In my school in Surat, boys were split between the Kapil Dev loyalists (on top after he led India to the 1983 World Cup win) and the Sunil Gavaskar loyalists.
I preferred Gavaskar though I was a bowler. He was a writer and that interested me. He was articulate in print (his dull, stammering style of commentary was still in the future) and his first two books, Sunny Days and Runs ‘N Ruins, were first rate.
Kapil was inarticulate and frankly, not of the quality that Gavaskar was. I watched the opener master the West Indies attack when fast-bowling meant something different than it does today. Of all his qualities, Gavaskar’s stand out one was his courage. There were other batsmen with as much talent as him — the Chappell brothers, Viv and Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock, Geoffrey Boycott, Clive Lloyd and Pakistan’s Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad.
But none of them, whether through lack of opportunity (in the case of the South Africans and Viv Richards and Lloyd) or determination, have as good a record against the world’s greatest bowling attack as Gavaskar did.
In their careers, played at more or less the same time, Miandad averaged 29 against the West Indies and Zaheer Abbas only 18. I suspect Sachin Tendulkar would not have done well either, against the battery of Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Colin Croft, Wayne Daniel and Patrick Patterson. Gavaskar, without a helmet, averaged 65 against the most feared attack in history and took 13 centuries off them.
Over the years, especially after he retired, I knew that my hero was not perfect. There was the episode, 13 or so years ago, of cash found in his locker at Bombay Gymkhana. The newspaper I was then editing initially went slow on the story because its chairman was Gavaskar’s friend.
But his courage was intact. In his writing, he took on the hallowed Lord’s and the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). After the Indian Premier League (IPL) began, the Mumbai Mirror reported that Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri were on contract with the BCCI. They were being paid INR36 million a year, and this money was separate from their commentary and column writing contracts. So what are they being paid for? Kunal Pradhan, who originally reported the story, wrote this comment for the Economic Times, explaining the deal:
“In simple terms, the contracts mean that what you hear from Gavaskar and Shastri on TV and in their newspaper columns may not always be their own opinion, but often what the BCCI wants them to say. In the garb of professional media men, they act as spokesmen of the BCCI, protecting its interests on contentious issues such as the Decision Review System, and by highlighting umpiring mistakes that go against the Indian team while brushing aside those that go against the opposition.”
One of them, I think it was Shastri, defended this contract by saying it helped them see both sides. Does their behaviour validate this? Let’s have a look.
A couple of weeks ago, a scandal erupted in the IPL, the tournament that makes the BCCI the world’s richest cricketing body. Gavaskar’s response to player corruption and fixing in the IPL was to say: “I don’t understand how you can blame an organisation for what some individuals do. The BCCI does not have control over these players 24 hours in a day and for 365 days. It is just like any other organisation, there will be some bad people and you cannot blame that organisation. Everybody is going very harshly at the IPL just because three players out of a possible 270 have been caught so far, indulging in illegal activities.”
A few days later, the BCCI president’s son-in-law was named as one of those involved. At such a time, Gavaskar chose to write his column on the pressing matter of the intemperate language used by Australian player David Warner.
Gavaskar’s silence is shameful. He has become an embarrassment to his fans of decades and as I said, I am one of them. I am sorry to feel this, but I should have been with the Kapil Dev wallahs instead.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2013.
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