And so it finally happened. After more than 17 years and 118 Tests, Sunil Manohar Gavaskar's record has at last been surpassed. True, records are meant to be broken especially with the proliferation of international cricket these days. But somehow like some of Don Bradman's records which have stood the test of time, one sensed that Gavaskar's 236 not out would stand for a much longer time. This feeling gathered momentum after many other batsmen came tantalisingly close to the magic figure and yet faltered at the final hurdle. Vinod Kambli scored 224 and then a month later got as far as 227. A few years before this, Sanjay Manjrekar was run out for 218. And last year, Sachin Tendulkar was poised to overtake the long standing record till he was out for 217.
There certainly seemed no inkling that Venktasai Laxman would be the one to overhaul Gavaskar's mark when play resumed in the Kolkata Test this morning. But as he continued to play with assurance and authority, there was this distinct feeling that this might just be his great day. As the 150 came up and then as he approached 200, it was almost taken for granted that Gavaskar's 17-year record was going overboard at the Eden Gardens this sunny Wednesday. So perfect was the timing of his strokes, so tight was his technique and so secure was his defence that by the time he reached 200, one knew it was only a matter of time before the name of VVS Laxman would head the list. After all, he is no stranger to big scores and long tenures at the crease, having already got two triple centuries in first class cricket. Indeed, because of his sound temperament, it would be surprising if he does not get a third triple hundred tomorrow and go on and on. Really, the manner in which he is batting even Brian Lara's 375 is not safe - unless Sourav Ganguly opts for a challenging declaration.
But while it is Laxman's moment to savour, let us for a moment remember the man whose record he has surpassed. I was fortunate enough to be present at the MA Chidambaram stadium on those three days - December 27, 28 and 29, 1983 - as Gavaskar relentlessly ground the West Indian attack - among them Marshall, Holding and Roberts - in a display of determination and concentration that could not fail to win the admiration of those present. 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.
Rain had washed out the opening 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. 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. At Madras, for the first time in his long career, other than the couple of occasions when he had dropped down because of injury, Gavaskar came in at No 4. But it really made no difference as he entered at 0 for two. Anshuman Gaekwad and Dilip Vengsarkar had fallen to successive deliveries from Malcolm Marshall and so Gavaskar could well have been opening the innings again. He and the young Navjot Singh Sidhu, then playing in only his second Test, were in the midst of a repair job when there was a halt to the proceedings because of a stone throwing incident which resulted in Winston Davis getting hit on the shoulder. When play resumed after a short delay, Sidhu and Ashok Malhotra fell in quick succession and in the fading light, Shivlal Yadav was sent in as nightwatchman. At close of play on the second day, December 27, India were 69 for four with Gavaskar on 36 and Yadav on one. In the face of a West Indian total of 313, there was still much work to be done.
Yadav did not last long and this made India 92 for five. For the rest of the day, Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri held the fort. However, there was some controversy early in the day. Marshall bowled a short ball and Gavaskar instinctively put his hand out to protect himself and keep the ball down. The ball hit his forearm protector and flew in the air and as Roger Harper took the ball as it rebounded, the West Indians appealed for a catch. Umpire Swaroop Kishen turned down the appeal, apparently ruling that the ball had hit the forearm protector above the area of the wrist.
The first great moment came in mid afternoon. Gavaskar placed a ball from Winston Davis to the on side for a single to get the 30th hundred. At close of play on the penultimate day, he was batting on 149. Shastri was out to the last ball of the day for 72 after the two had put on 170 runs for the sixth wicket. By now, the match was already doomed to a draw with India on 262 for six. Gavaskar of course was well short of Vinoo Mankad's then 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 would 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 dead draw, the 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, bowled by Larry Gomes. When Kapil Dev declared the innings at 451 for eight, he had batted 644 minutes, faced 425 balls and hit 23 fours. Gavaskar's 236 remained the score to beat for more than 17 years but now the mark has been stretched further thanks to Laxman's heroics.