When Sunny rose in the West

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March 6 — marks 47 years since the original Little Master made his Test debut against the West Indies in the Caribbean. We look through our archives to see how big a deal it was back then.

Sunil Manohar Gavaskar has never been a stranger when it comes to dealing with rocky starts and then going on to completely turn his fortunes around.

He was almost switched at birth with a Koli fisherwoman's child and if not for the intervention of his maternal uncle Madhav Mantri — who’d noticed little Sunny had a small mole near his ear (some stories say it was on his bottom, but we'll go with this version) — he'd have been throwing fishing nets, and possibly setting hauling records in the Arabian Sea.

Mantri, a former cricketer who'd donned the national cap for India in the 60s, later happened to be a selector for Bombay's Ranji Trophy squad. And this was enough ammunition for his earliest critics to shoot their mouths off when Gavaskar, despite making a duck in his Ranji debut in 1968 against Karnataka, was retained for the next match against Rajasthan. He responded with a 114.

He had a few minor hiccups now and then but in the run-up to fulfilling his dream of being picked for the Indian team, the Bombay lad tumbled record after record.

It can be said 1971 was the year that changed everything for Gavaskar. A peek into The Hindu's archives charts his rise as the opener that India needed — and deserved — for their upcoming tour of the Caribbean.

January 5, 1971:

January 5, 1971

S. M. Gavaskar to-day served one more reminder on the Indian Test selectors with a classic, chanceless 327, which overshadowed a 12-year-old record held by A. L. Wadekar.

January 7, 1971:

A column by The Hindu's special correspondent in Bombay predicts the probables for the West Indies tour and says:

January 7, 1971

Gavaskar stands better chances than others [under consideration]. Gavaskar bats in the real Bombay mien and is currently amassing runs In the Inter-university championship. His defence, his ability to hit the loose ball and his cock-sure manner all go to strengthen his claim as a batsman with a bright future.

January 8, 1971:

Gavaskar scores 134 for Bombay University against Poona and effectively seals his dream spot in the national team. On the same day Ajit Wadekar is chosen to lead the Indian team to W. Indies.

January 18, 1971:

An enthusiastic reader writes in to The Hindu saying:

January 18, 1971

The selection of the Indian cricket team to tour West Indies has at last been made, relieving the suspense for many cricket lovers, The selectors must be presented with bouquets … for recalling the veterans ... and rewarding youngsters like Gavaskar ...

February 3, 1971:

The Indian cricket team arrives in Jamaica to begin a 11-week tour of the West Indies, one day behind schedule after missing the plane connection in New York a day earlier.

February 3, 1971

The touring party meanwhile already has a casualty; promising opening batsman S M. Gavaskar has an infected finger, which had to be lanced at the John F Kennedy airport in New York yesterday.

February 3, 1971

The Doctor, who performed the minor operation, feared that Gavaskar would not be fit to play for at least a fortnight, a period which takes in the start of the first Test, to be played at Sabina Park from February 18. The Indians last toured the West Indies in 1962 when they lost all five Test matches

Remember the part about Gavaskar and inauspicious starts?

February 11, 1971:

February 11, 1971

Gavaskar, the opening batsman who arrived in the West Indies with an infected finger, has recovered but has been advised not to play for at least another three days.

February 18-23, 1971:

West Indies vs India (1st Test Match), Sabina Park, Kingston

Dilip Sardesai hits 212 in contribution to India's 387 but Rohan Kanhai counters it with a 56 and 158. The match ends in a draw. Gavaskar misses out on what could have been a promising debut.

March 6-10, 1971

West Indies vs India (2nd Test Match), Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain

Gavaskar makes his first Test-match appearance on Day Two, puts up 68 runs for the first wicket along with Mankad.

March 7, 1971

Gavaskar, who played a number of aggressive shots including a perfect hook off Shillingford should have been out when he was on 12, but Sobers failed to take, a snick at the second-slip off Holder.

What was that about Gavaskar and bad starts again?

On Day Three:

March 8, 1971

Gavaskar, who has been on 65 for quite some time, made a rash stroke hooking the off-spinner straight into the hands of Lloyd at square-leg and then Wadekar playing back edged him into the hands of Kanhai fielding in slips. Gavaskar's 65 made in 262 minutes included seven 4's.

On Day Five, history is made — India scripts its first ever Test victory against the powerful West Indies.

March 10, 1971

For Gavaskar, the baby of the team, this was a glorious debut in Test cricket … [he] played undauntedly and achieved the distinction of hitting the stroke that brought India victory for the first time against the West Indies.

March 19-24, 1971:

West Indies vs India (3rd Test Match), Bourda, Georgetown

Gavaskar makes his appearance with his willow on day two of the third test at Georgetown. The host has piled up 363 runs and he is dropped twice. On day three (a rain-affected play), he makes sure they pay for it.

March 20, 1971

Sobers turned on the heat in an effort to bring West Indies back into the match. Gavaskar, however, played handsome, confident shots and denied West Indies' hope of making further inroads into the Indian batting.

Sobers finally manages to dislodge him for 116. The Windies skipper and his batsman C. Davis each manage to score a ton and the match ends in a draw.

April 1-6, 1971:

West Indies vs India (4th Test Match), Kensington Oval, Bridgetown

A nervous start to Gavaskar’s innings once again as he is dismissed for just one run, but Dilip Sardesai comes to the rescue with his 150. But would it be enough to counter Windies’ 501/5 and declaration of 180/6? The final day went something like this:

April 7, 1971

The Indian team which has been able to find a hero in every match so far will go to Trinidad for the final Test one-up against the West Indies. The hero this time was Gavaskar who played a magnificent, dedicated and authoritative innings to make the match safe for his team yesterday.


S. M. Gavaskar (not out) 117

April 13-18, 1971:

West Indies vs India (5th Test Match), Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain

Gavaskar on Day One is reported to have “had seven boundaries in his 47” and “batted soundly.”

On Day Two, he is dismissed for 124.

April 14, 1971

Gavaskar, who has plagued the West Indies bowling throughout the tour, was again in great form.” He has amassed 554 runs in the series already and is just shy of an all-time record.

By Day Four (in his second innings), he takes it a few notches further up.

April 17, 1971

India's pint-sized opening batsman, to-day joined a select band of cricketers who have scored two centuries in a Test match.

And more:

Day Six witnesses Gavaskar in his prime, as he made the last day of the Test memorable by achieving the distinction of scoring a double-century following his century in the first innings and almost ensuring India's victory in the series.

April 20, 1971

The diminutive Indian opening batsman finished the Test series with an aggregate of 774 runs in eight innings and an average of 154.80. This is the second best average for a series in Test history, bettered only by Sir Donald Bradman's figure of 201.50 for Australia against South Africa in 1931-32.

Oh, wait and before you forget …

April 20, 1971

Gavaskar's achievement is all the more creditable as he had not played until the tour was three weeks old. He missed the opening two matches as well as the first Test. Later he skipped the match against Guayana.

The Hindu’s special sports correspondent, in the aftermath of the series, writes that he had observed Gavaskar with his keen eye during his first first-class match in Bombay:

April 20, 1971

As any youngster of this place (Bombay), he was keen and businesslike, revealed a compact style, concentration in defence and the inclination to punish the half-volley. He was also a study while at the runner's place, leaning on the bat on his right left-arm akimbo, reminding one of the picture of the famous Herbert Sutcliffe portrayed by Cardus.

Remember Mantri uncle, who spotted Gavaskar correctly after the latter’s birth? He gets a mention too in the same column:

“Nobody should be more happy now than M. K. Mantri, former Test cricketer and selector. Gavaskar's uncle who had seen the young man grow up in the game from the cradle as it were.”

Ajit Wadekar advised Gavaskar: "keep your head and you will join Ranjitsinhji, Merchant, Hazare and other Indian Immortals".

It's garland for history-making Indian cricketer Sunil Gavaskar at the end of the fifth cricket Test match against the West Indies at Port of Spain, Trinidad on April 19, 1971.

And before he was to tour England next, Gavaskar’s reputation (and his size) was firmly established, as we can see it in Norman Yardley’s column for The Hindu on June 24, 1971:

“India's new batting star (he flew in on Saturday with his teammates for the second three-Test series of the summer) is an opener, Gavaskar is smaller than Lancashire's lamous H. Filling, I suppose you might call him a mini star. But there has been nothing "mini" about his performances.”

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