Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Hangover Years – From one master to the other

‘The sport is bigger than the sportsman’ goes the clichéd saying. However, that didn’t hold true for me at the time post 1987. Yes, India played some cricket after the world cup. Quite a fascinating test series against West Indies followed but my involvement of watching the game was restricted to the time that Viv Richards spent at the crease. Gavaskar’s replacement for the next couple of series was Arun Lal who didn’t too bad a job, but it wasn’t the same as SMG walking out to commence an innings for India. For many years after that on occasions I would wake up in the morning after having dreamt that Gavaskar had announced a comeback. Dreams die first!

This state of affairs was a strange experience for me. It was the first time in my living memory that I wasn’t feeling as passionate about cricket as I had over the last 12 years. I still followed the game and the matches that were being played around the world, but more as an onlooker.
My own foray into cricket was coming to its logical conclusion as it does for million starry eyed young players in the country – limited to club or district level cricket. And my move towards professional pursuits in academics only heightened my distance from cricket. I had moved from Kanpur to Calcutta to pursue Chartered Accountancy a far cry from the greens and flannels.

The first cricket match that I watched at the ground after SMG’s retirement was the Nehru Cup match in 1989 between India and Pakistan which I watched at the Eden. India batted first and to be fair to Srikkanth and Raman Lamba it was an entertaining passage of play, but looking over to the pavilion when I didn’t see the familiar white ‘panama’ cap and the ‘duck-walk’, the hollowness came back again. I began to wonder whether my association with cricket will remain consigned to just the Gavaskar era. The ‘it’ effect that Gavaskar and his batting had had on me for years would just refuse to go away.

In a matter of days India were touring Pakistan and when the team was announced I was amused to see a new ‘kar’ being selected in the touring party. I had read about him in the media, how he had made a dream first class debut, but this was test cricket ‘Asia’s Ashes’ especially with other issues that were hogging the limelight then. Gavaskar had himself talked highly of this boy and had gifted his Morrant ‘super-light’ pads to him. It would be interesting I thought, hence followed the 1st test at Karachi on radio in which this little boy made, albeit, an ordinary debut. It was only during the 4th Test at Sialkot that I finally got to watch him on telly. On a lively pitch I saw a young boy thrown to the wolves with India in some discomfort. Imran, Wasim and a young Waqar bounced him repeatedly, while the 16 year old batted in a cap. He took a blow on the nose, brushed it off, and carried on to score his second fifty of the series. Imagination was being stirred by this slip of a boy. He was similar to the master in height and had the cleanliness in his shots like the former, remarkably balanced at the crease. I was hooked back again on to cricket by Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. That day I knew he would go close to the master and become one himself. I have followed Tendulkar closely since then (though the helmet has replaced the cap), like I did with Gavaskar and he has fulfilled all the promise that he had shown 17 years back, but I still remember that 50 at Sialkot as the day the baton passed and an Indian Cricket fan in me was awakened again.

I remain an ardent cricket fan and a fierce Indian cricket fan, to this day. A journey that started while following the Wankhede Test in 1975 on the radio with a little man making a comeback after injury continues through generations with the modern master Tendulkar and who knows who’s to come next. The ‘Murphy’ radio set is long gone but the follower lingers on.

The ‘post-retirement’ Gavaskar has been followed with quite the same zeal as well, for he never left the limelight. Sunil Gavaskar has since then come in various avatars. He has remained an involved TV commentator since then and has been writing columns quite regularly for various newspapers and web-sites. In between he removed the mothballs from his kit and wore them once again during a Masters series in the early 90s when he took on the likes of Marshall and Garner once again. It was exhilarating stuff. Looked like I was dreaming.

He has gone on to hold important positions with the ICC, heading the technical committee at the moment of writing. He has however kept himself away from any direct involvement with Indian cricket. He has never held a position in the selection committee or as a board member. Being a highly intelligent man and from experiences during his playing days, he probably realized that it would be well nigh impossible for one man to change the way cricket is run in this vast country, where street level politics rule the roost. However, he has remained associated with tertiary bodies like the NCA, various committees to revamp domestic cricket, amongst others.

His voice is still heard with intensity by most, hence the reactions that we see even today. Gavaskar at various times, during his playing days had courted controversies and even 20 years after his retirement he never shies away from it. His opinions at times are caustic, sometimes guarded and sometimes quite blunt. At all these times he comes out to be a person of exceptional intelligence, a rare breed amongst sportsmen.

But a Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, in context of cricket in general and Indian cricket in particular, is all of that and more. He is a hangover that is yet to wear off, at least for people like me who love the past as much as the present!

No comments: