Without any shadow of doubt, Sunil Gavaskar has perhaps been the greatest Indian batsman of all times, notwithstanding the iconic status of Sachin Tendulkar and now Virat Kohli. On Saturday, the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) honoured this legend at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on the occasion of the 50th year of his debut in Test Cricket in the West Indies.

Young Gavaskar had created a sensation by hitting a double century and three centuries in his first series against some of the most renowned players of the game. This phenomenal opening batsman achieved what no other Indian cricketer had achieved and was proclaimed as the discovery of the decade. Gavaskar’s exploits did not end and he faced the ferocity of bowlers such as Wesley Hall, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Vanburn Holder, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Bob Willis, to name a few. The most distinguishing feature of his batting was that he scored runs on dangerous pitches by sheer technique; he did not use any protective head gear and his reflexes never let him down while he coped with high velocity deliveries from these speedsters. Sunny Bhai, as he was called by his fans, never let them down and I recall how I would be listening to the radio commentary when India was playing in the West Indies despite the fact that the Board examinations for class eleventh were on. In fact, Gavaskar’s debut in the series was two days before another historic sporting event; the highly billed heavyweight boxing clash between two titans, Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier, took place at the Madison Square Garden in New York on 8 March 1971. Ali lost the bout by a unanimous decision but made several comebacks to be billed as the Greatest.

Gavaskar had by his outstanding performance in the Caribbean announced his arrival in style as well. In a team led by Ajit Wadekar, the first salvo was fired by the inimitable Dilip Sardesai, who in fact ushered in the renaissance of Indian cricket on which others built. The side had some exceptional players such as Salim Durrani and E.A.S. Parsanna but the series clearly belonged to Gavaskar. The reason why I hail him as the greatest Indian batsman is that I have seen many others bat for the country as well. Sachin, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and before them Gundappa Vishwanath were unique and gifted players. However, going by sheer technique, no one could be compared to the original Little Master. I recall seeing the battle between Malcolm Marshal at his peak and Sunny Gavaskar at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground in 1983 when this wizard of the game slammed his 29th Test century, equaling the record of Donald Bradman. No player had been able to do that before him and it was a tribute to his cricketing skills that Gavaskar not only went past that magic figure but laid the foundation for many after him to cross that milestone.

Sunil Gavaskar is a successful commentator and his expert opinion always provides a different perspective. Thank You, Sunny Bhai, for being there for Indian cricket.

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