Welcome to the series where we present you a moment, a game in history that has shaped the way the sport has been played, in our weekly segment 'Throwback Thursday'. This week, we look at the historic moment when Sunil Gavaskar became the first batsman to breach the 10,000-run landmark.
7th March 1987: We are in Ahmedabad and India and Pakistan are playing one more dull game, having already played out 10 consecutive drab draws ahead of the encounter. However, in the context of a particular man from Bombay, this is supposed to be the greatest moment for an Indian cricket fan, even eclipsing the romantic beauty of the 1983 World Cup win. With Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Mohinder Amarnath having already been dismissed with just 46 on the board in reply to Pakistan’s first innings total of 395, all eyes are on a certain little fella from Maidans of Mumbai cricket who was born with the scent of bat oil in his nostrils. On the cusp of history, things are golden and infinitesimally awesome for Sunil Manohar Gavaskar and his legion of fans around the world.
Before understanding what Gavaskar did that day for himself, his country, and most importantly, for cricket world as a whole, it is important to pause for a moment and understand the man beyond his commentary stints and no-holds-barred opinions on TV and newspapers which, at times, come across a little disorienting. Because it was with a bat, and not a microphone, in his hand, Gavaskar was truly liberated and went on to paint a beautiful picture of a new India.
Gavaskar’s importance to an Indian identity was way more than what meets the eye. Before Gavaskar, there was Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Vinoo Mankad and Polly Umrigar - all stunning and eye-catching batsmen who added a page to the legacy that later flourished to become a unified one. Gavaskar was a deluge in that regard - his defense stood for immortality and bringing that famous Bombay ideology to the fore, he put a price on the wicket that nobody, in the history of Indian cricket, had done quite like that.
“Gavaskar's batting style, based on defence, constructed around the best defensive technique in India's cricket history, was a product of his times. If you were a wage-earner in the seventies, you saved every penny you could, you always put aside something for a rainy day. If you had a job you hung on to it for life. Safety and caution were the defining factors of India's middle class, and it was from such a background that Gavaskar emerged,” Harsha Bhogle once wrote of the man he idolised like almost everyone in the era would have.
His arrival against the mighty Windies with a 774-run series in 1970-71 might have been downplayed because of the quality of the bowling attack Windies had at their disposal - a far cry from the preceding generation and the subsequent Andy Roberts-powered gang, like a mob a mission to explore the world. But the performance was just a snapshot of the era Gavaskar dominated with the world having some of the best practitioners of the pace-bowling craft - practitioners better than ever before. Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Rodney Hogg and Len Pascoe were the heroes for the Aussies, Bob Willis and Ian Botham put England in the pace-bowling map, New Zealand had the inimitable Richard Hadlee and Pakistan were blessed with Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz. It was to Gavaskar’s credit that he did what he did.
The next half a decade that followed his glorious achievement in the Windies tour was a period of great disturbance - he managed just one century, a 101 in a losing cause at Old Trafford in 1974, in the next 26 innings that followed the heroics. But that is how Gavaskar’s legacy endured. He never let the pressure of those failures got to him, always returned to domestic cricket, scored runs like a true master and walked into a phase when success flew like a waterfall. In the five years between 1975 and 1979, the Mumbaikar averaged almost 60, with the world seeing him hit a majestic 221 against England at The Oval. To put things into perspective, in the 10 series he played in these five years, he averaged 50 or more in eight of them, with the shackle hitting 75 in three series.
He was hitting the note at a time helmet was not regulation. In fact, his floppy hat was the augmented fanaticism for the greater good. He was the urban cult hero for Indian cricket, with runs being the only denominator for Gavaskar to appear on screen to sell from Cold Drinks to Sunscreen - literally everything. It never ceased to amaze and the 8000-run barrier set up by Geoffry Boycott and Sir Gary Sobers seemed to be in touching distance. Century-wise, neither of the two had been in close distance.
In the 1983-84 season, when Gavaskar turned up against his favourite opponent Windies, against whom he had 13 centuries, he equalled Bradman’s record of 29 hundreds, in New Delhi. Just the Sobers and Boycott record was set to be passed and he would reach a position no one had in world cricket. It was a mere formality and before anyone realized that he had crossed the 9000-run mark, he posted India at the top of World Cup and showed why the 1983 World Cup win was no fluke.
On that fitting day in Ahmedabad later in 1987, when Pakistan was making all the stuff they could do to beef up the occasion and crush India’s party, Gavaskar stood tall. 9942 runs were already scored, 58 runs were just a matter of time. After Srikkanth and Amarnath were dismissed, Gavaskar continued, with Kiran More for company. Never in a hurry, calm, composed, defending like an obdurate solid rock, unfazed by the occasion. A fifty had now been scored and he raced to 57, unbeaten. Steamed in from the other end did Ejaz Fakih and the spectators were in utter silence, hands in their mouth, waiting for the ultimate occasion. Things could only get better from there and before a long sigh of relief could be released, some business was left to be finished.
A shot that hit the right note, created an epic.
Welcome to a moment in history.