Being one of the greatest cricketers in history would be enough to bowl most people over, but Sunil Manohar Gavaskar is modest about his achievements. Instantly recognisable, the Dubai resident holds a long list of records, including being the first cricketer to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket and the first Indian fielder (excluding wicket-keepers) to take over 100 catches. The first question that comes to mind when you meet the Little Master is what he felt when he scored that magical 10,000th run.
“I believe in keeping my emotional side out of my professional life,’’ he smiles. But the one time he did slip was when he was playing his 124th test match – his penultimate one before he retired – in March 7, 1987.
The venue was the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Sunil was facing Pakistani right-arm bowler Ijaz Faqih who delivered his typical off-breaker, which Sunil nudged past the slips for a single – his 58th – and the entire stadium erupted in applause. With that single, Sunil became the first batsman to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket. Before non-striker batsman Kiran More could walk over to congratulate him, Sunil was dancing down the pitch. “I did a little sprint around the stadium because I was truly overwhelmed with emotion. I felt on top of the world,’’ says the 63-year-old batting wizard. “I shut out my emotional side when I am on the field and concentrate on getting the job done. And I think that’s been extremely helpful in my life.’’
That’s not the only reason Sunil is one of the most highly respected cricketers. He also takes a strong stand against unsportsmanlike behaviour on the field. “In the modern world of commercialisation of the game, the advent of satellite television and the motto of ‘winning at all costs’, sportsmanship has gone for a six,” he says. “Today, although there is a code of conduct, the verbal bouncers go on pretty much unchecked.”
A passionate promoter of sportsmanship, he tells Friday it is a quality that should not be limited to the game of cricket but should be included in all aspects of life. With 30 centuries to his credit and a pithy 16-year cricketing career that includes playing in 125 tests and captaining the Indian cricket team on 47 occasions, Sunil has become a part of cricket folklore around the world. Today, although not on the field, he continues to contribute to the game in several capacities – as a columnist, commentator, and now as brand ambassador of Danube BuildMart’s corporate cricket team – the Danube Lions– the brainchild of managing director Anis Sajan. A former chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC), Sunil has been inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame. He tells Friday about his life on and off the field.
My ambitions kept changing while I was growing up. One moment I wanted to be a pilot, next a doctor, then a scientist... But the moment I played my first Test series in the West Indies at the age of 21 and was chosen to tour England, I knew I wanted to be cricketer. I graduated from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and I believe it’s my education that helped me analyse issues on and off the field better. Education makes one logical, insightful and stops you from having knee-jerk reactions when you are upset or elated.
I think apart from hard work and skill, luck plays a huge part in shaping one’s career. The game has been my greatest teacher and in the 16 years I played in the international arena, I’ve learnt valuable lessons. One of them was about the importance of the entire team and its contribution to the personal victory of a single batsman. For instance, a batsman, no matter how skilful, cannot notch up runs without the cooperation of the batsman at the other end.
As a cricketer, when you are part of the team, what’s really important is playing well and aiming to be on the winning side. When you are out on the field scoring runs, the thing that really makes you feel good is that your effort is helping your team to win the game.
People often ask how the game has changed in the last two decades. I think fundamentally it hasn’t. Essentially the game is still that of a bat and a ball, maybe there are different versions, but what has changed is the intense public scrutiny, the explosion and expansion of the game under the eye of the media that has added to people’s expectations.
When I was growing up, my parents – my mother Minal and my late father Manohar Gavaskar – instilled in me the values of hard work and humility. Discipline in the game I learnt chiefly from my uncle Madhav Mantri who played Test cricket in the early 1950s. Today he is the oldest living Test cricketer at 91.
My parents instilled the importance of a work-play balance in me. I was made aware that studies are very important. I had to be a good student and finish my homework but also make time to play cricket – my passion. In those days, cricket was not a game one could consider pursuing as a serious career. So studies were important.I think this helped as my life became fairly disciplined and structured. I would work hard to be a good student, finish my homework, represent the school in cricket and also play cricket near home in the evening.
I used to visit my uncle Madhav’s house in Dadar. There, I would rummage through his cupboards and admire his collection of beautiful English wool vests, typically worn by cricketers, and beg him to part with one. What he told me still remains in my mind, “These are not to be given. These have to be earned. Work hard as a cricketer and you might get one.” I was about nine at the time and right then I learnt that nothing in life is handed on a platter, you have to earn everything through sheer hard work. Later when I got my own woollen cricket vests, I realised its true value.
Besides cricket, I love light classical music and reading. I have always been a voracious reader and have the ability to concentrate even in the noisiest of rooms. It was the kind of concentration I had on the field.
My favourite people in the world are my wife Marshneil, my son Rohan and his wife Swati. I travel a lot and look forward to the precious hours I get to spend with them at home. The greatest joy of my life are my grandchildren Reya who is seven and Vivaan who’s three.
I had always dreamt of starting a cricket academy and passing on all that I had learnt on field to the future generation of players.
I feel the start of an outdoor cricket team by Danube here in the UAE is a terrific opportunity for all cricket lovers. Dubai has a lot of aspiring cricketers and through this team they will get an opportunity to play the game on a professional level. I only wish other corporate organisations would follow Danube’s example.
In my time playing cricket, all the best players were employees of a corporate organisation. They played cricket in season and when the season was over, they devoted their time to their other work. Perhaps the same sort of example could be emulated here. Cricket is a game that I firmly believe can teach you several positive lessons in life.