Mumbai: India’s tour of the West Indies in 1970-71 not only established the legend of Sunil Gavaskar but also gave a glimpse of the ‘Little Master’s’ grit and determination as he played through a painful toothache to save a Test match and helped India seal their first series victory against the mighty Caribbean side.
On the occasion of his 73rd birthday recently, Sunil Gavaskar went down memory lane, recalling his battles with the West Indies in the latest episode of CRED’s ‘The Long Game Series’.
In the series that brings fans closer to the stars, Gavaskar recalled instances like India’s Test series win, his debut Test and the toothache that boosted his aggression against the West Indies.
Ill-fated water jug
In the latest episode of ‘The Long Game’, Gavaskar opens up on how an ill-fated water jug managed to make his match so much tougher.
“On the eve of that last Test match in the West Indies in Port of Spain, after a practice session, I am trying to drink water from my jug, and bits of ice got into the cavity of my tooth and it was so painful!” recalled Gavaskar.
“But because there was a Test match to be played and we were already 1-0 up, and this became a very crucial Test match, and I wanted to be a part of the Indian team. The manager of the team forbade me from taking any sleeping tablets or any painkillers and anything that is likely to affect your reflexes, make you a little bit sleep(y). ‘(It) is something I’m not going to give you’. So, which meant I had not even (to) think about the pain.”
The Little Master said it was the sense of pride one feels playing for the country that made him endure the excruciating pain and bat India to safety, helping them draw the match and win the series. Gavaskar, just 22 at that time, scored a century in both the innings — 127 in the first and a majestic 220 in the second — as the Indians thwarted the hosts’ attempts to win the fifth Test and draw the series.
Playing for your country
“But that’s what happens when you’re playing for your country. You tend to forget any externals, any pain, or any other things that could happen to you. Because playing for your country is the ultimate. And that is what kept me going because I realised I was the one in form, and the team needed me. I managed to go on for five days, and when I got out in the second innings, where I got a double hundred… that’s when the manager immediately sent me to the dentist and he extracted the tooth.
“So by the time I actually came back, India was in a very good position. So I was there, to see the match end in a draw, which meant that India with its 1-0 win, went on to win a series against the West Indies for the first time ever. It was a joyful moment for all of us, a very, very proud moment for all of us. But with it came the added pressure of expectations,” Gavaskar recalled about the series.
Playing through pain not only helped Gavaskar shape India’s fortunes but also establish his status as the best batter in the world, who went on to become the first cricketer to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket.
In the episode of ‘The Long Game’, Gavaskar also recalled his uncle Madhav Mantri’s refusal to allow him to wear his India caps fuelled his cricketing aspirations.
“So, my uncle, Madhav Mantri played four Test matches for India in the 1950s. So I used to go with my mother to visit his house, and in his cupboard, I saw lots of caps, lots of jumpers. So one day I asked him, ‘you got so many caps, can I have one of these caps’. And he said to me ‘No’. Yes, I have lots of caps but no you can’t have it because I’ve earned every single one of them. So you earn your own cap, and that is when you will be very proud having earned that. That cap will mean a lot more to you if you get it out of your own sweat and toil’, and that is something that stuck with me.”
That was the reason why Gavaskar did not wear his India cap till his debut Test despite having it in his bag since the start of the series.
“So even when I was given the India cap as a touring party member to the West Indies, I didn’t wear that cap for almost 3-4 weeks till I actually was selected to play for India in the Test match.
“And the day I was selected to play, the day I entered the field as a Test match player was the first time I wore that cap. That cap was in my bag for almost 3 to 4 weeks,” Gavaskar recalled.