Gundappa Viswanath: Sunil Gavaskar’s Favourite Cricketer
Sunil Gavaskar was so much in awe of Viswanath that he named his son after him.
(This article was first published on 12 February 2018. It has been re-posted from The Quint's archives to mark Gundappa Viswanath’s 71st birthday)
The setting was Madras’ iconic Chepauk. West Indies bowled out India for 190. As Chandrasekhar and Viswanath neared the pavilion, Clive Lloyd, the Windies captain, held his team back and asked Viswanath to enter the pavilion first.
Lloyd, who witnessed Viswanath’s gritty innings of 97 as the rest of the side tumbled for less than a hundred run, realised the greatness of it and made sure the feat was acknowledged on the field itself.
Few batsmen in world cricket have shown their wizardry with the bat like Gundappa Viswanath. The Karnataka batsman’s strokeplay highlighted the importance of timing rather than power. His classy square cuts and wristy drives were epitome of grace on the cricket field.
Vishy’s Modern Version
Making his debut in 1969 against Australia, Viswanath went on to play 91 Test matches for the country.
Viswanath’s mastery with the bat has been replicated well by current Indian skipper Virat Kohli. Both being wristy and classy on the off-side, have the highest percentage of centuries for India in winning cause.
Out of the 14 matches in which Viswanath has scored a century, India have not lost 13 of those matches. Similarly in Kohli’s case, India have not lost 38 matches out of 55 whenever Kohli managed to reach the three-digit figure, both in Tests and ODIs.
The Little Master from Karnataka, like Virat Kohli, had the knack of delivering when their team needed them the most.
At the end of 50 Test matches, both Viswanath and Kohli were a shy away from 4000 runs, at an average of 44 and 48 respectively. But as far hundreds are concerned Kohli had 14 tons in comparison to Viswanath’s seven tons.
How It All Started
In December 1969, Viswanath announced his arrival to the cricketing world in the grandest manner possible. After being dismissed for a ‘duck’ in the first innings, he scored a century on his Test debut against Australia in Kanpur. The fact that he went onto score 137 runs after a first innings ‘duck’ made the knock more special.
Vishwanath was in fact the first cricketer to score a duck and a century in the same Test match. Only South Africa’s Andrew Hudson and Pakistan’s Mohammad Wasim have replicated the feat since.
Not just the international circuit, but Viswanath’s domestic debut was equally romantic. Playing for Karnataka, Vishy – as he was fondly called – made his Ranji Trophy debut in 1967 with a double century against Andhra Pradesh. He went onto score 230 on his debut match which broke Englishman George Abell's record of 210. Later, Mumbai’s Amol Mazumdar broke Vishy’s long standing record in 1993-94 when he scored 260 on debut.
Viswanath’s consistent performances in the domestic circuit impressed Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who made sure he was included in the Test squad. Viswanath justified his inclusion and his captain’s confidence by hitting a brilliant century against the Australians in his debut series.
He also impressed with his performance during the tours to West Indies and England in 1971, where India scripted history by winning both the series.
He was not in the best of his form when the English side toured India in 1972-73 and was, at one point, on the verge of being dropped from the squad.
However, an unbeaten 75 in the second innings of the fourth Test at Kanpur and a century in the last Test in Mumbai cemented his place as a top-line batsman in the world of cricket.
Viswanath was the only saving grace in India’s disastrous tour to England in 1974, where India were whitewashed 3-0. He was the only Indian batsman who did well to score a couple of half centuries.
Centuries Saved the Day
Any batsman scoring a century always changes the fortune of a team, but Vishy’s tons were extra special for India. India never lost a Test match when Viswanath scored a century.
In the later stage of his career, Vishy produced two of his most memorable performances. In India’s 1978 tour of Australia, he produced a magnificent knock of 114 runs against the likes of Dennis Lillee at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. When England came to India in 1981-82, he scored a career-best 222 runs in Madras.
Viswanath played 91 Tests for India, scoring 6080 runs at an average of over 40. But he is most appreciated for the fact that he scored his big runs when India needed them most.Viswanath played 91 Tests for India, scoring 6080 runs at an average of over 40. But he is most appreciated for the fact that he scored his big runs when India needed them most.
Vishy’s match-winning innings of 97 against a West Indies team, that included Andy Roberts in 1974-75, will always be remembered. Apart from this, his knocks of – 124 in Madras against West Indies in 1978-79 in equally difficult condition, 83 and 79 against New Zealand on a green top at Christchurch in 1975-76 will always be held in high regard by cricket fans from all around the world.
Gentleman in the Gentleman’s Game
It was not only his batting prowess that made Viswanath such a tall figure on the cricketing field.
Vishy had a very short stint as the captain of India, where he led the team in two tests during the period of 1979–80. While the first Test was a draw, India lost the second Test – the Golden Jubilee Test against England.
In the Golden Jubilee Test match against England, Vishy recalled English batsman Bob Taylor to the crease after he felt that the umpire gave a wrong decision. His decision cost India the match as Taylor went on to score some crucial runs. However, for Vishy, upholding the spirit of the game and the sense of fair play was far greater than winning the match.
It seems just that post-retirement Viswanath donned the hat of an ICC match referee.
In a cricketing career that coincided with the great Sunil Gavaskar, it was Viswanath’s sheer brilliance with the bat that was able to polarise a fan base in two factions – Team Sunil Gavaskar and Team Gundappa Vishwanath.
Even though he was overshadowed by Sunil Gavaskar almost throughout his entire career, the Little Master has admitted it many a times that Gundappa Viswanath was the only batsman to ever cast a spell on him with his batting skill.
While debate will always continue over who was a better batsman of the two, the biggest compliment for the ‘Little Master’ from Karnataka was when Sunil Gavaskar named his son Rohan Jaiviswa after three of his favourite players. West Indian captain Rohan Kanhai lent him the first half of the name, ML Jaisimha with the middle part and finally Viswanath chipped in with ‘Viswa’.
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