Sunil Gavaskar turns 56 today. Happy Birthday, Sunny!
For the uninitiated and the ungrateful, Gavaskar brought Cricket alive.
The game of Cricket was not always a gentleman’s game. Nor it was always the greatest team game ever devised. It certainly was not such a delightfully artful game either.
Not very long ago, even at the turn of the 20th century, Cricket used to be utterly racist (now relatively racist), colonialist game played by the elites of two countries: England and Australia. These two countries not only did dominate it till well into the 1960’s, but also ensured by means of a series they called Ashes (the ashes of stumps in a cup as a running trophy), that Cricket remain their sole prerogative.
Not to say that they didn’t allow the Indian royal members to have a bite at the game. In fact, some of the better players in the 1930s and the yore included the Maharajahs: Duleepsinh, Ranjitsin, Fatehsinghrao Pratapsinghrao of Baroda, Krishnakumarsinh Gohil of Bhavnagar, Jitendra Narayan aka Maharaj Kumar Victor of Cooch Behar, Bhupendrasingh Rajindersingh of Patiala, Natwarsinh Bhavsinh of Porbandar, and Maharaja Kishan Razdan of Razdan.
By the time the game was generally played by the commoners in the post-British era in India, Cricket emerged as part of the colonial legacy, with Indians trying to play (not outdo) the British game. Of course the Lords at the Lord’s gave no two hoots. No one had predicted nor visualized that the mighty Blighty or the awesome Aussies would fall apart watching some brown skinners play their game. Until 1971.
It was then that a 5ft 5in opener without a helmet, Gavaskar got 774 off the very first series he played in. And it inspired a Calypso number “They could not out Sunny at all”. Stunning the world Cricket and announcing that India had arrived, he created almost a situation in India which went on to create millions of amateur cricketers over the next few years and making the underdogs the world champions.
Just after his retirement, and after being hailed as the cricketer with most runs, most tests, most innings, most centuries, most catches (some records are now broken), Gavaskar was inducted into the hall of fame by being conferred a membership by the Melbourne Cricket Club. Sunny refused it, much to the ire of world cricketers and many conservative Indians notably Bishen Singh Bedi and his ilk. His refusal ground clearly exposed the racism that existed in Cricket even after the game had earned decisively the largest fan following in the world, with help of teams like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Today Sunny is known not just as a legendary cricketer, but also a highly controversial one at that. But any undermining of his personality at the alter of controversy will wipe out the history chapter that need to be incorporated to feature the Indian captain who led the ship to major Indian post-British insurgence.