“The 1985 team was probably the best Indian ODI side apart from the 2011 World Cup winning team” – Sunil Gavaskar

Sunil Gavaskar and Boria Majumdar
Sunil Gavaskar and Boria Majumdar (PC: Boria Majumdar)

I have had the privilege of speaking to Sunil Gavaskar all through my career. And I can say he has always been generous with his time. But on his 75th birthday, it is fitting to celebrate him with this interview on his career and more. It is the perfect tribute to Sunny bhai on his birthday.

Q: Will do it in two parts, Sunny bhai – you as a commentator and, of course, as one of the greatest cricketers ever. Celebrating you in totality. As someone who defined Test cricket for us, do you think this team has it in them to win in Australia and win the WTC?

A: Yes, absolutely, they can. I think in the next two months, there should be an attempt to convince Hardik Pandya to play Test cricket. If he bowls ten overs a day to go with his batting, this Indian team could become invincible, and they can surely go on and win the WTC and beat Australia in Australia.

Q: Sunny bhai, you won the 1985 Benson and Hedges as skipper. One of our greatest victories. How do you see Rohit as skipper?

A: Fantastic. There are some captains for whom it is the pleasure of captaincy. Rohit and MS Dhoni belong to that category. There are others for whom it is the pressure of captaincy. I was in that category. That Rohit is relaxed and enjoys captaincy makes him the captain that he is. I love the way he leads his team and his body language.

Q: A fantasy question before I move to you as a cricketer – a match between your 1985 team and the 2011 World Cup-winning team would be a cracker?

A: Absolutely. And I can tell you we had a great team. Because the 2011 team played a lot more ODIs than us, maybe they could have beaten us in the very last ball!

Q: Can you walk us through the magical winning moment in Trinidad in 1971 where you effected the winning stroke? 

A: Oh, it was unbelievable, even after all these years. We were chasing only 124 in the fourth innings and [Syed] Abid Ali was promoted up the order, as he was a fantastic runner. Abid would just chip and run. I thought I was pretty good as a non-striker to respond to quick singles. In Mumbai, we called this chipping and running ‘tiffin singles’. Abid came. The singles started happening, and quickly there were a few overthrows. In that desperate state, they were trying to run us out directly. It made our task easy. Three years later, in Manchester, he helped me a lot to complete my hundred. I remember taking some singles with him which would not have been possible with some other members of the team. Abid was a fantastic runner, a complete team man, a very sharp bowler, and a dangerous batsman. He could cut and pull. And Abid was a real gutsy cricketer. What a fielder at short fine leg he was! Just amazing. We talk about Eknath Solkar in glowing terms. But, trust me, Abid Ali was not too far behind.

Q: In Manchester, your 85-run partnership with him could not save India from defeat. But three years earlier, in the second Test at Port of Spain, your unbeaten 41-run stand with him had accorded India a glorious moment of history.

A: Finally, it was Arthur Barrett who was trying to bowl a googly. It was too short and fell halfway down the pitch. I went back and pulled it over midwicket for a one-bounce boundary to win us the game. It was unbelievable!

For the Latest Sports News: Click Here

Sunil Gavaskar
Sunil Gavaskar (PC: BCCI/X)

Q: Subsequently, the world-record tally of 774 happened in your debut series. Was it a huge cross to bear?

A: There is no denying the fact that expectations had turned sky high. Till then, they may have expected good performances, but not so much. In a debut series, such a fabulous performance was recorded only by Sir Don Bradman. So, they expected something similar every time. But it was not possible to replicate it all the time.

Q: Imran Khan repeatedly said, and was echoed by others, that before you, Indians could not play fast bowling well. At some stage, did you set out to change this perception?

A: The proposition that Indians can’t play fast bowling was started by the British press. You show me a team, including England, that can play quality fast bowling. No team can master good fast bowling. Look at the success India have had of late. It is only because we have a pair of good fast bowlers. What about England against West Indies in the ’80s? Did anybody ever say the English can’t play fast bowling? When Australians got hammered by West Indies, did anybody say Australian batsmen can’t handle fast bowling? I don’t think so. You can tell that this was a myth created by interested parties against India. Nobody generalised the failures of other teams in this manner.

Q: Gundappa Viswanath told me about a team culture that Wadekar introduced: every evening, there used to be a session in his room where anyone could walk in. This was where juniors and seniors participated merrily. Did it help bridge the gap between generations and foster team spirit?

A: Those hotel rooms were not five stars but more like hotel rooms of old. Some of the players would sit on the sofa, some on the floor, some on the carpet. They would enjoy each other’s company. These gatherings would help enormously in team-bonding. Even when the seniors were playing cards, and you were sitting on the sidelines, the topic that was invariably discussed was cricket. There was never any deviation. A junior could learn so much from those cricketing stories.

Q: Rohan, your son, had shared that since the Sudhir Naik incident in 1974 (Naik was accused of shoplifting a pair of socks from Marks & Spencer), you have never stepped into a Marks & Spencer outlet. Is it true?

A: Yes, in the last 50 years, maybe twice or thrice. That, too, for carrying the wife’s bag (laughs). But I have never bought anything from there.

Q: Has it been a silent protest against the allegations levelled at Naik?

A: Absolutely. It was totally unfair. Sudhir was given the wrong advice to plead guilty, and that left a stain that was very hard to remove. I have known Sudhir all these years from the time we played tennis-ball cricket against each other. I felt very strongly about him. We lived nearby. I didn’t think he was ever capable of shoplifting. And after the incident, I asked Colonel Adhikari to allow me to share the room with him. I do not remember who it was, but the person said he was too embarrassed to share a room with Sudhir. I picked up a lot of calls coming to the room where the abuse started straight away. I tried to shield him from all that.

Sunil Gavaskar
Sunil Gavaskar (PC: BCCI/X)

Q: Coming back to the twin victories in West Indies and England in 1971 – did they play a part in boosting India’s confidence ahead of the wins at the MCG in ’81, the World Cup triumph in ’83 and the Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket win in 1985?

A: Oh, yes, in that respect, the ’71 victory was huge. Mind you, after our win in Trinidad, West Indies came back very hard at us. Sobers himself was under a lot of pressure at home because he had gone to play an exhibition double-wicket game in Rhodesia. He was under a lot of stress— as a result of which he was not only bowling faster but batting magically. So, there was an increased pressure on our team to maintain the lead and win the series. Once we succeeded in doing that, it gave the whole team a lot of confidence for the English tour.

[The win in] 1981 was also a defining moment as again there were multiple moments where the going got extremely tough. To start with, to get past the pathetic umpiring standards. In my very first year in international cricket, I had the good fortune of touring three countries: the West Indies, England and, subsequently, Australia to turn out for the Rest of the World. The standard of umpiring I saw in these countries was appalling. And, more importantly, it was so biased. But for some strange reason, our media—whenever they toured— never highlighted the umpiring standards that the team was subjected to. In comparison, the foreign media, be it England or Australia, acted as if they were the extra support staff of the team. I never understood the reluctance of our media to highlight the dubious umpiring standards. They seemed so shy as if it was a worry that if they wrote anything against [them], the home board would not accord them the necessary accreditation, or whatever reasons that I don’t understand.

I am not saying that you cook up stories. But what prevents you from pointing out realities? In 1981, right from the first game, the umpiring was ridiculous. Absolutely pathetic. We just managed to draw the second Test which was preceded by some terrible umpiring decisions. At the press conference, I said all those who come to India and talk about Indian umpiring are nothing but whiners and moaners. Next day, that was the headline. That time also, nobody had objected to the umpiring decisions. Neither the media nor our own board. So, when it came to the final Test, towards the end of the match, we thought we were in a very good position. Despite Australia chasing a relatively small total of 142 in the fourth innings, it wasn’t easy as the pitch had started deteriorating. So, considering everything, it was a huge victory. We, at least, did not lose the series and won for the first time in Australia.

Q: 1985?

A: In my view, the 1985 Indian team was probably the best Indian one-day side apart from the 2011 World Cup-winning team. If you were to have a match between these two sides, 2011 and my 1985 team, it would be a fantastic game of cricket.

Q: How does it feel to be associated with some of the most defining moments in Indian cricket?

A: I feel fortunate. I feel blessed that I have been around at that time. Also, the fact that I could rub shoulders with some of the giants of the game, both from India and outside.

Also Read: I enjoyed picking the wicket of Harry Brook in the semi-final: Kuldeep Yadav