the game. The positive impact of T20 can already be seen in the rate of scoring in the 50 overs game as well as the Test matches.

What is the future of 50-over cricket?

Playing a 50 tournament immediately after a T20 tournament, will not evoke the same kind of enthusiasm as it otherwise would have. What you see in 50 overs cricket is more 300 plus scores now because the batmen would be using lot more T20 shots in the 50 overs game.

Many people have voiced their opinions on the popularity of Twenty20 cricket swamping other forms of the game. How genuine are these fears?

Test cricket has been around for more than a century. When the 50 overs came in there were many doomsayers who predicted the death of Test cricket. But what 50 overs game did was to make the Test matches more aggressive and galvanized Test cricket. Hardly a Test match is drawn today unless the weather interferes and that’s also a good sign because we are getting results in every test match. Just like 50 over had an energized effect on Test cricket … similarly T20 will have an energized effect on 50-overs game.

India have been lucky in recent times with quality batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman coming together. Have you seen enough encouraging signs in some of the young batsmen around to say that the future is in good hands?

Yes, there are a few good young ones and with experience and more exposure they too will go on to serve the Indian cricket well like the above mentioned people. I would also like to add the name of Virender Sehwag to the above mentioned list. Just because he is an unconventional batsman doesn’t in any way take away from his fabulous performances for India. Don’t forget that he has two triple hundred in Test cricket which none of the other giants have.

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