India v West Indies, second Test, Delhi, 1983 March 21, 2010

Hook-filled and Bradmanesque

Pradeep Magazine
Sunil Gavaskar's 29th Test century came against two of the most ferocious quicks of all time

It can be almost impossible to figure out which is the best innings one has watched. Memory can play tricks with you and nostalgia can exaggerate the worth of an event and make it appear more valuable than it seemed when it was played.

Taking inspiration from what Marquez said, "Life is not what one lived but how one remembers it", I go back 27 years to an innings I think is among the very best, if not the best, I have seen.

Sunil Gavaskar had perhaps the most balanced stance in the history of the game, a perfect blend of elegance and grace, even before he had made his first move to address the ball. So it was hard to believe the man who had tamed the most furious fast bowlers of his time had his bat been knocked out of his hand by a Malcolm Marshall bouncer in the 1983 Kanpur Test against West Indies. India lost that match by an innings and the critics began to ask that he step down. Gavaskar was on the retreat.

The next Test was in Delhi, where he was once again subjected to a vicious short-ball attack by Marshall and Michael Holding, two of the most intimidating fast bowlers the world has ever seen. That day Gavaskar, the calm and cool builder of an innings, decided to take fate in his own hands and launched a blistering counterattack, the memory of which has stayed in my mind despite the amount of cricket I have watched over the years.

His footwork that day was almost divine. He did not weave and duck at the crease, but played what I still think is the best exhibition of hooking I have watched. As if knowing the intent of the bowlers before they had released the ball, Gavaskar got into perfect position to hook, and raced to his half-century off just 37 balls. He took 57 more to record his 29th century, a feat achieved by only man before him - Donald Bradman.

Gavaskar had reserved his best to match the greatest batsman the history of the game has known.

Pradeep Magazine has been writing on cricket for three decades. He is the author of the book Not Quite Cricket

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