When Sunil Gavaskar Achieved His Final Ambition in International Cricket
Down Memory Lane
In October 1987 Sunil Manohar Gavaskar seemed to have achieved everything he wanted in international cricket.
At 38 he held all the major records in Test cricket – most Tests, most runs and most centuries – and a host of minor marks. In March that year he had become the first batsman to cross the 10,000-run barrier in Tests and in August he achieved what appeared to be his final ambition – a century at Lord’s while playing for the Rest of the World XI against the MCC in the Bicentenary match.
After all Gavaskar had never before made a hundred at cricket’s headquarters and it was a nice feeling to do so even as he announced that this game would be his swan song in first class cricket.
Surely then there was nothing left to achieve and after nearly 17 years in international cricket Gavaskar could retire happily. But wait there was one more ambition left. He had not scored a hundred in limited overs cricket. In a way this was not surprising. After all it was expecting too much of a batsman like Gavaskar who was renowned for his technical excellence, fierce determination, intense concentration and disciplined approach to bat with gay abandon and abandon the textbook by which he swore throughout his long and illustrious career.
To be fair to him he did make a few honest attempts and in 106 ODIs he had three scores of 90 plus the most well known being his 90 off 117 balls against the West Indies at Berbice in March 1983 a knock that helped shape a historic triumph India’s first against the formidable two time World Cup winning side. But even as India against all expectations went on to win the World Cup in England later that year a woefully out of form Gavaskar had no significant role to play in that memorable triumph.
It was generally felt that Gavaskar was keeping his place in the side largely on reputation. He had scored nearly 3000 runs the most by an Indian but generally these had been compiled at a painfully slow rate by one day standards and the abiding memory of Gavaskar still remained his notorious 36 not out off 174 balls against England in the inaugural World Cup in 1975.
So the odds were heavily stacked against Gavaskar achieving his final ambition particularly as he had announced that the Reliance World Cup tournament in the subcontinent would be his final international engagement and he would retire from all cricket at the end of this competition.
India were placed with Australia, Zimbabwe and New Zealand and in five matches leading up to the final group match Gavaskar batted consistently but never gave the impression of getting anywhere near three figures his highest score being 61. The final group match was against New Zealand at Nagpur and even though India had already qualified for the semifinals there was an incentive to score at a fast clip.
India and Australia were level on points and if India could edge out the Australians on run rate and finish top of the heap they would avoid a potentially tricky and explosive semifinal against Pakistan at Lahore and would be pitted against England in a seemingly easier semifinal at Bombay.
Chetan Sharma provided all the early excitement on October 31 after New Zealand won the toss and opted to bat. The 21-year-old medium pacer took the first hat trick in the history of the World Cup bowling all his three victims. New Zealand were restricted to 221 for nine in 50 overs and India’s task now came firmly into focus.
To edge ahead of Australia they had to score at a rate of 5.25 an over and this meant reaching the target of 222 in 42.2 overs. With the swashbuckling Kris Srikkanth in the side there was always the chance that India would get there but could Gavaskar rise to the occasion and match his buccaneering partner was the question.
And yet the packed crowd at the VCA stadium as also a worldwide TV audience saw something unbelievable. Out in the middle Gavaskar resembled the stroke playing twin brother of Gavaskar the defence oriented batsman.
Gone was the textbook approach. In its place Gavaskar played a series of enthralling and innovative shots. He played the inside out strokes by drawing away to the leg side and hitting the ball to the off and dispatched balls from outside the off stump to mid wicket and square leg. He essayed lofted shots with impunity and matched Srikkanth in strokeplay, run production and bravura of batting.
They took 18 off the first two overs and 21 came from Ewan Chatfields’ third over as Gavaskar hit the first four balls for successive sixes and then successive fours. The 50 was posted in the eighth over and as if to celebrate the next 50 came up even faster off just six overs. By the time Srikkanth was out for 75 the partnership had put on 136 in 17 overs and India were well on their way to their target.
Srikkanth faced just 58 balls and hit three sixes and nine fours but Gavaskar if anything was even better considering his past record in the limited overs game. Joined by Md Azharuddin he just continued the battering of the bowlers and besides Chatfield others to suffer were Danny Morrison, Martin Snedden, Willie Watson and Dipak Patel.
The ceaseless hitting did take its toll on the not so young Gavaskar and in between deliveries and overs he was seen resting on his haunches. In fact on the eve of the match there were reports that Gavaskar was indisposed and might not play. But once the bowlers started their run up he was back at his piratical best and was obviously enjoying his stint at the crease.
Shortly before Azharuddin got the winning runs off the first ball of the 33rd over Gavaskar did achieve his final ambition ending up with 103 not out off just 85 balls with three sixes and ten fours. He had finally got a hundred in his 106th ODI and thanks to him and Srikkanth India reached their target with plenty to spare.
Gavaskar's big moment could have come a moment too soon. As luck would have it he played only one more ODI the semifinal against England which India lost by 35 runs and in his final international appearance Gavaskar was bowled by Phil DeFreitas for four.