BY AMIT ROY
IN 1965, Thomas Stanley Worthington, late of Derbyshire and England, was invited by the Indian cricket board to coach schoolboys. He spotted a promising 14yearold boy in the nets in Hyderabad. Worthington had an encouraging word with the lad and urged the authorities to keep an eye on him.
Worthington’s choice was included in the 1971 Indian side to tour the West Indies as a reserve. A finger injury kept him out of the first Test; on his debut in the second he scored 65 and 67 not out: in the third, 116 and 64 no; in the fourth, 1 and 117 no; and the fifth 124 and 220. The aggregate of 774 was a record for a new batsman.
Sunil Gavaskar had arrived on the cricketing scene. Last week, as Gavaskar announced his intention’ of retiring from Test Cricket, having scored 10,005 runs, including 34 centuries, in 124 Tests, the bandwagon to persuade him to join the ruling Congress (I) Party of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, began to roll.
After Rajiv and the film star Amitabh Bachchan, Gavaskar, 37, is probably the most famous man in India. Congress bosses have launched a serious campaign to have him nominated for a seat in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament in Delhi.
Others want him sent to a cricketing nation, such/as Australia or one of the Caribbean islands or even Britain, as India’s Ambassador.
Gavaskar symbolizes the ethos of the new India which Rajiv is trying to build. In Rajiv’s book, it is not sufficient to play the game for its own sake, India must play to win.
In a curious way, Gavaskar’s contribution has been less to cricket than to changes he has helped bring about in the national psychology.
In a huge nation; tom by regional rivalries, cricket has had a strangely unifying effect. Live television coverage of cricket, commanding Indian audiences in excess of 200m, is a recent phenomenon. Watching Gayaskar bat has produced a generation of youngsters who have understood the importance of technique and concentration.
To put it simply, they have learnt to get right behind the ball. Cricket, being more classless in India than in England has also sucked in everyone from the public schoolboy at Doon, Rajiv’s old school in the Himalayan foothills, to the village urchin.
Don Bradman scored 6,996 runs, including 29 centuries, in 52 Tests at an average of 99.94. An article to be published soon by Widen puts this into perspective: Bradman, had he played as many innings as Gavaskar and maintained his average, would have scored 19,588 runs, including 77 centuries. But when Gavaskar scored his 30th century, hundreds of millions of Indians felt it was India which had triumphed.
Gavaskar, more so than any other contemporary Indian has taught his countrymen that the pursuit of excellence is a legitimate aim. When India won the cricket World Cup in 1983, it was regarded as the nation’s happiest moment since independence in 1947.
It may be Gavaskar will be persuaded to play a few more Tests. The West Indies are due to tour India in November. Gavaskar remarked: “My friends feel that as I started against the West Indies it would be fitting if I made my last appearance against them”.
Gavaskar’s father, Manohar, told The Sunday Times, in Bombay: “Sunny probably feels there is nothing much left to achieve now. There isn’t the fire in the belly”.
Congratulatory telegrams from politicians, including one from President Zai ul Haq of Pakistan, poured in when Gavaskar got his 10,000th run. Gavaskar’s father nodded wisely. “Politicians may be out to woo him or chew him. My son is just a simple boy”.
Simple is something Gavaskar is not. The ruthless manner in which he has exploited his cricketing status to make himself rich also reflects the aggressiveness of the new India. He has appeared on television and in Newspapers to advertise everything from soft drinks to clothes and hairdye.
Some cricket writers detect the influence of Gavaskar’s wife, Marshniel, behind his material success.
Gavaskar has received personal gifts of jewels, land, cars and valuable mementoes, plus earnings of 16,000 rupees (about pound 900) per Test and prize money.
Later this month, Bombay Municipal Corporation will give him a large reception in the sprawling Shivaji park. Since Gavaskar, an executive with a Bombay rayon firm already writes a widely syndicated cricket column, the chances are he could become a sports journalist and television commentator in the Richie Benaud mould.
His family say nothing would give Gavaskar greater pleasure than to see his achievements eclipsed by his son, Rohan 11, already a promising all-rounder. But Gavaskar’s record will stand awhile and it gives him unique authority.
Last week for example, when a crowd in Ahmedabad threatened to disrupt the game, appeals from officials were ignored “When Gavaskar addressed them”, recalled a cricket writer, “you could hear a pin drop, it was as if the Mahatma had come back”.
For Gavaskar, however, the call of politics may prove irresistible.
LONDON, Reuter: Arsenal, inspired by two goals from their Scottish striker Charlie Nicholas, won the English league cup for the first time today when they beat Liverpool 21 at Wembley.
A goal down to a typical Ian Rush strike after 23 minutes, the North London team, who celebrate their centenary this season, fought back to triumph.
Nicholas, showing the form that persuaded Arsenal to sign him from Glasgow Celtic in 1983,
BOMBAY, India: Ajitpal Singh, the former Indian hockey captain and also the coach of the Indian team for the Seoul Asian Games, has been suspended by the Indian Hockey Federation for an indefinite period for failing to submit reports on team performance. Announcing this, K.L. Passi, Secretary of the IHF, said that despite repeated reminders, Ajitpal has not submitted reports of the Indian team’s performance at the Champions Trophy in Perth and Karachi, the Seoul Asiad, the London World Cup and the hockey series against Pakistan and the Gulf tours. He will not be permitted to have any connection with the IHF or State Hockey matters.
WHAT a man eats must be governed by his activity. Jaipal Singh, a six-footer super heavyweight holder of the Kings Cup boxing for two years in succession is dissatisfied with the food provided to him at the training camps. The Asian Games silver medalist mourns: “I don’t want to overeat or get the best food. But how can the diet they give a small table tennis playing girl be adequate for me?”
“Give me some meat and more milk”, pleads Jaipal who will be defending his crown in a couple of months from now.
No wonder our boxers appear so puny as compared to others, even those from Asia.