Sunil Gavaskar: A Contradiction In Terms, From Calypso King To IPL Flop


Australian wicketkeeper Rod Marsh in a changing room with Sunil Gavaskar of India, circa 1975.

Gavaskar , The Original Little Master

I have always been a huge fan of Sunil “Sunny” Gavaskar, the cricketer — the original Little Master.

When the rest of the world cowered under the barrage of bouncers and intimidating pace bowling unleashed by the marauding, rampaging Windies side of the late 70’s , 80’s and early 90’s, one man stood firm amidst the ruins.

That man was Sunil Manohar Gavaskar; thirteen of his 34 hundreds were against the mighty West Indians.

Another eight were belted against the Australians.

Whenever India played a series against the West Indians, we knew that as long as Gavaskar occupied the crease we were safe.

When the ace batter succumbed, the Indian team surrendered weakly as well.

At a time when India were making the transition from being mostly a spin bowling side to a pace bowling attack (thanks to another all-time great, Kapil Dev), we depended on the batsmen to save Test matches.

Bowlers win matches, batsmen save them.

This was a time in Indian cricket when a draw was always a noteworthy achievement; Indian sides rarely had the bowling strength to bowl out a team twice.


Gavaskar, The Captain

Gavaskar has been criticised as a defensive captain; to his credit, he has never denied the accusation.

He maintains that if he had the firepower at his disposal,he would have employed more aggressive tactics.

His first priority was to ensure that the team would not lose and only later think of winning the game.

The ‘safety first’ ploy served India well. Gavaskar is still considered India’s finest cricketing brain.

His captaincy, however, was not always above board.

Gavaskar will be remembered for persuading his fellow opener Chetan Chauhan to walk off the cricket field when he felt he was unfairly given out by an Australian umpire during the 1980-81 tour Down Under.

As captain of the Indian cricket team, it was whispered that he preferred players from his own Bombay side over those from others.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MARCH 10: Kapil Dev arrives at the Laureus World Sports Awards 2010 at Emirates Palace Hotel on March 10, 2010 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)

Gavaskar believed that Kapil Dev threw his wicket away  in the 2nd Test in the 1984-85 series against England and disciplined him by dropping him for the next Test in Kolkatta.

The criticism was unfair; it was the way Kapil played his cricket much in the way Sehwag does today.

Kapil was a bowler first and his batting was an added bonus to the Indian team.

Kapil was no slouch with the bat though.

He aggregated over 5000 runs in Test cricket and his 175 not out against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup is the stuff of legends.

But Gavaskar did not see it that way.

Unfortunately for him, the Kolkatta crowd were unforgiving and pelted him with oranges for leaving out their hero.

The Lure of Big Money

It was Gavaskar’s generation that had the earliest brush with big money flowing into the game in the form of endorsements.

But it took Kapil’s Devils and Gavaskar’s ‘85 Hearties to really get the moolah flowing.

Once the moneyed monster was let loose, there was no turning back.

Hockey, the national sport, was pushed into the background. Cricket reigned supreme as the de facto king of sports in India.

The Reliance World Cup in 1987 cemented the sport as the masses’ favourite.

Retirement and Gavaskar’s Legacy

The 1987 World Cup was Gavaskar’s swansong.

He retired from the game scoring his maiden ODI ton against New Zealand.

For Gavaskar, the transition from the traditional form of the game to pyjama cricket was a painful process.

His initial foray into ODI cricket is distinguished by his scratchy 36 (not out) off 174 balls (scoring just one four) against England where he carried the bat through the innings in the inaugural World Cup in 1975.

Recall though that there were only three ODI tournaments until 1983, ODIs were a rarity and matches  few and far between.

But with Gavaskar, it was not just about the mountain of runs he accumulated as an opening bat.

It was about Indian self-pride and professionalism.

He embodied the new  generation of cricketers where it was no longer about ‘beautiful amateurism’.

Gavaskar was lionised by the Indian press for refusing to bow to British imperialism when he famously refused membership of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) after having been refused entry by a rude steward.

On July 29, 2003, a full decade later, Gavaskar was delivering a Cowdrey Lecture at the MCC.

Gavaskar has often taken on the authorities on his own terms and come out triumphant.

As a media columnist and commentator, Gavaskar has projected himself as presenting pride in the India cap.

He has often lamented that the Nex Gen of cricketers do not take their India colours seriously enough.

He harps that an India cap is earned and an onerous responsibility.

Life After Cricket and Controversies

Gavaskar has had his share of controversies and critics over the years.

But it is life after cricket that has had people baying for his blood.

Though he has served both the BCCI and the ICC in honorary roles, they have often ended in controversy and recriminations.

Malcom Speed of the ICC in 2008 took on Gavaskar for continuing to write and comment while serving as an ICC official. Gavaskar often criticised his employers as racist.

On the contentious Sydney Test Match:

"Millions of Indians want to know if it [match referee Mike Procter’s verdict against Harbhajan Singh] was a ‘white man’ taking the ‘white man’s’ word against that of the ‘brown man’. Quite simply, if there was no audio evidence, nor did the officials hear anything, then the charge did not stand.”

Gavaskar has not failed to use his stature to chase down perceived injustices and make a stand against cultural imperialism.

Though he has served the BCCI in various capacities, charges have been levelled that it is always about the Sunny the businessman, rather than Sunny the cricketer.

He appears to be money-grubbing in his avatar as commentator and columnist.

The Other Side

To be fair to Gavaskar (and other ex-cricketers), the BCCI is not known to treat their honorary employees in an exemplary fashion.

Selectors, until recently, were not paid and were forced to travel across the country for domestic matches . Reimbursements of expenses were hard to come by and often delayed.

Accommodation , both for domestic players and selectors, was relatively uncomfortable.

More recently, Gavaskar refused to continue on the IPL Governing Council as a honorary member; the council members were paid a salary of Rs. 1 crore earlier.

It does seem ridiculous that when the two new teams have brought into the IPL astronomical sums of $ 300+  million each, the members of the IPL governing council are asked to serve gratis.

A salary paid to the members would ensure probity of the council.

In the past, Gavaskar has not hesitated in letting the authoritarian BCCI know where to get off. It would not surprise me that this was yet another of those instances.

Gavaskar’s Naivety?

When the IPL mess started to unravel, members of the previous IPL Governing Council came across as mere figureheads who rubber-stamped Modi’s every decision.

The council seemed compromised.

MAK Pataudi went on record on national television acknowledging that as members of the council, they should have been more careful and scrutinised Lalit Modi’s ad hoc decisions.

Gavaskar has chosen to be mum on the subject.

Gavaskar appears a bit naive when he says that he is considering the Kochi offer especially when he is seen to have until recently enjoyed a nice cushy job on the IPL Governing Council.

There is more than a hint of impropriety in his attitude and behaviour.

Clipping Gavaskar’s Wings?

Apr. 26, 2010 - Mumbai, India - epa02132140 Shashank Manohar, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India arrives at the Indian Premier League (IPL) Governing Council meeting at the BCCI head office in Mumbai, India 26 April 2010. IPL Governing Council that met in Mumbai is likely to appoint an interim committee to run the affairs of the Twenty20 league after its chairman and commissioner Lalit Modi was suspended on 22 charges of impropriety. A 34-page chargesheet was handed over to Modi, who is also the vice president of the BCCI, in the early hours of 26 April after the IPL final. The charges range from financial irregularities to rigging bids proxy holdings and kickbacks in broadcast deal.

On the back of the revelation of his involvement with the Kochi franchisee, Gavaskar is now persona non grata with certain sections of the BCCI.

The BCCI may consider asking him to vacate the top spot on the Board’s technical committee as well as the BCCI’s commentary panel.

The whispers of a conflict of interest have risen to a chorus.

Is Gavaskar hard of hearing? It’s not a calypso song this time.

We can only hope that Sunny takes the right decision and not disappoint his many fans.

Sometimes it’s not about who’s right but who can make the most noise. 

Anonymous

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