July 10 is the birthday of one of India’s greatest sportspersons, Sunil ‘Sunny’ Gavaskar. The first man to score ten thousand runs in Test cricket and also the first player to score more than thirty centuries, Gavaskar was among the best batsmen in the world during his era (1971-87). He still holds the record for the most runs made in a debut Test series and the most Test centuries against the West Indies and is the only player to have scored a century and a double century in the same Test Match twice. But there was more to the man some labelled ‘Cricket’s Napoleon’ for his relative lack of height than just cricket records. So as he goes past yet another year in his life, here is a look at ten facts that not too many might know about Sunil Manohar Gavaskar:
He might have ended up catching fish rather than scoring runs but for a sharp-eyed relative. After he was born, a nurse accidentally placed him next to a fisherwoman. No one noticed the change but one of Gavaskar’s uncles had noticed a birthmark near his ear and when he did not see it in the other child, he brought the matter to the notice of the hospital and baby Sunil was duly returned to his parents.
The first casualty of Gavaskar’s cricketing ability was not a cricketer, but his own mother, Meenal. Well before his teens, they were playing cricket in his house and one of his patent straight drives (well, not patented yet, but it would become famous) hit her in the face. She carried on gamely, but he promptly reverted to defensive mode.
The ambition to play for India came to him when he saw the Indian team pullovers of his uncle, Madhav Mantri, who had played for India. When he asked if he could have one of the pullovers, Mantri told him sternly that they had to be earned.
He idolised West Indian Rohan Kanhai and India’s ML Jaisimha when he was growing up. He also is the brother in law of Indian cricket legend Gundappa Vishwanath (small wonder he planned to name his son, Rohan Jaivishwa Gavaskar, although he eventually became better known as Rohan Gavaskar). He wanted to wear his hair long and over his collar a la Ian Chappell, the charismatic Australian cricketer, as well but had to give up the effort, as his hair was too wavy for the effect.
He might be known as a prolific batsman, but he was also a very prolific writer. He is the only Indian cricketer with as many as four books to his name during his playing career – Sunny Days, Idols, Runs ‘n Ruins and One Day Wonders.
He played the lead part in a Marathi film, Saavli Premachi. And yes, he even danced and did the prerequisite running around the trees in the film (check it here if you believe us not). He also made a special appearance as himself in the Hindi film, Malamaal.
He may have terrorised pace bowlers, but he himself was terrified of dogs. Legendary English all rounder Ian Botham once trapped him inside a phone booth by simply standing outside it with a massive dog. Gavaskar came out only after Botham and the mutt were persuaded to go away.
He remains one of the few cricketers to have got a haircut from the umpire in the course of a match. Batting against England at Old Trafford in 1974, he found his hair getting in his eyes all the time (yes, they used to bat without helmets and even caps in those days) and asked the umpire, Dickie Bird, to trim his hair. Bird did so with a pair of scissors he had kept to actually cut threads from the seam of the cricket ball, if needed, muttering “the things umpires have to do these days.” He must have done a good job – Gavaskar scored a century!
Sticking to Old Trafford 1974, Gavaskar is also perhaps the only player in Test cricket to have scored a Test century in a torn pair of trousers. They got torn from the inside of his left thigh in the early part of his innings, but he refused to change them and went on to play one of the greatest innings of his career. Some critics would jokingly remark that “getting Sunny to score runs is easy – just tear his trousers.” (you can see the innings at here)
Although accused of being obsessed with records, Gavaskar himself never used to look at the scoreboard while batting and thus often never had any idea of his score. A great example of this was when he scored his 29th Test century to equal Sir Don Bradman’s record that had stood for more than three decades. He had no idea he had passed the landmark and was wondering what the applause was about until non-striker, Dilip Vengsarkar told him “Bloody hell, it is your 29th!”