Concentration was a God-given gift: Sunil Gavaskar | Cricket News

Long before India became a cricketing superpower and long before Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli arrived, the country’s mood barometer fluctuated depending on the answer to the question: Gavaskar out hua, ya khel raha hai?”
Braving some of the most fearsome attacks in world cricket in the 70s and early and mid-80s, Sunil Gavaskar single-handedly gave Indian cricket the steel, spine and respect.Post retirement, he transitioned into a TV commentator, who called a spade a spade.
Even as the country is still dealing with the hangover of India’s T20 World Cup win, it also bows down to Sunil Gavaskar on his 75th birthday. The master batter was the first to score 10,000 Test runs (10,122), and the first to score 30 Test hundreds (34).


In an exclusive interview with TOI, Gavaskar shares his thoughts on turning 75, his glorious career and issues that matter to cricket:
How does it feel to turn 75?
I was a new-ball bowler, so I didn’t turn anything! Even the two international wickets I have were of straight deliveries which the batter thought would turn but didn’t!
What keeps you so fit at this age? You travel around the world for commentary assignments, and are still heavily into broadcasting?
I don’t know about being fit. I have a shoulder and a lower back issue, so can’t say I am fit. I’ve had issues with shin splints since my playing days. I can’t run and can only do brisk walking as exercise. Till last year, walking 10,000 steps every day was the aim, but now it’s been brought down to 7500, though actually I end up doing more than that. I owe what I am to cricket and Indian cricket, so covering the games India plays is hardly a job.


Apparently, such were your powers of concentration that you could read a Jeffrey Archer novel even in a crowd. Were you always like that? What did you do to harness those powers?
Concentration was a God-given gift, and thankfully, it is still there. The only problem is that often, I am so engrossed in what I am reading or listening to music that I end up offending people who are trying to talk to me as I get totally wrapped up in reading or listening on my ear plugs.
What made you so fearless as a batter? You faced some of the best fast bowlers without a helmet.
Look, I have been vertically challenged all my life, so from school days, all the opposition new-ball bowlers tried to scare the bee jammies off me. So, I got used to that, though I must confess that in my first series against West Indies in 1971, to see the ball being delivered from that height was a new experience!


You fought with BCCI in the 70s for cricketers to be paid better. How satisfying is it to see today’s cricketers earn well?
It is terrific to see today’s cricketers get duly rewarded for it is they who bring in the crowds and the sponsors. Thanks for remembering and informing the ‘Internet Generation’ that way back in the 70s, we took up cudgels on behalf of the players for better match fees and allowing our wives to travel and stay with us. We did that at a risk to our spots in the team. The thing that I am proud of is a representation made by Chetan Chauhan (former India opener) and me to the then finance minister to consider not taxing match fees for playing for India. In fact, we asked for exemption for all sports, not just cricket. He responded by giving a standard deduction of 75% on Test fees of Rs 5000 then and zero tax on ODIs. We hardly played two or three ODIs in a year then and for a fee of Rs 1000. So, there was hardly any loss to the exchequer. That notification was valid till 1998, when India was playing around 30 ODIs and getting one lakh per game. So Rs 30 lakh was tax free!


Apart from commentary, what is it that keeps you busy?
I am also quite involved in a couple of foundations. One is the ‘Heart2 heart’ foundation which is creating awareness about the problem of congenital heart diseases in children and raising funds for their free surgeries. The other is the CHAMPS foundation, which is the acronym for Caring, Helping, Assisting, Motivating, Promoting Sportspersons. We just celebrated 25 years of the foundation, which has been sending monthly cheques since 1999 to those international sportspersons who gave everything for Indian sports and may not be in the best financial health now.


Your five favourite Test knocks?
117 not out at Barbados when we had to save the Test (fourth Test of the 1971 series against West Indies). The 220 in the last Test in Trinidad, where again we needed a draw to win that series. I got a 57 at Old Trafford, on a fast, grassy bouncy pitch in wet, freezing cold conditions (against England in 1971. India drew that match and famously won that series 1-0) and I didn’t wear a sweater because of superstition, so felt the cold a fair bit. This is my best innings in Test cricket. In 1974, at Old Trafford again, in similarly cold conditions, I scored 101. It restored my self-belief as that was the first ton after 1971.
The 86 out of 102 at Port of Spain, when we chased down 404 to win the Test against West Indies in 1976. By the end of Day Four, I was 86 not out. It is my most fluent innings. The next morning, I struggled for an hour to score the next 16 runs. That’s how cricket can be!


What about knocks of other batters?
97 not out by Gundappa Viswanath at Chennai versus West Indies in 1975. His hundred against West Indies in 1978 at Chennai. 175 not out by Kapil Dev against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells in the 1983 World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar’s 114 in the Perth Test versus Australia in 1992 and Virender Sehwag‘s 293 against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium in 2009. These are knocks I personally saw. There are others too, like VVS Laxman’s 281 vs Australia in Kolkata in 2001, but I wasn’t in the stadium to witness it.


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