Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Taste of Captaincy and that experience of mine!

It was during the Karachi Test’s 1st innings century that Gavaskar went past Polly Umrigar’s Indian record of 13 test centuries, which I came to know of only a little later! I was still not into cricket statistics till then.

After the return from Pakistan, Bishen Bedi promptly lost his captaincy and it was time for a new Indian captain for the West Indies series, and finally the time had come for Gavaskar to be appointed a full-fledged Indian captain. I was pretty much certain that this would happen and though by this time I was aware of the circumstances how it almost came 4 years back, but nonetheless I was happy for my hero; better late than never. We were a patient lot those days, I must say!

Anyway, the Packer war was still being waged and despite having fleetingly come back for a couple of tests in the series against Australia, the Windies stalwarts were back in the Packer Circus, and it fell upon that highly talented Alvin Kallicharan to lead a pretty inexperienced West Indies team to lead them to India. A series of 6 tests and I was definitely salivating at the prospect.

The 1st test at Bombay turned out to be a run-fest, and most importantly for me it was SMG at his best. Listening over the radio I remember the 1st day was disrupted by rain, but on the 2nd day, which was a holiday at school thankfully, SMG went on the rampage and produced 177 runs in a day, till then the highest runs scored by an Indian in a day. So much for those who say he was just a one-dimensional player! A double-hundred in 6 hours and a bit, unheard of in those days which gave me goose bumps even while stuck to a mere transistor. Raj Singh Dungarpur was one of the commentators and a pretty good one at that in those days, and beautifully did he describe this majestic knock.

A word for the AIR commentators those days in the late 70’s-80’s were an absolute great lot with Anant Setalvad, Suresh Saraiya, Narottam Puri, Sunil Gujral, Balu Alaganan and J.P.Narayanan in English and Manish Dev, Murali Manohar Manjul, Ravi Chaturvedi and then finally Sushil Doshi in Hindi being the best ones. They brought the pictures through their eyes to our ears and it was magic, especially when SMG and India were doing well. I had missed out on the erstwhile broadcasting greats like Berry Sarbadhikari, Melvyn Demello’ and Bobby Talyarkan, but the present lot more than made up.

Back to the test match again. Gavaskar missed out on another unique opportunity by missing out on the hundred in the 2nd innings. The 2nd test was drawn with Gavaskar missing out with a duck! I obviously hardly remember anything of that Bangalore test match!!
In the 3rd Test at the Eden, not a very happy ground for the master, while our winter vacs were on, I remember maintaining scorecard on the first day when SMG recorded a customary controlled hundred in pretty trying conditions specially pre-lunch session, needless to say a chanceless one (a word which is not heard much these days, but usually associated with a typical SMG knock) How I wished that I was there at the Eden and in the 2nd his 182n.o. put up another world record of 2 separate hundreds in a test 3 times, only recently matched by Ponting. It has taken 30 years to equal it in these times when the batsmen world round are feasting, but that is another story! 2 things came out from this performance, Gavaskar declared the innings after lunch on the 4th day when he could easily have recorded the double and go on to achieve another landmark of a 100 and 200 twice. Secondly, his guiding Vengsarkar to his 1st test century was appreciated by the commentators and critics and finally an innings where the ‘colonel’ turned the corner and went on to become an Indian great. Just goes to show what a colossus the ‘little master’ was and what better do you expect of a leader and a captain. Vested parties would later of course just claim otherwise. That India didn’t win the test with 105 overs at their disposal, is a sad commentary on the bowling options that SMG at his disposal during most periods of his captaincy. The spin quartet was disintegrating and Kapil Dev the only one who threatened with the ball. But here he was still only beginning.

Now on to the only decisive test match at Madras. I remember when Gavaskar got out to a snorter off Norbert Phillip in the 1st innings, I was thinking and discussing with my friends that this was going to be a close test match. And had it not been for little Vishy at his favourite Chepauk, India might have been looking at a different result, not to speak of a belligerent 20 odd by Kapil in the 2nd innings to win the test.
In the 5th test at Delhi, SMG spanked yet another 100 against a hapless Windies attack and India missed out again this time due to rain on the 4th and 5th days.
And finally to Kanpur, did I wait for this day to arrive. I bunked school on the 1st day of the test match. At the Green Park, this time all by me with some friends on our cycles, and what we saw in the first hour was quite unbelievable. Luckily Gavaskar won the toss and India batted, and then came carnage. The master closed the series just the way he had started it. 40 runs with 5 boundaries and 2 sixes, most of it against a certain Malcolm Denzil Marshall, before the same Marshall got him caught behind. A sign of things to come in 4 years time, when the young tyro would mature and become a fearsome spearhead of the Windies attack. Thereafter the test meandered, with 3 slow hundreds from India and a pretty strange 250 by Faoud Bacchus for the West Indians. The rest was taken care by the rain. Why does it rain when I am there at the Green Park, I didn’t understand. So when India should have won by a thumping margin of 3 or 4 – 0, they managed to win the rubber by 1 – 0. The satisfaction was that the master had amassed 732 merciless runs in the series reminiscent of his 71 exploits, only that was in 4 tests whereas this one was in 6!! Some of the detractors of the master deride this run-making against a so called ‘substandard’ attack, but my case is the same as in the previous post. Sylvester Clarke held his own even when the then foursome were available. Holder was a wily old fox, and Marshall though was yet to become the tornado of later years was still a tear away and Norbert Phillip had his moments during the series. Not as good as the original lineup but not too bad either. I might as well turn round and say that Gavaskar did not bat against the Indians and therefore we should add another couple of 1000 runs to his aggregate of runs!!!!
But more than all of that was my experience on the 3rd day of that Kanpur test on the 4th of Feb 1979. It was the experience of my lifetime. One of our very close family friends (more like relatives) was staying in Kanpur that time. This (late) uncle of mine was an avid golfer (not just the networking golfer as in the modern days) and knew a few of the top shots of the city, amongst which one was Mr. Mehrotra, Marshneil’s dad. So on the 1st day of the test my aunt mentioned that she and uncle were invited to a party at Gavaskar’s in-laws and would I like to come and meet my demi-god in person?!!!! I felt like this was a birthday present of the next 25 years of my life. In fact I could hardly follow the test for the next two days, in a state of heightened excitement and tension in equal measure. Being a shy fellow, during those days, I started ‘preparing’ myself in a way as to what questions I wanted to ask my hero, what discussion I could have with him and what tips to take on batting as an opener (!!!!) since I was playing club cricket by now and had modeled my game as an opening batsman and had started earning a fair name at that! Then the monster as in doubts would creep in. Will he take notice of this slip of a lad at all? By the end of which I guess I was pretty exhausted!

Anyway the excited state remained till the d-day arrived (actually seemed an eternity) and when my Uncle picked me up on the way to SMG’s house I was pretty confident of facing the evening. I don’t remember the trip much, which was anyway a short one from the place where we stayed and our destination (Kanpur is a small city). When we landed, it was Mr. Mehrotra who received my uncle and took us in. My aunt mentioned to him that I was a big fan of SMG and that’s the reason of my being there. When we went to their hall I finally found myself confronted by the whole Indian team around the table!!!!!! I had not bargained for this. There was a young gawky young man called Kapil Dev, the dashing Ghavri, Vengsarkar, Chandrasekhar, Venkatraghavan, the great GR Vishwanath, Marshneil Gavaskar and finally sitting in the middle one Sunil Manohar Gavaskar. That was a psychological moment!! Even here when I write I am ashamed to say at that moment, my tongue got locked (tongue-tied is a milder state) while I just got transfixed by the little big man’s presence. Wearing a short kurta and informal trousers, it was a very informal affair. There was little Rohan who was playing all kinds of pranks getting and hiding under the table and playing around with Ghavri, who seemed to be favourite of his. After quite a while my aunt gave nudge “What’s wrong why don’t you talk to HIM”? No answer. Still some more time passed and all this while my aunt who can be a great socialite, kept on chatting to SMG and pulling his leg on something or the other. It was the first time I realized that he not only had great wit and humour, but was also a sport! Finally, she told him why I was there and that I was mad about cricket and about him. The master then gave me a smile and asked me “So what do you do?” I answered in a monosyllable “Bat” and then like a fool instead of carrying on the conversation, I was quick on the draw with my autograph book pushing it towards him and said “Sir, can I have your autograph?!!!!” He gave one of his full signatures, instead of the usual scribble, that too with “All the Best” and passed it on to other Indian players for theirs.
I was fuming at myself by this time. I couldn’t get myself to speak to him again as other guests, there were only a few though, started coming in and he mingled with all of them, while taking care of Rohan intermittently. The evening was soon over. It was all of 2-3 hours and all my questions to the great man remained in my jammed head.

Finally it was time to bid goodbye as Gavaskar himself came to see my uncle and aunt off to the car and I just could squeak in an “Best of Luck” to him meaning it for the England tour. On the way back, like a soldier who fled (!), I received a hollering from my aunt of what an opportunity I got and missed, and kept at me for many years after that! And, what about me? I felt like kicking myself for wasting a golden opportunity to interact with my life’s biggest hero! I had been to the gates of heaven and forgot the key!! But my solace remained that at least I had seen God!!!

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