Thursday, July 25, 2024

‘I am what I am because of cricket’

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Mumbai: The original ‘Little Master’ of Indian cricket turns a sprighty 75 today. Through the years, he’s faced some of the fiercest fast bowlers without a helmet, earned respect for India with his feats, become an iconic commentator and never stopped loving the game. And when he does get some time, he loves nothing more than inspiring a new generation of cricketers. It helps him stay relevant even in 2024.

Sunil Gavaskar in action during third day of the 5th Test match against West Indies, in Kolkata on December 12, 1983. (Getty Images)

Excerpts from a conversation with the legend:

Milestones are a big part of cricket. You are touching one such in real life with your 75th birthday. How does that feel?

When I was playing, I didn’t even know when I would reach 75. On 50, people would applaud. When you are closer to 100, there would be anticipation. With 75, if you guys wouldn’t tell me, I wouldn’t even know that I have touched 75.

The Indian cricket team has given you the ideal birthday gift with the T20 World Cup…

Oh, I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift than what Rohit Sharma and his boys gave me. I am still on a high. People ask me if I am over the moon. No, I am still in orbit. The consistency they showed even in the ODI World Cup and now again. Any team that plays that well has to be the best. And it’s India’s team. My team, your team.

Unlike today, the Indian cricket board wasn’t strong during your playing days. It was almost intimidating for many players, but you always took a stand…

It wasn’t easy because you were given pitches which were so much in favour of fast bowlers. Therefore, today when they complain about spin-friendly pitches, it makes me laugh. People quickly forget. Now we have quick bowlers, so such pitches aren’t prepared. Even then, once Kapil came along, they were forced to think. But when you were playing for India, you wouldn’t want to take a backward step in a confrontation. We wouldn’t initiate but we gave it back. We were a post-independent generation and there was no awe of the British or the Australians. There was admiration when they played well.

Can you tell us what explains your zest for life at 75?

I am what I am because of cricket. I still love watching others play and to be able to talk about the game is a blessing. The moment I find it tedious to watch, I will stop. But for now, I still look forward to new magic from a Jasprit Bumrah or a batter, every time I go to a stadium.

You have spent double the time commentating than your playing days. How have you stayed relevant for so long?

As the game has evolved with T20 cricket, you have to look at it from a completely different perspective. There are no quiet overs in T20 cricket unless you have a bowler like a Bumrah. Again, with Bumrah, every ball is an event – a bouncer, a slower yorker, a quick yorker, incoming ball, outgoing ball. It keeps you on your toes and involved with the game as it unfolds. I am fascinated by the shots that the boys play – the scoop, the ramp, the switch hit. I know that a lot of people of my generation don’t like T20. But I absolutely love it for the entertainment it provides. That’s why I feel comfortable commentating in that format as well.

England tried to play some of these shots in Test cricket too, which didn’t work in India. But you seemed to have enjoyed it, while it lasted…

Because they were playing a different brand of cricket. Yes, they found a match in an India team who had learnt their lessons after the first Test of the last series. They were not able to implement it. But while they were at it, it was entertaining. It was like going all guns blazing even when you are about to be knocked over.

When you look at Test cricket only India, England and Australia play five-Test series. Is that half glass full or empty for test cricket?

I look at it as half full. Because only these countries today have the talent, energy and resources to play all formats of the game. The other boards don’t quite have the wherewithal. Today, it’s only when these countries play, Test cricket excites you.

We saw the reception India’s World Cup winners got last week in Mumbai. Does it amaze you watching the love that the Indian cricket fan gives?

Cricket is one sport that has been in hearts of Indians all these years. The videos I saw, to see the common man brave the weather just to see the bus which was carrying the players, it was heartwarming. It’s a blessing for Indian cricket from above. When we came back after the 1971 win against England, our celebration was more subdued. The 2007 T20 World Cup celebration was great. After the 2011 ODI World Cup win, the streets of Mumbai were choker blocked, a good 4-5 hours after the win.

Can you tell us something about your philanthropic work over the years…

I am involved heavily for the Heart To Heart foundation where we do free surgeries on children suffering from congenital heart problems, most of whom come from financially challenged sectors. Our success rate is almost 99 percent. The other is the CHAMPS foundation where we have been helping those Olympians who have had to struggle financially after retirement.

Everyone is waiting for your book on the technical side of cricket?

(Laughing) The technique from early days…I mean it’s still there but there have been new layers which have been added. Somebody who has played all these formats, today can write. Maybe Sachin (Tendulkar) can write.

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