Sunil Gavaskar has the distinction of scoring the most runs in a debut Test series. The original Little Master’s 774 runs during the 1971 tour of West Indies will always be one of Indian cricket’s greatest feats.
There are two factors that make that performance by Gavaskar truly remarkable. Firstly, it came against arguably the most feared attack of that time. And secondly, he scored all those runs without wearing a helmet.
Throughout his legendary career, Gavaskar faced one fearsome bowler after another but always found a way to succeed. He carried the hopes of a nation on his shoulders and again, he did it without the aid of a helmet.
Also read: There is no one quite like Sunil Gavaskar
In an interview on Star Sports’ show Cricket Connected, Gavaskar spoke in detail about that first tour of the West Indies in 1971, why he preferred to bat without a helmet, and what it was like to face Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Co.
The former India captain turned 71 last week and as a part of his birthday celebration, he sat down to answer questions from some of his oldest fans.
Here are excerpts from that chat:
On playing short-pitched bowling...
I was never really tall in height. I think I grew just a little bigger after school. My height was pretty much the same throughout. So bowlers always tried to attack me with bouncers. I got used to that playing in India where the pitches are slow but when I went to the West Indies and saw their bowlers sending deliveries above the ‘keeper’s shoulder, it was something new for me. What I did later was, I asked my Mumbai Ranji Trophy teammates to bowl from 18 yards to me. That sharpened my reflexes. One thing I learnt very early in my career was that you should treat a bouncer as a scoring opportunity. Because if you do that, you will never take your eyes off the ball.
Memories of the 1971 West Indies tour...
The seniors in the Indian team guided me a lot on that tour. Our captain Ajit Wadekar had immense faith in me. We should never forget Dilip Sardesai’s contribution, he led the way for us. He scored two centuries at a very crucial time. There were such fine players in that Indian team. Bishan Singh Bedi actually honoured me at the end of that series by naming his first son after me. Then, of course, there was that little genius, with whom I shared a room from the second Test onwards and who went on to become my brother-in-law, Gundappa Viswanath. So, it was a wonderful tour.
When I left for the tour, I was the baby of the team. But when I returned, I was thrust into the limelight and it was difficult. Suddenly, there was the pressure to deliver and score runs every time.
Batting without a helmet...
Since the helmet was not a part of our equipment, it never entered our minds. We didn’t even have thigh guards. We would use the hand towels from the hotels as makeshift thigh guards. But these things never bothered us, it was what it was. I had the skull cap in my kit-bag for three years before I used it. Then, during the West Indies tour of 1983, Malcolm Marshall hit me on the head. But I still didn’t wear the skull cap for the next two Tests. Maybe it was ego or whatever. My wife was with me on that tour and she didn’t say anything to me then, but when we returned she asked me why I wasn’t wearing the skull cap even though I had it with me in my bag. So that’s when I decided to finally use it and when the West Indies came to India in December that same year, I wore it for the first time.
But even then, I wore it for just the first session when the ball was new. It wasn’t very comfortable, to be perfectly honest. We actually never thought in terms of getting hit. I was very confident that my reflexes would be such that either my hand would come up [to fend off the ball] or I would sway out of the way.
Best bowlers he faced...
Andy Roberts was the best fast bowler I ever faced. You couldn’t relax against him at all. Against others, you were worried about the new ball or how the pitch would behave but against Andy, you knew he could get you out with the old ball as well. He had that pace, he had that ability to nip the ball both ways, and that’s why he was the best. Among the spinners, I think Derek Underwood was one of the toughest I faced. He was a quicker bowler who flighted the ball occasionally. One had to be extremely watchful against these bowlers.
ML Jaisimha is my all-time hero. He was always so gracious. I’d go to his room every evening to chat. Those days we used to spend time in each other’s rooms just like that, without having to call and ask for permission to come. Wadekar and Sardesai were a big help because they were batsmen, they would tell me what to do. But even in the opposition, there were players like Garfield Sobers – the greatest cricketer ever – and Rohan Kanhai, so getting to breathe the same air as these stalwarts, these champions was unbelievable.
Watch the entire Cricket Connected episode with Sunil Gavaskar here.