I have been reading a few articles about Sunny Gavaskar the last couple of days on his 60th birthday like this one from Aziz Menon which prompted me to dip into Cricket nostalgia.
My once upon cricketing heroes..

My once upon cricketing heroes..

I have been reading a few articles about Sunny Gavaskar the last couple of days on the eve of his 60th birthday, which prompted me to dip into my Cricket nostalgia.

It didn’t matter that India got their butts kicked majority of the time, I was one of those kids who had his ears glued to our radio at home for every Indian Test Cricket match or for that matter even Ranji matches when Hyderabad was playing.  All India Radio’s Bapu Nadkarni and Narottam Puri were my eyes on the Cricket field.  I was even nerdy enough to practice their calls, the outs, the defensive shots, the fours and the sixes.  Mohammed Azharuddin, from Hyderabad, my city, was still a budding prodigy at All Saints, though it didn’t take long for the Cricket enthusiasts to take notice once he joined Nizam College.  Before his arrival, like many kids during that time, I had two cricketing heroes, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.

fearless opener

fearless opener

My father was a huge Sunny fan, obviously well aware of his 1971 exploits against the Windies and how he exploded into world Cricket on debut in that series.  The comparisons for Sunny with Sachin are inevitable.  Sachin is by far the most gifted player I have seen personally, but where Sunny had an edge was his resolve, judgment and temperament.  If you couldn’t get him out before 20, he would get a 100 and those he scored at will, many times carrying the bat through the innings with little support from a weak batting lineup, and most of the time in a losing cause.  The other thing that separates Sunny from Sachin was that he was an opener and he played against the most feared pace battery of the 20th century (Thompson, Lilly, Hadley, Roberts, Marshall, and the list goes on)  without a helmet and not only succeeded, but even dominated in many ways.  Just check out his stats.  He was the original Little Master who made following Indian Cricket fun even as they were getting humiliated regularly.  Sunny was proud, articulate, fearless with a funny side that came out during a slew of boring draws that was the norm in the 80s when he would imitate Abdul Qadir’s action to entertain the crowd.

..had more impact on Indian Cricket than any other

..had more impact on Indian Cricket than any other

I liked Sunny, but I adored Kapil.  Durable and country strong, the Haryana Hurricane bowled fast and accurate with a devastating natural outswinger, he was a complete misfit among a group of lazy dibbly dobblers that would put the current Newzealand medium pace attack to shame and make Anil Kumble look like Shoaib Aktar.  Kapil was one of a kind,  in fact, even to this day, he remains the most talented all rounder India has ever produced, though he repeatedly under-performed as a batsman.  And then there was the 83 world cup triumph that transformed Indian Cricket to where it is today, his 175* against Zimbabwe, his catch against Richards in the finals and the picture of him hoisting the cup.  He was somone who led by instict, batted by instinct and bowled with instinct.  For most, instinct carries you only so far, in Kapil’s case, it produced a remarkably durable career.  He was not as suave as Sunny, wasn’t as clever with his words, just like his Cricket, he seemed comfortable with who he was.  It made him not look as scheming as Sunny and more likeable than him.  I was such a Kapil fan as a kid, I would drink nothing but Boost because “it was the secret of Kapil Dev’s energy”, and I would get into  lengthy and tedious arguments with my brother and his friends about why Kapil is better than Sunny.  If you have to chose one person for being the most impactful Indian Cricketer, it would be hard not to pick Kapil.  There might have been people more influential, people who served Indian Cricket more, but none had more impact than Kapil.

..had a style of his own.

..had a style of his own.

Then came Azharuddin, our own Azzu bhai, slim and wiry, akward and cool at the same time, and just a bit aloof to fit the image of us Hyderabadees of bygone time.  A phenomenon in his short Ranji career, with a style all his own, he slammed three straight centuries in three straight test matches, and a star was born.  Our Azzu bhai could bat, he could field, he was an excellent one day bowler and he was a treat to watch.  In my glorious gully cricket career, every time I had to field the ball to my right, I would run hard, pick up the ball, rise off the right foot and flip it back to the keeper, airborne, all in one motion, just like Azzu bhai did.  He rose in rank and stature quickly to become the captain.  His influence is still there in Hyderabadee Cricket.  Just watch VVS Laxman, another proud son of Hyderabad, and many of his wristy shots evoke memories of Azhar’s unique talent.
This period was the height of my Cricket infatuation.  I lived and breathed Cricket, knew every stat there was in the book, watched every match on tv, and of course knew all the right moves the captain had to make during the match.
..not all was well between the two.

..not all was well between the two.

Two things ruined it all for me.  The obvious one was the match fixing scandal, the other was the constant influence of murky politics on team selection and composition that ruined team chemistry and made the selectors look like the jokers that Amarnath once called them out to be.  It was there during the days of Sunny and Kapil.  The two never got along.  Sunny the schemer was a complete prick.  He was the spearhead of the mumbai mafia that pretty much ran and to this day runs Indian Cricket, and detested Kapil’s fame and fortunes.  Kapil, for his part didn’t handle this very well.  Unlike Sunny, he was never too sophisticated.  It was obvious to everyone that there was a clear rift in the team.  The ugliness reached its peak, when under Sunny’s captaincy, the team decided to suspend Kapil Dev for one game in the middle of a home series due to his irresponsible batting performance that cost them the previous game.  Kapil had a remarkable playing streak alive till then that no other fast bowler in the history of Cricket possessed and was justifiably incensed.  He served the suspension but never forgot how he was treated.  As a fan, with two icons of Indian Cricket playing on the team, it was difficult to just appreciate their Cricket without taking sides which took the fun out of it all.
..even with his flaws, he has remained resolute in his service to Indian Cricket

..even with his flaws, he has remained resolute in his service to Indian Cricket

While these ugly politics still exist, albeit to much lesser extent with the board focus shifting to squeezing the last paisa out of the existing popularity, the match fixing scandal was when the heroes died and Cricket lost its charm for me.  I still enjoy the sport and watch it as often as I can, but gone is that insane passion for the game.  First, our own Azzu bhai was a figure front and center of the scandal, and I had to digest the fact that he was a cheating, swindling, sold-out fraud.  Then the allegations against Kapil and his unconvincing response pretty much completed the demolition of my Cricketing hero pedastal.  The irony of it all is that, while Azhar and Kapil are still trying to weasle out of the Cricketing purgatory, Sunny is still around, his normal caustic self, chaneling his dark-side on his perceived double standards of those goras who treated him and his teammates with disdain, an aging Godfather of that mumbai mafia that pulls the strings from behind the scenes but takes care of the family.  I enjoy listening to him on the broadcasts, he has a sharp wit, a good comeback and one of the few who can maintain a banter with his broadcast partners.  Still unpopular with the phoren audience due to his “undiplomatic” statements and an unwillingness to play by their standards, he has done more in my mind than any other Indian cricketer during and after his Cricketing days. After all, your character has to mean something and whether you like him or not, he stood for something he believed in and had the conviction and fortitude to withstand his detractors, of which there are many, and stood behind Indian Cricket through think and thin, emerging out of that least liked persona from the ruins of my Cricketing heroes.

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