Sunil Gavaskar

'I speak from the heart, not the head'

The great Indian opener, 60 today, talks about the game then and now, temperament over technique, sledging, and more

Interview by Ayaz Memon

July 10, 2009

Comments: 44 | Text size: A | A

Sunil Gavaskar watches the World XI at the nets, Melbourne, October 2, 2005
"Some of the old values have gone out of cricket, but it's still a fantastic game" Kristian Dowling / © Getty Images
Enlarge
Related Links
Features : A class act
Features : A craftsman and a legend
Tributes : The importance of Sunny
Players/Officials: Sunil Gavaskar
Teams: India
Gallery: The craftsman

How differently do you see this game at 60 from the way you saw it at 20?
It is different in the sense that there is a much wider following than in the 1960s, when I was growing up. Then it was a majority male following, but now I think it's fairly mixed. You've got women of all ages interested in the game, thanks to the Twenty20 mainly.

Would you have been happier playing today than when you played? With far more money, and fame.
Maybe not, for the simple reason that there was an innocence about the game when I was kid, which is perhaps not quite there now. I think I would prefer the innocence of the game that was there when I was a teenager.

Earlier, cricket was not just a sport. It was also about the great qualities of life it represented. Has there been a fundamental shift in the way people approach the game today?
Not to a great extent. But for instance, when people didn't do the right thing, the saying used was "That's not cricket". Now that does not hold as much water as it did then. Mainly because, I think, the game has become commercial and therefore some of the old values have gone out of it. But it's still a fantastic game. I think it is a far more attractive game to watch from a spectator's point of view.

Has the romance of cricket fallen victim to money?
Well, I guess it's now a win-at-all-cost system. The unpleasant things that happen in the game have come to the fore, so therefore I think in a sense the romance is gone. The appreciation of the game, whether it was by your own team or by the opposition, is not quite so much. You rarely see fielders go up to applaud somebody getting a half-century any more. Players are aware that the TV cameras are on them. So they might have just one clap and that's it - almost as if to say that if you have more than two or three claps for the opposition, then it's a kind of weakness. I don't think that's a correct thing.

Has technique become redundant or superfluous? Look at Virender Sehwag and Adam Gilchrist and the kind of success they have enjoyed. Do you think this is the modern approach to cricket?
I have always believed that technique has never been a huge part of sport. Temperament is your No. 1 thing. You could have the best technique in the world, but if your temperament is bad, you'll be nowhere. While if the temperament is good and you don't have great technique, you will be able to do well. You have the ability inside you which makes you hang in there, makes you go on. That's what separates the men from the boys.

So does approach, upbringing and the attitude towards the game. The difference in the style that you see from the 1950s, 60s or 70s is the upbringing. In those days [you were told] not to hit the ball in the air, not to take risks. Coaches today encourage youngsters to play aerial shots or unorthodox shots, try different things. That is what has made the game so attractive.

What is the biggest issue confronting the game today?
The gap that is developing between some of the Test-playing countries and the others. A few Test-playing countries have developed fantastic cricket, while others have stagnated or gone down. Now that is the biggest challenge - to be able to make all the 10 Test-playing countries into pretty much equal cricketing powers. That is never going to happen. But even if you have six countries, that will be a big step forward.

 
 
"I have always believed that technique has never been a huge part of sport. Temperament is your No. 1 thing"
 

In recent times you have been a vehement critic of on-field sledging.
I have never been against banter. But sledging is nothing really but abuse of the opposition. Sometimes players get away saying things to the opposition on the field that they would never get away with saying to anybody off the field. One day this might lead to a physical confrontation on the field. Why do you want get to that stage?

Are you trying to tell me the Bradmans, the Benauds, the Cowdreys, the Soberses did that? They didn't. There might be a joke or two, where even the butt of the joke laughs. A little gamesmanship did not affect us either. Today it is not that.

I don't mind the four-letter word thrown into a sentence. That's not a problem at all. It's when the "you so and so" gets in there that it becomes personal. That is what I feel is an absolutely unnecessary part of the game. We never heard the Merchants, Hazares, Amarnaths ever say anything abusive to their mates, so why should it happen here?

You were like a one-man spearhead, especially against England and Australia, in several matters, as player and even later. Was this part of some deep-seated anti-colonialism in you?
Not at all. I have been vocal about it because I have seen it happening. It was happening increasingly, so I've spoken about it. Those who say that this is a part of the game are talking nonsense. Banter yes, abuse no.

Do you sense some kind of resentment to India's rise to power, at least financial power?
No, I don't think so. That's not a factor at all. You just want the game to be a good sport at the end of it without people abusing each other.

Let me explain. The Roger Federer versus Andy Roddick 2009 Wimbledon final was an epic game. If Roddick serves at 120 miles per hour, Federer trying to hit a backhand gets the top edge of the racket and the ball lands on the baseline, allowing Federer to get an absolutely fluky lucky point. Would Roddick abuse Federer because of the luck that he has? Then why should a bowler stand at his end and abuse a batsman who got an inside edge that went to the boundary, or who played and missed half a dozen times? Federer and Roddick are playing for a major title and for millions of pounds, for rankings and stuff like that. Why should it be different in cricket? Why go for wild abuse in a match? That's wrong. The game will be better off without all this. It's also a bad influence on young, upcoming players watching on television.

Did something early in your career provoke these sentiments against sledging?
It happened to me only once. I was staggered that a player who was making his debut in Tests - and I was well past 100 Tests at the time - stood at the end of his follow-through after I had cut him over slips for a boundary and swore at me. I couldn't believe it. That was probably the only occasion.

What do you think about the Twenty20-versus-Tests debate? Is Test cricket under threat?
I don't think Test cricket is under threat. It has been there for more than 100 years. Test cricket will become far more attractive as it became after the advent of one-day cricket. We saw more results, less dot-balls, and it became far more result-oriented. The same thing will happen with the influence of Twenty20. There will be a lot more runs scored in a day than earlier, which means plenty of results and more excitement for viewers at the ground and on television.


Sachin Tendulkar equalled Sunil Gavaskar's record of 34 Test centuries, Bangladesh v India, 1st Test, 2nd day, Dhaka, December 11, 2004
Tendulkar tops Gavaskar's wishlist of cricketers he'd have liked to play against © AFP
Enlarge

You don't see the demise of bowlers, as some players predict?
Look at the way the bowlers have come back in the Twenty20 game. They have learnt how to bowl, what fields to set, and suddenly they have got clobbered less. They will get occasionally clobbered by good batsmen, but they are also striking back. In the ICC World Twenty20, bowlers probably got as many players-of-the-match awards as batsmen or allrounders.

You first played Tests for India 40 years ago. Is there anything you would do differently now?
There are a couple things I would obviously want to do if given another chance. Like our World Cup match [1975], where I got 36 not out. I would throw my wicket away now - which I wasn't brought up to do. Earlier on, the mindset was different. I think today I might feel a little more flexible as far as throwing-a-wicket-type situation is concerned.

Even in the Melbourne incident, where I was provoked into asking Chetan [Chauhan] to leave the field, let me clarify that this decision was not taken at first but when I was making my way back to the pavilion and was almost 10 yards down when I was abused by the Australians. That's when I came back and took Chetan away. I wouldn't come back to do this today, because as a captain, whatever the provocation, I should have kept my cool. Yes, these are the two things I would have definitely changed.

People feel that SMG is mellowing and then some new controversy comes up. Have you mellowed or not?
[Laughs] I don't know… If I feel strongly about something, I say it. The problem is I haven't learnt to use my head when I speak or I write, despite doing it for all these years. I still feel with my heart and say something and then a storm is created. Using words that cause little or no offence is a creative activity. But I write or speak from the heart and not the head.

But you can deal with criticism better now?
Because I no longer feel the pressures of performing.

When is the definitive autobiography coming?
Maybe I am writing too much. I have got columns and match reports, so maybe that's dulled the need to write. Besides, my first autobiography [Sunny Days] created a storm. Again I used my heart and not my head. Perhaps the usage of words could have conveyed the same meaning without causing offence. So if I have to write a definitive book, it would have to be honest. Some big reputations might get a bit of a dent once again. So why…

You have never pushed your son Rohan, but do you have any sense of disappointment that he could not go the distance with the India cap?
Look, I wanted him to be a good human being. For me that was the most important thing. Being a cricketer or a doctor, engineer, journalist was his choice. I just wanted him to be content with what he was. All the feedback that I get from all those who have interacted with him is nothing but positive, which pleases me no end. As far as his cricket is concerned, I keep teasing him all the time that his father used up all the luck and that's why he didn't have much left for him.

You batted perfectly in your career; you believe in structures and systems and temperament and in the hard logic of batting technique - everything to suggest that you are a very rational person. How do you explain your strong faith and trust in Sai Baba?
If I tried to go deep into that, I don't think people would understand. For me, he is everything. He is the ultimate. Just thinking of him gives me such a sense of completeness, such a sense of well-being. And the knowledge that he is looking after me is such a great sense of comfort, not just for me but also my whole family. It is hard to really describe it.

 
 
"There are a couple of things I would do different, if I had the chance - the 36 not out and the Melbourne incident in 1981. These are the two things I would have definitely changed."
 

You have been pretty much identified as a loner, a man who lived in his own world as a player, even though cricket is a team game. But you do have a lot of friends.
If you meet my buddies or friends whom I hang out with, they'll give you a different picture. Even during my playing days. It is an image. if you play serious and risk-free cricket, the image you get is different. Even when I played, due to my prankster habits, I really got into trouble with some of my seniors. That's a part which wasn't seen by anybody. There was no media explosion like now. I thank God for it.

You have said in your book that the Indian dressing room wasn't the best place to be in.
Yes, maybe on an occasion or during an odd Test match or a series. But 99.9% of the time it was an absolute honour to share the room with my team-mates and play for the country. For all those guys who went out and gave it their best - it was a great honour to play with them. The happiest moments have been off the field. When I went to Hyderabad in the 1980s and saw Shivlal Yadav's house. To see Roger's [Binny] or Gundappa's [Viswanath] house gave me a lot of pleasure. They gave it everything, just like everyone else in the team, but they didn't get the endorsements or rewards that Kapil [Dev] or I got, or to an extent Ravi [Shastri] and Dilip [Vengsarkar] got. But believe you me, their contribution is no less than ours. If they hadn't been in the Indian dressing room and on the field then we wouldn't have been able to do half of what we did.

So when you look back at the 70s and 80s, some of the old enmities have been sandpapered and smoothed out?
Yes they are. To a great extent this was perception or speculation, not anything serious. People weren't that close to the scene and just got bits and pieces and jumped to their own conclusions. This doesn't happen only in cricket. We are all always waiting for a good story about something bad about others. I would look at it like that.

At one point of time you were considered to be a mercenary, yet you had the great ability to completely separate your mental processes when you went out to bat. Was this difficult?
I don't accept to being a mercenary. I didn't play for people simply because they paid me money. Yes, I spoke on behalf of the players, for what the players' body or the fraternity felt. For a better deal. I expressed myself maybe because they made me the spokesperson and then when I became the captain I was automatically the spokesperson of the team. I did take up their issues.

Even today, you speak to cricket officials and explain to them, you will be surprised how much they will do it for you. You have to be completely articulate. The administrators were happy to listen to us. We also learnt that having told them to do something, we had to be patient about it, so I don't think there was a too much of a problem.

Who would you pick as the all-time greats who came after your retirement who you would have loved to play against?
Tendulkar and Lara are the first who come to mind. Then of course Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, and Wasim Akram are some who also would be right up there. Another one would be Anil Kumble. He is such an unassuming player, with 600-plus wickets and the records that he has. He is a fantastic cricketer.

Once, you were seen as anti-establishment. Now you're on the governing council of the IPL and close to the BCCI, though now out of the ICC…
Cricket is my life. It is heaven, therefore, to be a part of it or do something for the game. [To be with the] ICC was a huge honour and privilege. Despite all that, if I do feel something strongly, I still say it. See, here I go again with my heart leading my head.

Ayaz Memon is editor at large with DNA, where this interview was first published

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by truthspeaker on (July 12, 2009, 5:11 GMT)

Those who critisize Sunny as selfish need to introspect - when Sunny played, often he was the lone batsman to carry the bat - During Sunny's times, it was very common for India to cave in to oppostion meekly and Sunny staged several miracles to save India from embarassment

Often, when you are the only performer in a team, how can one be selfless - the realization sinks in that you are more valuable than others - so, some selfishness is inevitable

the fact, Gavaskar is so proud of India and Indians is remarkable - we have average cricketers todaywho walk with a swagger and with millions in bank and yet no where comparable to Sunny - are these cricketers are so team conscious and gentleman cricketers - we all know the command wielded by Sunny before and after retirement

let us wholeheartedly admire this fantastic cricketer from India

Posted by greatgaryfan on (July 11, 2009, 23:01 GMT)

Guys, I am dying to see a video of SG's innings in B'lore vs Pakistan on that turning track. If anyone has a copy, please post it on Youtube for everyone to enjoy

Posted by SUNDOS on (July 11, 2009, 12:16 GMT)

For those from my generation who grew up on SMG's exploits,he was more than cricket.The first world class Indian player,who stood up to fast bowling,taught us that there was honour in a drawn match,but mostly,the world record holder till it was bettered by others.Wish you a very happy Birthday and hope you keep playing a nifty badminton game,and speaking your mind.There is no doubt that cricket and Indian cricket havent had a better spokesman.

Posted by henchart on (July 11, 2009, 7:18 GMT)

Gavaskar's knock against Pakistan in his last test at Bangalore was a lesson on how to play on a minefield of a pitch .Thank God such pitches are not preparedthese days!Unfortunately Gavaskar's effort in that match ended in a losing cause but he won many hearts.Tendulakr played somewhat similar knock against PAk at Madras and that was also a losing effort. Gavaskar and Tendulkar are both masters of their era and also not the most selfless of cricketers.

Posted by resmyrakri on (July 11, 2009, 7:07 GMT)

Let me wish happy birth day to the greatest ever openerfirst. His era was different. with no helmmet and high quality bowlers. He was not as recognised as murderous Viv. Ofcourse the great bowlers of that era knows how difficult it was to dismiss him. During that time unless you score runs against Engalnd you wont be recognised. He showed courage to fight against them and refused membership in MCC owing to the same reason of their imperialism or colonialism or whatever.Often he was lone fighter in the team and outside.

Posted by HarishVembu on (July 11, 2009, 5:25 GMT)

Its a great honour to hear from one of the greats of World Cricket.

Admired for his perfect and sound technique.

Defnitely from old school.

Look at his words in the interview. The few things that stood are

innocence of the game that has been lost, good sportmanship,anti -sledging how it kills the good spirit, romance for the game.

Best wishes and Long Life Sir.

Personally I like his and teammates love for playing for the country.

Dream to meet you once in real life.

Best Regards

Harish

Posted by truthspeaker on (July 11, 2009, 4:36 GMT)

Dear Sunny, thinking of your contribution to world cricket makes me speechless - you were the epitome of grace, poise, beauty and art - when you played Imran at his best and when you played Marshall at his fiery best, or Lillee for that matter you showed who the boss was - If cricket ever had scholarly stalwarts you and Kumble come to mind - Bradman may have misse dyou in his best eleven, but you are incomparable

As and Indian I am so proud of living in the same era as you - your devotion to Sai Baba endears me more to you - You are simply an asset of the highest order - I have met you on cricket match eves at Hotels and on grounds - If I ever get a chance to garland you that would be my greatest achievement - long life to your SMG and you deserve a SIR title

Posted by CricketGaur on (July 11, 2009, 3:51 GMT)

Dear SMG

I am am old follower of the game and started watching ur innings fromworldcup 1983. and wanted to tell you i have not missed a single innings of yours. I dnt know how many times i have cried after you got out and how many times i have ran around the corner after u reaching any milestone. The day you were supposed to complete 10000 runs in test cricket I bunked school and watched it.

Later when you started your career as commentetor I will listen to you for hours

I will just say you are a perfectionist in all things you do. I had a copy of Cricket Samrat which was published as Sunny edition after you completed 1000o runs. I would have gone piler to post to collect your phots and posters in late 80's. wish you all The best and may you live 100 more years and guide the cricket to the best way

Posted by thenkabail on (July 11, 2009, 1:50 GMT)

Lot of Cricketers are compared with Sunny. But in truth he is incomparable. Yes, he is certainly greater than Tendulkar as well. Gavaskas had everything: techniques, composure, style, strokes, footwork, wristwork.....you can go on. Tendulkar hs all these too. But, have you seen how many times Tendulkar gets hit on helmet?. Also, techniquewise there is no match. Gavaskar was perfect, Tendulkar near-perfect. Indeed, Gavaskar is the greatest cricketer India ever produced, followed by Kapil dev, and then Tendulkar. Watching Gavaskar bat was like watching perfection. He was all science and all art. Tendulkar's batting does not have the same beauty nor same level of science. Ofcouse, Tedulkar at peak had great eye-hand-foot coordination and he could hit any shot at anytime. But then, same can be said of Gavaskat of 1976-1980. But Tedulkar (the greatest batsman of modern times) never played fierce fast bowling with skill and beauty like Sunny. Prasad

Posted by VDubey on (July 10, 2009, 20:19 GMT)

Dear Gavaskar sir,

You are right there with the best bastsmen this world has ever seen. Your focus on basics, work ethics and love for your nation is for everyone to emulate. I still remember the Banglore knock in '87, only you could have played it. I was not even born when you played some of your best cricket. Listening to your commentary makes me feel like a student listening to a very good finance professor. Happy Birthday Sunny!

Vikas

Comments have now been closed for this article

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print

    The return of Bob Simpson

Rewind: When the 41-year-old former captain came out of retirement to lead Australia against India

    Ranji in Ireland, Hazare in Mumbai

Subash Jayaraman's cricket world tour takes in Dublin, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Chennai

    A year of triumph and disaster

Martin Crowe: Misbah, McCullum, and the ICC's efforts against chucking were the positive highlights in a year that ended with the tragedy of Phillip Hughes' death

    Two fortresses called Brisbane and Centurion

Numbers Game: Australia haven't lost at the Gabba since 1988, while South Africa have a 14-2 record in Centurion

Why Steven Smith's here to stay

Russell Jackson: He has experienced captaincy at every level. Most admirably, he has managed to reinvent his game to succeed at the highest level

News | Features Last 7 days

The perfect Test

After the tragedy of Phillip Hughes' death, this match showed that cricket and life will continue to go on. This time Test cricket dug in and got through to tea.

Kohli attains batting nirvana

Virat Kohli's innings on the final day transcended the conditions, the bowlers and his batting partners, and when it was all in vain, he displayed remarkable grace in defeat

What ails Rohit and Watson?

Both batsmen seemingly have buckets of talent at their disposal and the backing of their captains, but soft dismissals relentlessly follow both around the Test arena

Hazlewood completes quartet of promise

Josh Hazlewood has been on Australian cricket's radar since he was a teenager. The player that made a Test debut at the Gabba was a much-improved version of the tearaway from 2010

Australia in good hands under proactive Smith

The new stand-in captain has the makings of a long-term leader, given his ability to stay ahead of the game

News | Features Last 7 days

    BCCI's argument against DRS not 100% (164)

    Turning your back on a system that the whole cricketing world wants a discussion on, refusing to discuss it because it is not 100%, is not good enough

    Karn struggles to stay afloat (114)

    The failed gamble of handing Karn Sharma a Test debut despite him having a moderate first-class record means India have to rethink who their spinner will be

    Kohli attains batting nirvana (110)

    Virat Kohli's innings on the final day transcended the conditions, the bowlers and his batting partners, and when it was all in vain, he displayed remarkable grace in defeat

    When defeat isn't depressing (57)

    After a long time we have seen an Indian team and captain enjoy the challenge of trying to overcome stronger opposition in an overseas Test

    What ails Rohit and Watson? (53)

    Both batsmen seemingly have buckets of talent at their disposal and the backing of their captains, but soft dismissals relentlessly follow both around the Test arena