When the ancient Greeks met in the market place they discussed philosophy and the higher pursuits of life. When the Romans met, affairs of the State were said to have kept them occupied. When Indians meet, the topic of discussion is not easily predicted but when two great Indian cricketers meet what could they talk about except cricket? And so it was at the Master’s badminton in Bombay — two men with sports foremost on their minds had a pow-wow.
Vijay Merchant, who began a tradition of technically sound opening batting has seen it kept up by a master batsman who was to outdo him in the – matter of going out to bat throughout his career when the bowlers were fresh and the ball was new — Sunil Gavaskar.
The difference: Openers, Jack Fingleton said, are gloomy men. He was one who knew what a lead it was having carried out that task even in the bodyline series. Jack Fingleton’s dictum might not apply to Sunil Gavaskar who is a chirpy and loquacious fellow off the field. It was said of Vijay Merchant that he was not far off Fingleton’s description in his playing days.
Vijay Merchant was pertinacious about matters affecting his batting and his performance on the field. He was a fierce believer in the individual rights of national cricketers and time and again fought the administration. As captain, Gavaskar played a similar role in later years in an age of cricketing commerce in which recompense is measured out reluctantly despite the burgeoning revenues.
The similarity: There must always be similarities in the careers of remarkable batsmen as there are in Vijay Merchant and Sunil Gavaskar’s case. On many occasions, Merchant represented India’s biggest hope on all wickets and against all opposition. Whenever he fell there was panic in the ranks. Gavaskar has been that too for a substantially longer period and times of greater exposure to Test cricket and its travails.
On a somewhat premature retirement from international cricket, Vijay Merchant, a scion of a wealthy textile family, espoused various social causes and is now the benefactor of the handicapped. Gavaskar might be nursing other ambitions. Given the openings, he might look into the possibilities of a stint in politics. In many ways, he has been a leader of the modern cricketing movement and he fancies himself as a leader of higher causes.