Thursday, August 03, 2006

36 not out and on the mat!

Now i don't have much of a memory of the 1975 World Cup though i have memories of the preceding India-West Indies Test Series. I have only an old copy of the 'Cricketer International' which carried out a low-key preview and review of the Prudential Cup of 1975 (it wasn't even called 'THE WORLD CUP' as it is called now).

But when i grew up a bit and read 'Sunny Days' and other books on Gavaskar by renowned author like Dom Moraes or CD Clarke it slowly dawned on me what transpired on that June evening and its aftermath and ever since 36 is a figure which Gavaskar should be allergic to!!!!

I have my own theory about it. Only a theory in defense of my hero! In today's media he would have been roasted alive. Not that he got away scot free then.

And that is why i will dedicate this post to 'that' innings only because i firmly believe this was perhaps the seminal moment in SMGs career which influenced the rest of his career, even personally -- yeah it's only a theory though.

We need to go back to the Windies series in 74-75. Gavaskar was ready for the captaincy, it was even handed to him but providence willed otherwise when he got out of the 2nd Test due to the finger injury. So naturally, he would have expected the captaincy and rightly so after 'Tiger' Pataudi retired. But that was not to be. The selection machinery conjured up a situation where Venkat was made the captain for the world cup and then ofcourse as it transpired the north lobby made Bishen Bedi the captain from 1976 till the Pakistan tour in 1978.

Now i will detour to the innings itself. In Gavaskar's own words the 36 not out was 'the worst innings that he has ever played'. Unquestionably playing out 170 odd balls for scoring 36 runs with a single boundary was unheard of in those days, unthinkable today!

But i will start with the fact that it was India's 3rd ODI ever (after 2 matches in the illfated 74 tour). Except for a handful like Engineer and Bedi no-one had played the one day variety before that. Hence when England (which had experienced practioners of the one-day slam-bang experience) had run up a score of 334 it was but inevitable that greenhorns India was going to lose. It was not just Gavaskar but a whole Indian debacle against a wily English attack of Snow, Arnold and Old who were experienced enough in the Gillette cup championships, specially in their own backyards.

Coming to the master himself, my theory is, being the kind of batsman that he was at that point of time, he was technique and correctness personified to a point of being at fault, he was not bothered by what transpired at that seminal moment. His cricketing upbringing was based on the 3/5 day variety and Indian cricket was not exactly enamoured with the limited over version then as it is now, quite the opposite. (We can see today a parallel now with 20/20 in the radar). Similarly then we were hardly bothered with the ODI variety and that attitude remained so till the India tour down under in 1980-81 and more so till World Cup '83. We didn't even get to hear radio commentary forget about TV coverage for the first two world cups! Now for those who have played cricket at any level, would know that there actually are days,(rare they may be) when you just bat in a particular way and even the situation demands otherwise, you just can't bat any other way.

And therefore Gavaskar (having watched bits and pieces of that innings) i feel, gave up half way at trying anything different. As he has written (and a few others) when he tried to hit out he couldn't, the only option was to commit suicide (by way of a hit wicket or getting stumped, etc.) which went against the grain of a player like Gavaskar. Ofcourse it goes without saying that the whole situation is inexplicable. Maybe God willed that even a Gavaskar should have an 'achilles heel' for the rest of his career !!!!!

But what transpired after that is another story. He got a hollering from the then manager, got a virtual showcause when he landed back in India, he was accused of being non-cooperative as a vice-captain and a 'bad influence' on the young players. Now in those days just as the media was muted in comparison to today, the player also was at a disadvantage. We have numerous accounts of various young players and other reports which comes out to tell us that Gavaskar even at that young age was, in Dom Moraes's words, a 'nurse-maid' to young Indian players and thankfully he remained so for most part of his career.

To cast such aspersions on one who was even then a once in a generation cricketer and the first super-hero of Indian Cricket by non-entities was a joke and a shame. But the north lobby used it to good effect in keeping the captaincy out of his bounds for another 3 years. He was seen as a potential trouble-maker, controversy raker, who was the first indian cricketer after the great Lala Amarnath, who publicly stood up for player rights, better facilities, calling spade a spade (which even in the modern days except for Ganguly no one has done, but then Ganguly was never going to be as great a player as the master was).

As a die hard SMG fan i think this incident and the aftermath, had a big say not only on Sunil Gavaskar as a person but also a cricketer, captain and a batsman. I was too young then to follow the incident and the subsequent happenings, but whenever i have thought about that innings I have felt always the same way.

The only blot even when you are “not out“!!!!! Did someone say he was improving his average, go have a life, scum!!!!

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