Friday, February 11, 2011

GREAT PERFORMANCES IN THE WORLD CUP:SUNIL GAVASKAR-1987

It is a pity that by the time cable and satellite television made its presence felt in India, this man stopped playing cricket. That certainly is a reason why the cricket followers of this age only talk about things like the IPL –the auctions, the cheerleaders and the intrigue surrounding it and not about the great players of the past. The players of yesteryears are relegated to some dusty pages or some sepia tinted photographs.

He has the habit of ruffling many feathers particularly the Aussie ones. He has managed to stave off all the criticism resulting from his association with the IPL and one of the teams. He had a big role in the selection of the coach for the Indian team from John Wright to Gary Kirsten. In this exercise, too he was thought of as the hand that could rock the cradle of Indian cricket.

However, there is beyond any doubt that he was a great player not just for India but one of the truly all time greats. It is he who for a long time stood as the only symbol of resistance as far as the Indian team was concerned. I am talking about the peerless Sunil Manohar Gavaskar.

Just as millions worship Sachin, there was a time when Gavaskar occupied the same pedestal in the hearts and minds of Indians. He was often criticized for being too defensive but again his methods saved the team in a number of test matches both at home and abroad. He had a particularly tremendous record facing the best of the bowlers-both spin and pace. He took on some of the most fearsome fast bowlers of all time without ever donning a helmet. All he had was a skull cap under the floppy hat.

A lot of clicks of the keyboard would be necessary to speak of the exploits of Gavaskar in the test matches. I remember vividly his knock of 188 at Lord’s for the Rest of the World team facing the MCC. There was no live telecast but the commentators on the BBC Test Match Special made it really memorable. This was Sunny’s last outing in a first-class game when he signed off in style by scoring a 100 for the first time at the most famous cricket ground in the world.

A lot of praise is showered on the innings of 96 that Gavaskar played in his last test innings at Bangalore versus Pakistan. Many argue that this was one of the finest coming from the blade of the ‘liitle master’.

History tells us that Gavaskar remained 36 not out while India was facing a target of over 300 runs in the 1975 World Cup. Gavaskar himself famously wrote years ago about this innings. He could not make much of an impression in the later editions of the World Cup in 1975 and also in 1983 when India won the Cup.

Gavaskar could not get to the 100 mark in the limited overs version of the game and the Reliance World Cup of 1987 offered him the last opportunity. India took on New Zealand at Nagpur.

The Kiwis batted first and could only score 221 thanks to the hat trick of Chetan Sharma. With the asking rate of less than 5 runs per over, India was expected to have an easy win but few could predict the storm that hit everyone that day.Gavaskar opened the innings along with Krishnamachari Srikkanth and immediately both of them decided to go at the target. None of the bowlers including the normally economical Ewen Chatfield was spared. The ball kept going to the boundary and the Kiwis could do little even as they had a reputation as good fielders.

Gavaskar and Srikkanth seemed to compete with one another as far as the shots were concerned. Just as the fans were dreaming of a 10 wicket win, Srikkanth got out. But that did not deter Gavaskar from scoring his first and only 100 in the one-dayers. Gavaskar who rarely lofted the ball hit 3 over the boundary. His strike rate was only marginally inferior to Srikkanth’s.

After the match, one Kiwi bowler quipped that bowling to Gavaskar that day was like watching the highlights. The match was over with India winning by 9 wickets and with over 100 balls to spare.

Gavaskar could not repeat the heroics in the semi-final versus England and that was the last innings of the great man on Indian soil. Even the best also sometimes fail.

Legend has it that Sunny got exchanged for the child of a fisherman at the time of his birth in the hospital. It was only his uncle who detected this mistake and got the right one to the right place. It was maybe destiny that helped his uncle for that would been a sad loss for the game of cricket.

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