Sunil Gavaskar’s Record Breaking Series
Down Memory Lane
By October 1983 Sunil Gavaskar’s name was associated with several records. He had been around since March 1971, played 93 Tests, scored almost 8,000 runs and hit 28 hundreds.
The big world marks were within striking distance – the record run aggregate of 8114 standing in the name of Geoff Boycott and 29 hundreds standing in the name of Don Bradman since 1948. But at 34 it was clear that Gavaskar didn’t have time on his hands.
There had already been signs of his reflexes having slowed down particularly on the tour of the West Indies earlier in the year and questions were being raised whether his faultless technique which had stood by him all these years was still good to take on the fearsome fast bowlers. Gavaskar himself decided not to take risks.
For the first time in his illustrious career he had a special skull cap made out for him on the eve of the 1983-84 season and sported it below his favourite panama cap.
The West Indian team under Clive Lloyd arrived in October making it clear that it was a revenge mission for the shock World Cup defeat they had suffered at the hands of India at Lord’s in June. They had come determined to win both the Test and the one day series. Gavaskar who was woefully short of runs during the World Cup campaign was clearly going to be one of their main targets. And after what happened in the first Test at Kanpur many believed that it was virtually the end of his career.
It was not just the scores – a second ball duck and 7 – that stirred this belief but the manner of his dismissal the second time around. As he shaped to play a short, rising ball from Malcolm Marshall the ball hit the shoulder of his bat as he took evasive action. The bat was knocked from his hands and went up in the air even as the ball popped up to be caught by the fielder at short leg.
India lost the Test by an innings and 83 runs inside four days and Gavaskar’s confidence could not have been high on the eve of the second Test at New Delhi just three days later. This time however he decided to counter attack. If the fast men bowled short, he would pull and even hook.
Adopting a dare devil approach helped and he raced to his half century off just 37 balls. There was no let-up in his attacking methods and he reached his hundred off just 94 balls. His 29th Test hundred had put him on level terms with Bradman who of course reached his mark in just 52 Tests and 80 innings compared to Gavaskar’s 95 Tests and 166 innings a fact acknowledged by the Indian when queried about the feat.
Gavaskar was finally out for 121, the Indian batting came good and the match was drawn. So Gavaskar had equaled a famous 35-year-old mark. Now could he get past Boycott and become the leading run-getter in Test history.
This question came into focus because during the Delhi hundred he had crossed the 8000-run mark. Gavaskar wasted no time in answering the question in the affirmative. In the very next Test at Ahmedabad he scored 90 in the first innings in the process going past Boycott’s world record. The England opening batsman had got his runs from 108 Tests and 193 innings whereas Gavaskar took only 96 Tests and 168 innings.
India lost the Test by 138 runs but by now there was hardly any pressure on Gavaskar. He had come good with a record levelling hundred and a brilliant 90, equalling one famous record and going past another. But the doubts about his batting technique returned when in the next two Tests his scores were 12, 3, 0 (first ball) and 20. Worse, questions were also being raised about his commitment particularly after the fifth Test at Calcutta which India lost by an innings and 46 runs and with it the series 3-0.
Hurt by the allegations Gavaskar was inclined not to play in the final Test at Madras but changed his decision on reading a chance comment which read ''a quitter never wins, a winner never quits’’. Encouraged he made the trip to Madras indicating to the selectors that he would like to bat lower down the order.
West Indies batting first scored 313 and India in reply lost Anshuman Gaekwad and Dilip Vengsarkar to successive deliveries from Marshall with the score still zero. Gavaskar had barely enough time to take a shower before putting on his pads. gloves and arm guard and going out to the middle on a hat trick. Vivian Richards joked with him regarding his new batting position saying ''Maan, it makes no difference when you come in; the score is still zero.’’
By the end of the third day (rain had washed out the first days’ play) India were in dire straits at 69 for four but Gavaskar was still there on 36. The following morning night watchman Shivlal Yadav left early but Gavaskar found an able partner in Ravi Shastri and the two steadily pulled India out of troubled waters with a partnership of 170 that ended just before close of play with Shastri out for 72.
But all eyes during the day were on Gavaskar. He was the master of all he surveyed as he negotiated the pace battery of Marshall, Michael Holding, Andy Robets and Winston Davis in masterly fashion. His technique was faultless, his concentration intense and his determination knew no bounds.
As the crowd egged him on Gavaskar surged towards the most important landmark of all - the 30thTest hundred that would put him above Bradman. He duly reached it with a single to the on side off Davis. The crowd gave him a standing ovation which Gavaskar graciously acknowledged. In his 99th Test he now had the two most famous batting records in Test cricket – highest run-getter and highest century maker.
The match meandered towards a draw but not before Gavaskar produced an encore. On the final day he crossed 200 and in the final session went past Vinoo Mankad’s 231 hitherto the highest score by an Indian in Test cricket. He finished with 236 not out as India declared at 451 for eight.
Ultimately then the series proved that Gavaskar was far from finished, that he would still be around to set more records. Indeed when he finally called it a day a little more than three years later he became the first batsman in Test history to break the 10,000 run barrier.