'Viswanath the greatest batsman' - Gavaskar

Sunil Gavaskar, one of the most prolific scorers in the history of Test cricket, and considered the greatest batsmen India has produced, declared on Saturday that Gundappa Viswanath was the "greatest batsman" he had ever seen. Not mincing words, the man who made 10,122 Test runs, lavished praise on Vishy, the diminutive dasher from Karnataka, at a glittering felicitation ceremony held at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.

"I have seen situations when we all struggled against the opposition," Gavaskar began. "But then Vishy would score off the good deliveries. The rest if us, we thought we could keep out the good balls and score off the bad ones. But Vishy, he had four-five strokes to the good balls that were bowled to him."

Gavaskar, who has been ribbed about his short stature all his life, made light of the condition. "When people asked me who was the better batsman, Vishy or me, I would say without hesitation - Vishy. But I would also remind them that I was half an inch taller. When we both sat on a sofa, my feet would touch the ground, his would be half an inch above."

On an evening of camaraderie and much good-natured mischief, Gavaskar recalled when he first met Vishy. "It was during the Charminar Challenge in Hyderabad," said Gavaskar. "From then on we built a friendship that was meant to last a long time."

Fully aware that he was talking to an audience of cricket lovers from Karnataka, Gavaskar played to the gallery. "I've proven my kinship to Karnataka," he said. "After all, my brother-in-law, the legendary Gundappa Vishwanath, is from here."

Gavaskar, who is normally busy with his commentating schedule and endorsement commitments, took time off to make it to a function that was designed to honour the legends of Karnataka cricket. Among the best thing the little man, dressed casually in a navy blue collarless t-shirt, said, was, "Vishy is shorter than me, but he was the taller batsman." That was high praise, and well received from the audience.

Viswanath played 91 Tests for India, scoring more than 6000 runs at an average of over 40. But he is most appreciated for the fact that he scored his big runs when India needed them most. His match-winning 97 against a powerful West Indies team that included the rampaging Andy Roberts in 1974-75, stands out. But his other knocks came in equally trying conditions - 124 in Madras against West Indies in 1978-79, 83 and 79 against New Zealand on a greentop at Christchurch in 1975-76.

But to Vishy, it was not merely the number of runs, but how they were scored. One of the most sporting cricketers of all time, he once famously recalled Bob Taylor in the Golden Jubilee match against England, when he was given out, only for the game to slip out of his grasp. Vishy's ability to play the ball late may have made him a modern great had he had the opportunity to play more one-day cricket, but his sense of fairplay would have made him an anachronism in modern times. It was little wonder that he was the obvious choice when Wisden was looking for a candidate to hand out an award for a player who upheld the spirit of cricket. Vishy did not merely uphold it, he embodied it.