India legend Sunil Gavaskar turns 75: A look at his cricketing legacy

India legend Sunil Gavaskar turns 75: A look at his cricketing legacy

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It is difficult to remain relevant in a world that is constantly evolving. Unless, of course, you are a player like Sunil Gavaskar, who celebrates 75 years of his life on Wednesday. For today's young cricket fans, who have grown up watching the big hits of the IPL, it is difficult to truly understand the importance of Gavaskar, as they often have a narrow image of him in their minds – that of a former cricketer turned commentator.

Now, there are a lot of cases like that. Or, perhaps, it's recency bias.

However, Gavaskar, who faced some of the most dangerous fast bowlers in the world, remains a legendary figure in the minds of his contemporaries, who fondly remember the greatness of the right-arm bowler.

Former Indian batsman Chandu Borde said, “Gavaskar made his debut two years after my retirement. But we were already told by (late) Ajit Wadekar about a talented Bombay boy who could score a lot of runs for India. Didn't he score a lot of runs?”

So, how did Gavaskar tame those fearsome West Indian pacers right from his debut series in 1971? “It's his concentration and a sound technique. I haven't seen a better stance than him, and he watched the ball very closely. Of course, he could play most shots, but used them sensibly. He was a very practical batsman, he knew what to do when,” Borde said.

Gavaskar scored 774 runs in that series, helping India win 1-0 over the West Indies. 'Lord Relator' immortalised that victory with a calypso dedicated to the master batsman.

He wrote, “This was Gavaskar. The real master. Like a wall. We couldn't get Gavaskar out at all, not at all” and it remains a spine-chilling number even today.

Gavaskar is often remembered for his mastery over fast bowlers such as Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Imran Khan, but another less-talked-about aspect of his batting is the way he neutralised spinners.

Gavaskar, who once described England's Derek Underwood as the toughest spinner, had outwitted some of the cleverest spinners of his generation such as Abdul Qadir, Pakistan's Tauseef Ahmed and England's John Emburey.

“Sunny had excellent footwork and could use soft hands against spin. Since he watched the ball very closely, he could play the spinners late and never found himself in an awkward position against them,” recalls former India middle-order batsman Mohinder Amarnath, himself a master of the pace attack in the 80s.

But sometimes he wore the promoter's uniform.

He equalled the great Sir Donald Bradman's world record of 29 Test centuries by hitting a six off Marshall.

In fact, Gavaskar scored his only ODI century of 103 against New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup, which came off 88 balls.

“Perhaps the need of the hour forced Gavaskar to adopt a defensive approach while playing for India. But he always dominated the attack and did so often in the domestic circuit. He could pull and hook as easily as any other player,” says former Mumbai batsman Milind Rege.

Gavaskar carried his versatility and adaptability into the commentary box as well, adding a touch of subtle humour to it.

Remember how he teased former England pacer Jade Dernbach, known as a brilliant death-over bowler, when he was surrounded by the Indian batsmen in a T20 International.

He mischievously asked former England batsman and commentator Michael Vaughan with a light laugh, “Dernbach is a death-overs specialist, isn't he?”

“Sunny bhai is always jovial in the box. There's never a dull moment around him. He is a bundle of stories and is never afraid to speak his mind,” says a former cricketer who has spent many hours with Gavaskar.

“He has very strong opinions on cricketing matters and he is a very strong supporter of Indian cricket. That probably comes from the time he played cricket.”

He said, “You know, there was a time when world cricket was dominated by England and Australia. Now they want the cycle to be complete.”

It has truly come true for Gavaskar as well.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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