Thursday, September 2, 2010

Re-evaluating Gavaskar, the one-day batsman

No one talks about Sunil Gavaskar's one day international career, and the one innings that does get spoken about casts him in horribly unflattering light. That 36 not out has come to define his one-day career, which I think is unfortunate. By no means was his limited-overs career a progression of stodgy knocks that drove everyone insane.

His numbers, certainly, were no worse than most opening batsmen of his era. He even scored his runs at pretty much the same strike rate as Gordon Greenidge or Desmond Haynes, as these figures would suggest (strike rates of batsmen with a minimum of 25 innings as opener up to 31 December 1989, for innings played at the top of the order).
Which is not to say he was a great one-day batsman. He wasn't. He scored too few hundreds for a start. And he did terribly in the '83 World Cup. But it's unfair to call the 36 not out his defining knock.
So what is Gavaskar's defining one day innings? I've picked two, both of which came in matches that shook Indian cricket. Both times, he was dismissed in the 90s.

The first was at Berbice in 1983, three months before the World Cup win. Gavaskar made 90 against a pace attack containing Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Winston Davis and Malcolm Marshall, and from the platform he, Ravi Shastri and Mohinder Amarnath built, Kapil Dev exploded quite frighteningly to score 72 from 38 balls. India won by 27 runs, and West Indies had been beaten for the first time in a home one day international, portentously by the side that would knock them off their world champion perch.
Three years later, at Sharjah, Gavaskar made 92, out of an Indian total of 245 for seven. The fall of wickets column in the Cricinfo scorecard doesn't mention which over the wickets fell in, so I can't say how long was left when the second wicket fell at 216, but surely India should have finished with a bigger total. Gavaskar, seventh out at 245, clearly wasn't able to force the pace late in the innings.
But in the end, 245 nearly proved enough.

Now, while Javed Miandad's last-ball six has few parallels in limited-overs cricket for drama, I haven't quite understood how this match, the final of a relatively unimportant tournament, has resonated so much among Indian cricket fans, and how there's still so much dissection of Chetan Sharma's last ball. But in any case, this match is seen as the one that changed the equations of India-Pakistan cricket forever.
So coming back to Gavaskar, I see these two as 'defining' innings because they seem to represent his one-day career perfectly. Both times, his efforts were overshadowed, and rightly so, for Kapil's and Miandad's knocks belonged on a different level altogether. A level, perhaps, he wasn't capable of attaining in one-day cricket. But he was present, hovering in the background, a subtle but essential influence.

 Labels: desmond haynes, gordon greenidge, javed miandad, kapil dev, one day internationals, sunil gavaskar

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