As Sunil Gavaskar turns 75, tributes pour in from Pakistan greats

Sunil Gavaskar & Zaheer Abbas (Image: Sunil Gavaskar Facebook/PCB)

“Happy birthday Sunil, my friend. I hope you will be fit forever,” said Zaheer Abbas. “Congratulations on reaching 75. Only 25 more to go. And god willing, you will complete that too,” said Asif Iqbal.

Sunil Gavaskar turning 75 is an occasion for his friends from across the border as well, and the two former Pakistan greats offered their wishes, as they spoke to RevSportz. They recounted stories of their time, but more on that later.

Gavaskar was India’s biggest sports star in the 1970s, by a country mile, and he was the first Indian cricketer who transcended geographic boundaries. His popularity was immense in Pakistan. Common fans loved him. Pakistan cricketers revered him.

Ramiz Raja narrated this from his India-Pakistan story vault… Imran Khan was bowling to Gavaskar and he made one rear off a length. Gavaskar stood on his toes, top hand loose, bottom hand removed from the bat handle, and as the ball struck the blade pretty high, it virtually rolled down the bat-face at Gavaskar’s feet. Imran, on his follow-through, clapped. After the over, the then Pakistan captain went to Ramiz and told his junior: “Dekho yeh kaise khelte hai. Inse sikho (Look how he plays. Try to learn from him).”

As Lord Relator composed: “It was Gavaskar, the real master”… Like him, Zaheer also spoke about the former India captain’s mastery. “He had a great technique. His concentration was superb. It was very difficult to get him out. He was a complete cricketer,” the Pakistan batting legend told RevSportz.

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The two played for the Rest of the World team against Australia in 1971-72 and that was the start of the friendship. “He (Gavaskar) used to tell me, ‘you make such big scores (against us), what do you eat’? My reply was, a lot of dahi. ‘Ah, that’s why you don’t get out’, he would say. We shared that kind of friendship,” Zaheer recalled.

Cricket has changed a lot, but according to Zaheer, modern-day cricketers should still watch the footage of Gavaskar’s batting if they want to do well in the red-ball format. “See, we have a proliferation of T20 cricket these days. Still, a player is judged by his Test exploits. And if you want to do well in Test cricket, you have to have good technique. The way Sunil played the fast bowlers and the spinners, he was the ultimate technician, one of the greatest-ever. Modern-day cricketers will learn a lot watching him,” observed Zaheer.

Iqbal still rues that Gavaskar couldn’t turn up for his son’s wedding. “He couldn’t come to my son’s wedding in London because he was celebrating his 50th birthday,” said the former Pakistan captain, speaking to RevSportz. “To talk about his batting would be stating the obvious. Everyone knows he was a great player. From my point of view, I can say that Sunil made a contribution in terms of popularising cricket in Sharjah.”

Iqbal rewound to the past, how it all started in the desert. “The first game there was between Gavaskar XI and (Javed) Miandad XI,” said the man who was instrumental in putting Sharjah on the cricket map, via the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS). It was an exhibition match, played on a cement pitch. I remember he (Gavaskar) came from Australia, where he was touring with the Indian team.”

How was the response? “There was no stadium (in Sharjah) that time, no seating arrangements. But the response we got was massive. It gave birth to the CBFS, and the rest is history.”

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