A long-running fan-and-superstar relationship

The main motivator for the teens to undertake this ‘dangerous’ mission was to be up close and personal with an amazing new kid in town: the 21-year-old Sunil Gavaskar.

By Rajeev Khanna

Published: Thu 11 Mar 2021, 11:57 PM

Comparisons are really no good in sport, especially if it is a comparison between different eras and generations, for there are so many variables that come into play, starting from the quality of the opposition to playing conditions – Sunil Gavaskar

Many moons ago —to be precise, 50 years ago — a group of naughty but enthusiastic teens bunked school and took a long and exciting bus ride. They were heading for the famous Brabourne Stadium in (then) Bombay (now Mumbai).

Their mission was to watch the Indian cricket team’s practice session. The team was about to set off to the West Indies on a historic cricket tour. The main motivator for the teens to undertake this ‘dangerous’ mission was to be up close and personal with an amazing new kid in town: the 21-year-old Sunil Gavaskar.

Sitting on the concrete steps of the North Stand, under a hot sun, was about the closest we could get to Sunny Gavaskar. There wasn’t an iota of a chance for us to get his autograph that day. We waited patiently for two whole hours, watching Dilip Sardesai, Abbas Ali Baig, Farokh Engineer, ML Jaisimha, Salim Durrani at the nets, playing out their sessions. Finally, Sunny showed up, short in stature with a long curly mop of hair. He was so well balanced at the crease. We were simply awestruck and every time he played, the sound of the bat on ball was akin to the sound of a bullet out of a high-caliber rifle, which echoed through the vast empty North Stand of Brabourne.

50 years on, I can visualise it all like it happened yesterday. That was the impact Little Master Gavaskar had on young teens like me back then. The years rolled by, until one day in the month of March 1985, I finally had the good fortune of meeting the great man in person. Over an interactive lunch with Sunny, I developed a long-running ‘fan-and-superstar’ relationship.

Sunny was then on a tour, playing at the popular Sharjah Stadium. The following day India played against Pakistan and what a disappointing start it was. India was bowled out for 125 with the mighty Pakistani all-rounder Imran Khan taking six Indian wickets for 14 runs. This included my favourite Sunny, caught behind for a score of two. However, when Pakistan came out to bat, they were in turn shot out for 87 runs with Gavaskar taking four superb catches. It was clearly a memorable game.

Over the years, every time Sunil visited the UAE, we would always catch up with him, either over a beverage or a meal. The best meeting was when I invited him home for dinner a few years ago. It was indeed a pleasure and privilege to host him.

Sunny’s narration of his experiences was engrossing. His stupendous successes against the best, most dangerous bowling attacks of the 70s and 80s, the West Indians, were achievements which made him a legend. Most of his centuries were made with no helmets.

On a separate occasion, I had the great pleasure of meeting the famous Vivian Richards, and on asking him his views on facing extreme pace, he said that Sunny was the best. This was because whilst he (Vivian Richards) played in a team which boasted a mighty bowling attack, Sunny had to face the brunt of playing against their bowling Goliaths. So, in his affable Caribbean drawl, he paid a fitting tribute to the legendary Little Master.

Sunny, apart from his incredible talent as a cricketer, has left a deep impact on millions of followers of this wonderful game by being an outstanding ambassador in the world of sports. His polite demeanour, and very personable and warm attitude make him truly exceptional.

Thank you for everything.


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