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The link between Gavaskar and Tendulkar was world No. 1 too

The elegant and gutsy Vengsarkar was the hope-provider for the the Indian team in the latter part of the 1980s

In sport, being able to do what needs to be done shows character; knowing how to do it calls for technique. If a player has a less-than-perfect technique, he can often make up for it with strength of character, but the finest technique in the world cannot be a substitute for what coaches call ‘heart’. When the going gets tough, to borrow a cliché, the tough get going.

As a schoolboy, I was often told by older fans: As long as Sunil Gavaskar is at the crease, there is hope for India. Not necessarily the hope of winning, but of escaping with a draw at least.

Different generations have their own bulwarks: Vijay Hazare, and later, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Not surprisingly, to a popular question on the social media recently — who will you pick to bat for your life? — the answer has been one of these players, depending on the vintage of the person responding.

Stars of the decades

Hazare retired in the 1950s, and Gavaskar made his debut in 1970, which implies that for a whole generation, there was no similar figure in the Indian team. The 60s was the decade of the dashers, the Tiger Pataudis, Engineers, Kunderans, Jaisimhas, and Durranis.

A possible candidate for hope-provider might have been Vijay Manjrekar, but he belonged to the 50s, and retired halfway through the 60s, the decade India were whitewashed in England, Australia and the West Indies.

The man whose career overlapped Gavaskar’s and Tendulkar’s, Dilip Vengsarkar, had a heart as big as any who played for India. He was the link between the two, ensuring continuity of the Mumbai school where batsmen placed a high premium on their wickets. They loved to occupy the crease. The occasional outlier was quickly spoken to by the elders.

What a start!

Yet, it was a swashbuckling century that elevated Vengsarkar into the Indian team. In the Irani Trophy at Nagpur he hit a spate of sixes against Bishan Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna. Something of the upright, straight-hitting batsman’s manner rekindled memories of that other six-hitter Colonel C.K. Nayudu. The then 19-year old was dubbed ‘Colonel’, a nickname he didn’t particularly like.

Those expecting Vengsarkar to continue in international cricket as he had begun in the domestic failed to take into account that he played for the same club as Gavaskar, and a long line of hereditary breach-fixers.

In Vengsarkar’s first Test, Gavaskar made a century, and in his final one, Tendulkar did so. But Vengsarkar was more than a supporting act, and in one sequence in the 1980s, made 1668 runs at an average of 104 (eight centuries, including the last of his three at Lord’s) and earned his spot as ICC’s No. 1 batsman in the world. He played 94 Tests alongside Gavaskar, a Dravid to the opening batsman’s Tendulkar and just as crucial to the eleven.

Taking on the Windies pacers

His six centuries against the fearsome West Indies fast bowlers at their peak were second only to Gavaskar’s. In the final Test there during the 1983 tour, he made 94, and yet in the home series against Pakistan which followed he was dropped for the first Test.

Vengsarkar and I watched that match together in Bengaluru; he was upset, but knew he would be back for the next series, against the West Indies with Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Winston Davis.

“When the big boys come, I will be picked again,” he said. He was right. He made two centuries in the series. Vengsarkar was an automatic choice against the big boys, but often had to make way for flat-track bullies in lesser home series.

There was an elegance about his batting, his driving on the on-side inviting comparison with Greg Chappell at his best; he could pull and hook too, and occasionally took the ball on his body if the alternative was playing it near the close-in fielders.

In his peak season, he made an amazing 166 on a track in Cuttack which had been accidentally over-watered. Only one other batsman made a fifty in the match.

In the latter part of the 1980s, as Gavaskar’s career wound down, Vengsarkar was the hope-provider in the Indian team. Centuries at Lord’s and Leeds gave India their first series win in England 15 years after the summer of 1971.

Technical acumen

All his centuries abroad came in England where he was initially expected to cause worry because of his occasional manner of squaring up to the medium pacer. But he played the ball late, his stillness in stance merely preparation for the spring to follow. It was a fine lesson in control, and allowed him the luxury of time and timing.

The generation that followed pushed Vengsarkar’s heroics into the background. But he would have walked into that middle-order too. You could pick him to bat for your life.

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Printable version | Jul 15, 2020 8:01:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/the-link-between-gavaskar-and-tendulkar-was-world-no-1-too/article31732292.ece

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