Thursday, March 2, 2017

Gavaskar vs Tendulkar and other cricket chat - I

I am an old fashioned guy who is in full agreement with Nevill Cardus' comment, 'The scoreboard is an ass.' I would rather watch a program about Gavaskar's  last Test inning on a minefield of a pitch in Bangalore than watch a century in 40 balls in a T20 World Cup final. Somebody said that the IPL is cricket's version of WWF, an assessment that I agree with.

In this talk (I have linked to Part 1, the relevant portion is in Part 3), Ramachandra Guha says that  Raj Singh Dungarpur had told him that his father was of the opinion that Palvankar Vithal (a Dalit cricketer before India had gained Test status) was as good as Vijay Hazare. Dungarpur had been of the opinion that Vijay Hazare had been as good as Sunil Gavaskar. Guha himself had often told his son that Gavaskar had been as good as Tendulkar. This meant that by algebraic equivalence, Palvankar Vithal had been as good as Tendulkar! I would agree with the view that Gavaskar was as good as Tendulkar.

Gavaskar played 80 innings abroad and scored 15 centuries. Tendulkar played 135 innings abroad and scored 18 centuries. Gavaskar scored most of his runs as an opener, without helmets, with inferior equipments than are available today on pitches that did a bit more than is the case now. Gavaskar also played at a time when the Indian batting line-up had not been as strong as it had been during much of Tendulkar's career. Tendulkar did score runs as an opener in one-day cricket but that is a whole different ball game with flatter pitches and field restrictions. The white ball also swings less than the red ball.

I remember a couple of Gavaskar stories worth telling. The first happened during a Test match in the  West Indies when Gavaskar was dismissed for one. A spectator wagered that the West Indian openers - Greenidge and Haynes - will score more than Gavaskar. And guess what happened - both were dismissed for ducks! The poor spectator could not be traced later so his reaction is not known. You can't blame him if he stopped watching cricket altogether.

In a Test match against the West Indies in Kanpur, Gavaskar decided to drop himself to no.4 and asked Gaekwad and Siddhu to open the innings. First ball, Marshall to Gaekwad, OUT! Second ball, Marshall to Vengsarkar, OUT! India 0 for 2. Gavaskar negotiated the rest of the over and at the end of the over, when Richards was walking past him, he muttered, 'At whatever position you bat maan, the score will still be zero.' Gavaskar then went on to score 236 n.o. which remained the highest individual score for India till Laxman broke it with his  unforgettable 281 at Eden Gardens, Calcutta. As Yogi Berra said, 'I knew the record would stand until it was broken.'

Although I would rate Gavaskar and Tendulkar at par as far as their actual achievements in Test cricket are concerned, it cannot be denied that Tendulkar had more pure natural talent. I saw him in the flesh only once in a Test match against the West Indies at the Wankede stadium in the mid 1990s. At that time Walsh was quick and the wicketkeeper, who was standing half-way to the boundary line, was collecting the ball above waist height. All batsmen were playing him with hasty, jerky movements but Tendulkar picked the line and length of the ball early, was forward or back in a flash and seemed to be waiting for the ball to come to him. (I was a great fan of Azhar and when he walked out to bat, I sat back to enjoy a strokeful partnership between him and Tendulkar. You can of course guess what happened next – Azhar was dismissed for a duck.)

Although Gavaskar and Tendulkar have been hugely influential players, both have regrettably been establishment men who have quietly toed the BCCI line at all times. They have never used their prestige to speak out about malpractices in the BCCI. Whenever there is any corruption allegation in IPL, you can bet that they will make some bland statement. Tendulkar is also conspicuous by his absence from the Rajya Sabha although he has the time to go to Rio. It shows again that celebrities are often very limited outside their narrow band of excellence, a fact obscured by the halo effect.

In this post, Ramachandra Guha writes about Dravid's advice regarding sticking to one's knitting. He once noticed on TV Dravid fielding at mid-off to advice the bowlers and wrote to him that he should field in the slips so that so many catches don't go down. Dravid wrote back saying that he was reading a book by Guha and agreed with the view that Indian history seemed to stop at Gandhi's assassination; that they should meet sometime and discuss this and other issues. There was not a word about the cricketing advice that had been given. Guha writes:

My email was unsolicited, unprompted, even impertinent — akin in cricketing terms to a bouncer from a bowler of military medium pace, it was dispatched to the boundary with a flick of the wrists. The put-down was decisive; and yet so delicately worded. I was told, in the kindest possible manner, to shut up about strategy in cricket and go back to writing history books. And so I have.

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