Test cricket made Sunil Gavaskar and without him there would have been no Sachin Tendulkar

Sunil Gavaskar, who gave Indian cricket its self-respect, filled the void upon his arrival in 1971.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Updated: September 21, 2016 8:04 pm
sunil-gavaskar-m Test cricket legacy was carried forward by Sachin Tendulkar from Sunil Gavaskar. (Source: File)

Shashank Manohar sent on a charm offensive ahead of the landmark Test. “This is a huge milestone in the history of Indian cricket. India has been a very important member of the ICC with its rich heritage and great following for the game,” the ICC chairman said in a message to the BCCI. Manohar and the Indian cricket board are not on the same page of late. But 500th Test is a momentous occasion and should be celebrated in unison.

It debatable whether from younger fans’ point of view, Test cricket retains any consequence. Empty stands worldwide, save England and Australia, present a grim picture. However, from the game’s perspective, this is the ultimate. This is the format that separates the men from the boys. A cricketer is always judged by his exploits in the longest format. This is why Sunil Gavaskar is an all-time great and Michael Bevan gets a footnote in cricket history books despite his 53.58 ODI average.

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Talking about Gavaskar, he gave Indian cricket its self-respect. India started playing Tests in 1932 but a barely submerged inferiority complex affected progress for the next four decades. Tiger Pataudi, arguably India’s finest-ever captain, was an exception. But he was never a common man’s hero. Gavaskar filled the void upon his arrival in 1971. A tally of 774 runs against the mighty West Indies in his maiden Test series was an epoch-making achievement in the context of Indian cricket. The little master gave Indian cricket its identity and went on to become the first cricketer on the planet to score 10,000 Test runs.

With due respect to Sachin Tendulkar, his illustrious predecessor from Mumbai has been the biggest thing to happen in Indian cricket because without Gavaskar we wouldn’t have Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid. Without those 13 centuries against West Indies in a floppy hat and later a skullcap, Indian cricket wouldn’t have gotten rid of its inferiority complex.

No disrespect to the great spinners, but Kapil Dev helped Indian cricket acquire modernity. The ‘Haryana Hurricane’ was a trailblazer. India started to attack opponents following his emergence as a world-class all-rounder.

It took 36 years and 12 overseas assignments for India to win a Test series away from home. Victory on foreign soil was achieved for the first time on February 20, 1968, when India beat New Zealand in Dunedin. Pataudi’s team went on to win the series 3-1. But the finest hour came three years later, at The Oval. It was India’s first-ever win at the home of cricket. England were the unofficial world champions that time and India didn’t have even an 80mph fast bowler. Leg-spinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar more than made up for the absence, taking 6/38 in the second innings to script the historic win. Considering the odds stacked against, it remains India’s most memorable Test performance; maybe a shade ahead of the 1975-76 victory at Queens Park Oval (made a world-record chase of 406 in the fourth innings), the Melbourne Test win in 1980-81, the comeback stunner against Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001 and the first-ever series win in Pakistan in 2003-04.

The summer of ’74 has to be the lowest point. The 42 all out at Lord’s was humiliating. The reported dressing-room spat between then India captain Ajit Wadekar and Bishan Bedi was deplorable, while the alleged shoplifting incident involving Sudhir Naik was shocking.

Standing on the threshold of 500th Test, India, however, have an unfinished business. They haven’t won a Test series in Australia yet. South Africa, too, remains unconquered. The present team under Virat Kohli takes pride in winning overseas. They would like to set the record straight.