The brisk walk to the crease, the floppy hat, the swinging of arms and we were all excited that a new test match was about to commence. And happy that India had won the toss and elected to bat, awaiting another great innings from Sunil Manohar Gavaskar. Once the guard was taken, we were treated to that most balanced stance in world cricket. No extra movement, no nervous twitch, only a strong desire to enter the ‘Zone’ as fast as possible. Even the bat lift was bare minimal.
The fast bowlers he faced were tearaways, just the sight of them running in to bowl used to put the fear of God in the best batsmen. Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Colin Craft, Malcolm Marshall of the West Indies, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson of Australia, Bob Willis of England, Richard Hadlee of New Zealand, Imran Khan of Pakistan, such was the undoubted pedigree of those days. And more often than not, Gavaskar trumped them all.
Here he was, ready to put them to test, a test of their patience, a test of their skills. Ball after ball was met with a straight bat, waiting for them to falter in line and length, waiting for them to tire out and then the full range of elegant strokes were unfurled. If the forward defensive stroke was serene then the cover drive was sheer poetry in motion. And those straight drives, with the head perfectly still; one would be ready to go to any part of the world to enjoy watching.
He was the world record holder for the most number of centuries in test cricket but some of them made a lasting impression. He had announced his arrival on the world cricket scene like a Boss against the mighty West Indies with 3 centuries and a double, so much so that a calypso song was written on his ability to go on and on. Or rather, the inability of the West Indian bowlers to get him out. The innings of 221, batting in the Fourth innings against England brought India tantalizingly close to a memorable victory which was not to be. It continues to be my personal favourite. The 236 not out against West Indies in India was memorable, being his record breaking 30th century when he broke the long standing record of the great Don Bradman. The 127 vs Pakistan in Pakistan was in a lost cause as the other Indian batsmen were no match to the guiles of Imran Khan and Sarfaraz Nawaz. And finally, the almost century, an innings of 96 under the most challenging conditions in Bangalore vs Pakistan in his last test match. He retired while still at the top of his game.
Though his ODI career pales in comparison to his Test career, he still had his moments under the sun. From the tortoise paced innings of 36 not out he played in a world cup match to the pinnacle, when he led India to triumph in the World series of cricket in 1985 interspersed with a World Cup victory under Kapil Dev in 1983, he saw the highs and lows of Indian ODI history.
He was without a century at the Lord’s during his Test career, but he made amends when he played an innings of 188 in the MCC Bicentennial match at Lord’s in 1987, while playing for Rest of the World eleven after his retirement.
Gavaskar inspired a sense of confidence in the Indian test cricket team that they could face the best opposition on equal terms.