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It has been categorically said many times that Sunil Gavaskar did not play the first Test of the 1971 series in the West Indies at Kingston (Jamaica) because of whitlow (an abscess in the soft tissue near a fingernail or toenail) and that the man who opened India’s batting with Syed Abid Ali, Hyderabad’s Kenia Jayantilal, was a stop-gap arrangement.
Unfortunately Jayantilal was dismissed by new ball operator Garyson Shillingford for five and a fit Gavaskar straightaway came in for the second Test at Port of Spain that started almost a fortnight after the Kingston Test. Jayantilal did not get a second chance in the first Test itself.
Gavaskar, the diminutive opening batsman, made the most of his debut making 65 and 67 not out and played his part in India’s first Test match and series win in the Caribbean Islands.
Gavaskar turned out to be a run-making machine and soon the discerning began to compare him with Sir Donald Bradman. He amassed 774 runs in four Tests with four centuries and three half centuries (65, 67 not out, 116, 64 not out, 1, 117 not out, 124, and 220) and the cricket world celebrated the arrival of a great opening batsmen who went on to conquer the mighty West Indian fast bowlers.
How did Gavaskar react when told that he was going to make his debut in the second Test? “When I was told I was going to play in the second Test at Queens Park Oval, I was over the moon with joy. It was after all, the coming true of a dream of playing for India.
“At the same time there was the awareness that the job had just started and I had to justify being in the team.
Gavaskar played 125 Tests, became the first batsman to break the 10,000-run barrier and finished his illustrious career with 10,122 runs at an average of 51.12 with 34 centuries, 45 half centuries and taking 108 catches.
The one to remember
Which Test does he remember the most? “The best Test match that I played in has to be the Chennai match against Pakistan in 1980 and India won the series 2-0. Kapil Dev bowled superbly to capture seven wickets and then he played a brilliant knock of 84 that took the fight out of the Pakistanis.’’
The Bombay opener studied at St. Xavier’s school and college and it was not a surprise that he plunged into the media world after he was done with his playing career. He picked the India-Australia Test at Perth in 2008 as the one he would remember the most after his that.
“The Test match that I enjoyed most after retirement was the Perth Test in 2008. This was the Test after the clash between Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh in Sydney and all the brouhaha that followed.
“The Australian media tried to put the scare in the team by suggesting that Shaun Tait, bowling on the fastest pitch in Australia, would knock the Indians over. Instead Virender Sehwag blasted him and Rahul Dravid showed such a broad bat that Tait decided to retire from Test cricket after that game and focus only on the shorter formats.
“India’s seam bowlers used the conditions superbly with R.P. Singh bowling some great overs. Anil Kumble’s strong leadership came through as the Indians triumphed on what was seen as Australia’s fortress.’’
Though he bid adieu to international cricket three decades ago, Gavaskar remains India’s most followed commentator on the game; but the old faithful will always remember him for the way he dealt with fast bowlers, his sound technique and the number of runs and centuries he scored.