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Sunil Gavaskar interview: ‘It was tough to meet the expectations that were raised’

It’s been close to 54 years since the record-breaking debut, but in the years that have gone by since, no Indian batter has bettered it

Seven hundred and seventy-four runs in eight innings at an average of 154.80. Sunil Gavaskar’s performance in his debut Test series in the West Indies in 1971 is a standard that almost every new Indian batter is judged against.

Former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar speaks about his record-breaking outing in debut Test series against the West Indies(HT Archives)

A sparkling hundred can be an inspiring experience but nothing compares to watching a player completely taking over a series. Gavaskar thus rode into the collective consciousness of the nation with his feats in the Caribbean after making his debut in the second Test at Port of Spain on March 6, 1971. His run of scores read – 65, 67*, 116, 64*, 1, 117*, 124 and 220.

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It’s been close to 54 years since the record-breaking show, but no Indian batter has bettered it. Last week, Yashasvi Jaiswal came close, smashing 712 runs in the just concluded series against England. He became the first Indian batter after Gavaskar to touch the 700-run mark in a series.

In an interview with HT, Gavaskar went down memory lane and relived the memories of that historic tour while also sharing thoughts on what he makes of Jaiswal’s run. Excerpts:

What are your fondest memories of the 1971 series… as a youngster finding your way in the middle, keeping it going?

My fondest memories of the series were the batting of Dilip Sardesai in all the Tests and his partnership with Eknath Solkar in the first Test (which took India from 75/5 to 212/6). Then the two magic deliveries with which Salim Durani got Clive Lloyd and Garry Sobers out, off consecutive deliveries. Personally, the century partnership with GRV (Gundappa Viswanath) when we batted together for the first time ever in a Test match and also with my hero ML Jaisimha are memories that stand out.

Entering the first series against a team like West Indies, what were your thoughts? You must have heard so much about the team and the islands. You were going to play against a legend like Sobers…

My thoughts were a bit jumbled because while I had got runs in the tour games, (but) the fact that, in India, I had missed playing the Duleep Trophy which was ‘step-up the ladder’ to Test cricket was a worry.

What did your first outing on the tour, vs Leeward Islands (82 runs) do to your mindset?

To be able to get 82 runs against bowlers who were considerably quicker than what I had faced in India was a wonderful morale booster.

What was the main challenge of the series for you, any match situation or spell or the challenge of overcoming conditions of a particular venue?

The biggest challenge was how to cope with deliveries coming above the waist and around the shoulders. There was no subtlety of getting the batsman bowled or leg-before wicket. It was mostly about getting him caught fending the ball off his face.

You were so young (21 years), how did you keep the focus, what did you keep telling yourself before the matches, during the overs?

Yes, I was the baby of the team but I had some giants of Indian cricket as my teammates. They were mostly encouraging and the biggest were my captain Ajit Wadekar and Sardesai. They boosted my confidence no end. Between matches, the relaxed life in the Caribbean took away any pressures and between overs the seniors were constantly encouraging me to keep going.

You became the pride of the people of Indian origin there. Describe how you felt receiving that kind of adulation. Can you share any anecdotes?

One could sense an undercurrent of tension between the Africans and people of Indian origin, especially in Trinidad and Guyana, so we got good support in these two places. There were heaps of dinners and parties with the settlers from India and it was great to see how they were trying to keep the connection with India alive.

What was the conversation you had with Wadekar and other seniors in the side? Do you remember talking to someone in the West Indies team?

Ajit Wadekar was very fond of Eknath and me, so we would be in his room practically every evening before the others joined in. Just sitting and listening to them was a wonderful education. If he wanted to send a message to the others, then Ajit would rebuke Ekki and me even though we had done nothing wrong. From the West Indies team, Rohan Kanhai was amazing. If I attempted a flashy shot and missed he would mutter under his breath as he passed me at the end of the over. “What’s the matter? Don’t you want a century? Why you playing that shot?” It was incredible that a legend like Kanhai wanted an opposition player to get to a century.

How did you feel when you started getting runs, did your mentality change?

When the runs started coming, I simply wanted more. Keep going while the going is good was my thinking.

How is it to completely take over a series? Yes, there are other performances but you were the main difference between the two sides?

No sir, I wasn’t the difference between the two teams. The main difference was Sardesai. But for his 212 in the first Test when we were 75/5 and then his 150 in the fourth Test when we were looking at a follow on; we would not have won the series. Those two were the defining innings of the series, much more crucial than any that I played.

When you get that kind of start early in your career, how do you keep going, maintain that focus and consistency?

I loved batting so keeping the focus was not difficult. What was tough was to now meet the expectations that were raised after the tour.

When a player gets 700-plus runs in a series, for you what does it say about the player?

When a player gets runs in a series then he is very good or very lucky. In my case it was the latter as no less a cricketer than Garry Sobers gave me lives in my first half-century and then my first Test century.

How did it feel for you to finally see another Indian score 700 in a series?

It felt very nice to see Yashasvi getting all those runs and the manner in which he dominated the attack. I had mildly reprimanded him in the hotel elevator on Day 1 of the first Test in South Africa for throwing away his wicket in Trinidad (previous Test) after a good 50 plus score and told him never to do the bowlers any favour. Thankfully, he listened to me and got two big doubles in this series. He got three other half centuries and forgot what I had told him there. But hey, who listens to anyone when one is in his 20s. I didn’t either. Hopefully, he will go on to bigger things and never forgets that he is what he is because of Indian cricket.


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