It somehow seems fitting that the record for the highest individual score by an Indian in Test cricket still stands in the name of Sunil Gavaskar. Seventeen years have passed, 117 Tests have been played and a few batsmen have come close. But Gavaskar's 236 not out, made against West Indies at Madras on this day in 1983 still remains the high water mark for an Indian batsman. What added lustre to that knock were a couple of other significant landmarks. He became the first batsman from any country to get three double hundreds against the West Indies. And it must not be forgotten that the West Indian team then were in the midst of an all time record of going 27 Test matches without defeat. Secondly, and more important, it was Gavaskar's 30th Test hundred, surpassing the long standing record of 29 centuries held by Don Bradman.
I was fortunate enough to be present at the MA Chidambaram stadium during the four days of the Test match (rain washed out the first day's play). India had already lost the rubber 3-0 so there seemed very little to play for in the final match of the six Test rubber. But Gavaskar made the two days of December 28 and 29 memorable all the same, even if the game petered out into a tame draw.
Gavaskar had already equalled Bradman's record in the second Test at New Delhi and the feat was rightly hailed but as everyone knows, surpassing is a greater feat than equalling. On the afternoon of December 28, Gavaskar placed a ball from Winston Davis to the on side to get the 30th hundred. At close of play on the penultimate day, he was batting on 149. The match was already doomed to a draw with India on 262 for six in reply to West Indies' 313. Gavaskar was well short of Vinoo Mankad's record score of 231 by an Indian batsman, a mark that had stood since January 1956 and made in the same city but at a different venue - the Nehru (Corporation) stadium, a few kilometres away. When play resumed, it could not have occurred to anyone that Gavaskar could come anywhere near Mankad's score, let alone surpassing it, more so when the eighth wicket fell at 308. But supported by Syed Kirmani, whose 34th birthday it was, Gavaskar surged past 200 and suddenly the record became a distinct possibility. As if to heighten the suspense, Gavaskar was on 229 at the tea break. And so even on the last session of a match written off as a draw, the goodly crowd had something historic to look out for.
Gavaskar did not disappoint the spectators and duly passed Mankad's score in the first over after the interval. When Kapil Dev declared the innings, Gavaskar had batted 644 minutes, faced 425 balls and hit 23 fours. A significant aspect of his innings was that he had not batted in his customary role as opening batsmen, having come in at No 4. But to all intents and purposes, he was again in the role of opener for he had come in when the score was zero for two.