Gavaskar@75: More to Sunny than just numbers

Gavaskar@75: More to Sunny than just numbers

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Deeds make a legend. And so it was with Sunil Gavaskar.

He was the Neil Armstrong of cricket, the first to 10,000 Test runs and 30 Test centuries, that too at a time of monster bowling attacks, unneutered wickets, long boundaries and mortal bats unlike the voluptuous 747s of today which ferry even mishits for six.

But there was lots more to Gavaskar than his cricket. He was multi-faceted and interesting, approachable but with the nose just a bit in the air and justifiably so. That is why he has left a fond imprint on Indian consciousness, especially those who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s.

For one, Gavaskar started writing early. His first book, ‘Sunny Days’, was published in 1976, when he was 27, some five years after his sensational debut against the West Indies in 1970-71.

Three more titles followed – ‘Idols’, ‘Runs and Ruins’ and ‘One-day Wonders’. He also wrote newspaper columns while still a player, and continues to do so, along with television commentary.

Regular writing demands some application and depth, especially when you have a high-pressure day job as the country’s foremost batsman. Remember that for much of his career, Gavaskar carried a bulk of the scoring responsibility on his shoulders. That he juggled multiple roles is proof of his abilities to compartmentalise and focus. During earlier times when players and commentators often used the press box for their work or communication, it was not unusual to find Gavaskar seeking out a quiet corner to pen his columns.

Gavaskar’s playing career ran parallel to the growth of Indian mass media and consumerism. The 1970s and 1980s were the era of the Four Horsemen of not the apocalypse but the Media Age - print, radio, an exciting new entrant called television, and advertising. Not only were Gavaskar’s feats broadcast through journalism, he was also the top choice to endorse brands - grooming products, men’s fashion, cola, sports gear, pretty much the whole enchilada. A running joke was no spot on the real estate of Gavaskar’s attire was free for another logo.

A fan of movies, Gavaskar enjoyed the opportunity to channel the dramatist within through commercials. And he took it further by playing a lead role in a Marathi film called ‘Saavli Premachi’ and cameos in some Hindi ones such as ‘Maalamal’, starring Naseeruddin Shah and Poonam Dhillon.

Both films were box office duds but they added to Gavaskar’s entertainment quotient.

While Gavaskar enjoys a good laugh, with impressions and story-telling being his forte, he has been no-nonsense about his work ethic, building his businesses and speaking up about issues concerning cricket.

He fought for better financial security for Indian cricketers and once declined the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) membership after a curt steward at Lord’s stopped him from entering the ground. For 25 years, he has been running the CHAMPS Foundation, which assists former Indian sportspersons who have fallen on hard times. At 75, Gavaskar may no longer wield the willow, but remains very much in the middle.

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