Kapil Pied Piper, Viswanath Greatest Batsman of My Era: Gavaskar
The charm of being an Indian fan until a few decades back was perhaps, inexplicable. Underdogs in most fixtures against top teams, and a whiff of victory in a dead rubber of a series would send fans into delirium.
From being known as “dull dogs” at home for the dogged manner in which the team would eke out draws in Tests, to facing sheer humiliation against the likes of Australia, England and the all-conquering West Indies away from home, there was never much the fans could look forward to.
Thus, when India lifted the World Cup in 1983 against a side that had Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding in their bowling ranks, one can only imagine the euphoria that broke out amongst the cricket-fanatic crowd of the country.
Batting great Sunil Gavaskar, who was part of that team, labelled the feat as the greatest moment of Indian cricket.
Speaking at the 26th Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial Lecture on “changing times of Indian cricket” in New Delhi recently, the former Indian opener said: “India won the World Cup and that too against all odds. The game changer was the skipper Kapil Dev whose individual brilliance and positive mindset helped the team believe nothing was beyond them.”
It kicked off a new era in Indian cricket as well, as the side had proved to themselves and to its fans, that they could now compete toe-to-toe with the best in business. Gavaskar hailed his then-skipper Kapil Dev for the turnaround, terming him as the pied piper who brought a breath of fresh air in Indian cricket.
‘Kapil Left a Legacy for Pacers’
“The second half of the 1970s saw the emergence of the one and only Kapil Dev Nikhanj. His vitality, his fearlessness, his unending energy, brought an exhilarating breath of fresh air in Indian cricket. He was capable of turning the game around with both bat and ball,” Gavaskar said.
“But his greatest legacy was to show the budding Indian fast bowler that even on pitches with not much assistance to them, they could take wickets. Kapil was like a pied piper with children following him, looking up adoringly at him. It was a sight that showed India cricket was in the right place.”Sunil Gavaskar, on former India captain Kapil Dev
He also showered praise on the pioneers of Indian cricket, the likes of Lala Amarnath and CK Nayudu.
“Indian cricket has to be forever grateful to Lala Amarnath and CK Nayudu. Their dashing cricket won the hearts of the Indian cricket lover and helped make it more popular among the masses. Who can forget the sixes that Col CK Nayudu hit and the chanceless century by Lalaji in his first Test. He was the first Indian to hit a century in Test cricket,” he said.
India had not played a Test match for more than 10 years owing to the war.
‘No One Had an ill Word for GRV’
While Kapil Dev got the distinction of being the pied piper, Gavaskar named Gunndappa Viswanath as the greatest batsman of his generation. In 91 Test matches, Viswanath, who had struck a century on his Test debut, aggregated 6,080 runs at a healthy average of 41.93.
“GR Viswanath was the greatest batsman of my generation. Vishy conjured shots with strong wrists, which had even the opposition bowlers and fielders applaud with their mouth open in sheer awe. When Vishy got a century, India never lost that Test match. Nobody else in the world had that distinction. Truly, if there’s one man for whom no one has an ill word to say, that is GRV,” he added.
“The late 90s saw many a big name in the sport lured by the prospect of easy money to do things that they pretty certain regret today. Suddenly with this revelation, Indian cricket lost credibility when people began to suspect every game and player,” Gavaskar said.
“What was needed at this stage was a team of players who had impeccable reputations and fortunately, India had them in Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly to name a few.”
‘India – A Team to Be Feared’
Under Sourav Ganguly, now the BCCI President, India had reached the World Cup final for the second time in 2003, albeit failed to repeat the feat that Gavaskar & Co had achieved 20 years back.
However, there wasn’t a sour aftertaste for long as just eight years later; India lifted the World Cup under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whose ice-cool temperament Gavaskar said “was the envy of all”.
Dhoni stepped down from leadership in phases – first from the Test format in 2014 and then from limited-overs in January 2017 – with current skipper Virat Kohli taking in the reins.
“If Dhoni was Captain Cool with the temperament that was the envy of all, he was followed by a young man who was all fire. His batting is worth travelling miles to see, as also his other teammate Rohit Sharma. And with a bowling attack capable of bowling teams out on any surface, India is a team to be feared not just at home but overseas as well.”Sunil Gavaskar, on the Indian team
“During all this period of course, came a disrupt as the moderns like to call it — the IPL. It changed the dynamics totally. And with the moolah being raked in, India’s clout grew. Suddenly, India was where everybody wanted to be. And India was the team, everybody wanted to invite to their countries,” Gavaskar signed off.
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