With a twinkle in his eyes, legendary opener Sunil Gavaskar walked down memory lane, reminiscing about his debut Test, which began 50 years ago on this day at Port of Spain. Excerpts:
What do you feel now, looking back at your career that started in 1971?
For two years after I made my debut for Bombay, as it was called then, I was out of the 14. Nothing was given. I just feel very blessed, very fortunate to have been able to represent India because in a country of millions, to be in the 15-16 and then in the final XI is a rare privilege; it’s a rare honour.
You missed the first Test due to a well-documented tooth infection. Do you remember when you learnt you would be in the XI in Port of Spain?
I was told on the eve of the match that I would be playing. My form leading up to that — after the first Test, there were three First Class games — was good, so clearly I knew that with the form I was in and the fact that they were looking for another opener, I had a chance to play. Then of course, my captain Ajit Wadekar said that I was going to make my debut the next day. That particular evening was very special. I was excited, elated, nervous, anxious because we were playing against Sir Garfield Sobers’ team. All those emotions were running through my mind, but luckily, we fielded first and I got the opportunity to wear my cap. At that stage, I used to bat bareheaded, that’s what I had got used to from school level. The fact that I got to wear my India cap when we fielded was a big moment.
You played a key role, scoring 65 in the first innings and an unbeaten 67 in the chase. Can you recall one or two vivid moments that have stayed with you?
One vivid memory [is] Salim Durani getting Clive Lloyd caught at short mid-wicket by Wadekar. In fact, Salim uncle, as I call him, insisted on being given the ball by Wadekar. He said, “Mujhe de do, mujhe de do (give me the ball)”. And sure enough, he got the wicket of Lloyd and the next ball he clean-bowled Sir Garfield Sobers in the West Indies’ second innings. The game turned around from there because both these great batsmen would have taken the game away from us.
And of course, hitting the winning runs. It was a googly from Arthur Barrett and I remember hitting it over midwicket for a boundary for the winning runs.
Once the primary objective of playing for India had been achieved, did you at any point during that game set a target for yourself?
No. Look, my career had gone step by step at school and university level, but at the First Class level, I played for Mumbai but I didn’t play for West Zone in the Duleep Trophy because the selection committee didn’t pick me. Then I was picked straight into the Indian team. I had missed that one step, so I was just a little bit nervous. To be honest, all I wanted at that stage was not to look like a fool on the cricket field at the Test level. That’s all I wanted.