Sir Len Hutton’s Views on Sunil Gavaskar – One of the real joys of regular Test cricket is the opportunity to study at close hand the master batsmen and bowlers of the world and, in later years, I have watched them with equal fascination from the press box. Rhodes’s ultimate accolade was to say quietly: This chap is a very good player. One to have won his ungrudging admiration would surely have been Sunil Gavaskar.
I have a feeling that if he had been born English or Australian, many of the better judges would have been tempted to bracket him with Don Bradman. Sunil Gavaskar is not as good as Don Bradman, but very close, which automatically puts him in the very highest class of batsmen of all time. He is a small, compact man, thicker set than Bradman, but of a similar height, and, like all the true champions, can play off both feet with equal facility.
He uses a medium-weight bat and hits the ball hard enough with precise accuracy to beat the fieldsman, but not hard enough to knock it out of shape. He cuts, pulls, and drives the half-volley beautifully, often through mid-wicket, and to back his natural accomplishments, he has the concentration, willpower, and temperament of a record-breaker. I admire too, the positive and quick movements of his feet and the almost feline grace with which he gets into position with the bouncer.
I have had the good fortune to have seen many memorable double centuries in Test matches, and Gavaskar’s 221 at the Oval in 1979 should, at the very least, be bracketed with Stan McCabe’s 232 at Trent Bridge and Wally Hammond’s 240 at Lord’s, particularly bearing in mind the important fact that India started their second innings in the seemingly impossible position of needing 438 runs in 500 minutes to win.
They reached 429 for 8, and I am tempted to think, thanks mainly to Sunil Gavaskar. India’s cricket came of age during that tense and gripping last day. For once English partisanship was abandoned as half the country longed for India to win. Sunil Gavaskar was by far the best batsman of either side in the series — and England had Geoff Boycott, Graham Gooch, and David Gower — and at his peak was undeniably the world’s leading No. 1 batsman. Bombay is a far cry from Pudsey, but I see a lot of myself in Gavaskar’s early years. The same irrepressible forces drew us to cricket.
We came under its spell almost as soon as we could walk, and Sunil Gavaskar broke records at every level, including becoming the first Indian to score 5000 Test runs, and the first of his double centuries for India came in only his fourth test. In four Tests in the West Indies, he scored 774 runs — and that in his maiden series. At thirteen he scored a century in a Bombay schools’ tournament, and a year later was in the Air-India schools’ competition.
Some of my generations might stand by Vijay Merchant as India’s greatest, and Alec Bedser insists he remains the finest Indian batsman he has seen on all types of pitches, with none from overseas better in difficult English conditions. But I do not think in my span of playing and watching I have seen a better Indian batsman than Sunil Gavaskar, who probably had more relish for the big score than Merchant, as well as having a technique that gave bowlers less chance.
Certainly, Gavaskar has a model technique. If I were to recommend a schoolboy to copy a modern master, I would go for Sunil Gavaskar rather than Viv Richards who, though a great player in every sense, depends enormously on his eagle eye.