1983 may have been just another year for most cricket teams. But it was anything but that for India.
In the lexicon of Indian cricket, it signified glory.
It ushered in something never experienced before.
For a nation starving for global recognition, it couldn’t have gotten bigger than winning the World Cup.
The West Indies were reduced to a stunned, motion-less monument in England. Kapil Dev, Srikanth, Shastri, Vengsarkar and co. were everywhere.
For a change, Clive Lloyd’s firm grip didn’t grasp the coveted prize. Yet, that wasn’t all there was to 1983.
In June, India sensed a distinct glory but later that winter, India sensed they had to once again face the ordeal called the West Indies at home.
In another part of the world, at Madras, a distinct world away from the cosmopolitan facelift of Chennai, Sunil Gavaskar had just walked in to bat in the Final Test of the 6-match series facing the West Indies.
It was the final week of the year.
Something somewhere had to go right for India. What about closing the victorious year with a face-saving inning, home fans wondered?
But would it be possible?
There was a great sense to the occasion. The hosts hadn’t just lost the series badly. They had gone down 3-nil.
To make matters worse, Gavaskar arrived into the middle with the scorecard looking glum.
You could throw any more adjectives and it would be a horror show.
Nought for 2 wickets down meant not a run had been amassed on the scorecard.
Could it have been a pretty site, Gaekwad and Vengsarkar out for 0?
And what do we see next?
Around 100 overs later, with Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Winston Davis, and most lethal of them all, Malcolm Marshall huffing and puffing- Gavaskar raised his bat to acknowledge his 30th ton.
He didn’t just strike a hundred; he struck a double. He didn’t just strike a double ton; he struck a daddy hundred.
On a bowler friendly pitch, Madras aiding as much bounce as to facilitate a kangaroo hopping show, Sunil Manohar Gavaskar stuck it out for 425 balls and notched up a valiant 236.
Try the adjectives now, West Indies?
Moreover, Gavaskar was undefeated.
Malcolm Marshall tried to bully him into playing the mistimed hook. Michael Holding tried to dissuade him to play outside the off.
But Gavaskar was India’s greatest monk after Swami Vivekanand that day.
Madras unfurled a mad rush of emotions. Here’s a context to Gavaskar’s incredible tour-de-force.
Sachin Tendulkar’s highest Test score of 248* saw him last for 552 minutes.
Laxman’s dogged 281* came off 631 minutes.
Rahul Dravid’s produced his reservoir of patience off 740 minutes.
But nearly a decade and a half before, Gavaskar had already demonstrated how to carry one’s bat for 644 minutes.
If you need any tribute or garlands of respect to understand just what this man was, break down the stat further.
He actually batted for 26.8 hours on the crease.
At the time the Maharashtrian-warlord was constructing this epic- Kohli, Williamson, Root hadn’t even been conceived by their mothers.
Brian Lara didn’t know the meaning of striking record-breaking scores. Jack Kallis was probably considering backyard cricket. Matt Hayden hadn’t yet discovered the gym and in all certainty, Sachin Tendulkar sported a very different hairstyle.
In the seventies and eighties, the bowlers Gavaskar faced didn’t merely snare at batsmen or sledged them, they detested their techniques, created holes through which bullets could be fired.
Shoaib, McGrath, Lee, Bond, Amir, Johnson, Tait weren’t around.
Gavaskar faced different villains if it must be said.
The likes of Marshall, Lillee, Hadlee, Thompson weren’t experts of bowling fast.
They were masters of the ruthless art called pace-bowling.
And Sunil Gavaskar’s job was to tame the wild beasts.
He was very often, as seen in his 172 at the famous SCG or through the 166 at Adelaide- a hunter as much as he was an artist exhibiting masterstrokes in fantastical exhibitions.
You battle an angry lion knowing well you have a chance when you are a tiger.
But is to become of you when you are thrown in front of a pack of lions?
The predicament facing Gavaskar didn’t end there.
On the one hand, while he had to tame carnivores who encircled him on 22 yards, on the other, he was pitted alongside men who were less of batsmen, more of cannibals. There were geniuses like Lloyd, Kanhai, Kalicharan, Chappell, Botham and the indomitable Sir Vivian Alexander Richards.
Too much for one small man?
But you could say, it didn’t matter to the Indian maestro.
Volatile scenes did only as much as to boost his mojo for scoring runs. And wherever Gavaskar went, runs flew from the bat, albeit often with the Indian facing a battery of hostile pace bowlers.
At some human level, Gavaskar was dealing with the subliminal.
He didn’t have to pop a gum. He didn’t need an elan in his walk. Nor did Sir Sunil Manohar Gavaskar need the brash arrogance of a modern stroke-maker or the cold exuberance of a superstar batsman.
He was simple as a banyan tree. His cover of runs gave shade to an entire team that often rested on his genius in the advent of a no-show by Gaekwad, Shastri, Vengsarkar and, later Siddhu and Kapil.
Lacking the imposing physical embodiments that aid many of our modern cricketers and competing sans that thing called a “grilled” head-protection but loaded with dollops of concentration, Gavaskar applied himself.
And went on to apply himself again and again.
Back then, in an era where cricketers rarely refused to shake hands with one another, having gone daggers drawn on the 22 yards, there roamed a giant called the “Little Master.”