Calcutta: Till the IBL franchises were formed, we only knew Sunil Manohar Gavaskar as a legend over the 22 yards. Not any more.
Today, Gavaskar is a co-owner of the Mumbai Masters, a franchise which made the last-four of the inaugural IBL.
On Saturday morning, Gavaskar (now 64) spoke to The Telegraph from his Mumbai residence.
The interview was restricted to badminton, which Gavaskar didn’t mind at all.
Q Your franchise lost in the semi-final of the IBL... Was the loss to the Awadhe Warriors hard to digest?
A Whatever the sport, one is always disappointed after a defeat... But the Masters played good badminton and the semi-final was actually of a very high quality.
Going forward, what should the Masters do?
Look, that call has to be taken by the support staff, who have the technical expertise. It wouldn’t be proper for me to comment.
How did you become a co-owner of the Masters?
(Vankenna) Chamundes-waranath got in touch with me and invited me to join the consortium. In any case, as you know, I’ve always been fond of badminton.
Well, how much of a role did you play in the lead-up to the auction?
Hardly any, for I was overseas. However, I did suggest that we should get the world’s No.1 singles player among men, Lee Chong Wei. We did, as it turned out, but he joined late.
Why were you so keen on the Malaysian?
Besides strengthening the Masters, his mere presence would serve as an inspiration... The younger lot could pick up plenty from Wei, who turns 31 in October.
Were there occasions when you gave the Masters team a pep talk?
(Laughs) No, no... I don’t know enough about badminton to give pep talks! At best, I can be called a recreational player.
You did have a role with the Kochi Tuskers Kerala in the IPL, but being the co-owner of a badminton franchise must be a very different experience?
Being part of the IBL has been exciting... It has had plenty of buzz and the fans have responded in big numbers. It’s an exciting concept and I do see a future for the IBL, which is being beamed to many countries.
Has badminton been your favourite sport after cricket?
Badminton has been above all, including cricket. Indeed, it has been my No.1 sport.
Absolutely... Badminton held my attention right through school and college. It’s with some embarrassment that I remember booing the opponents in inter-school and inter-college matches... Unlike cricket, where you are some distance away from the action, in badminton, you’re next to the court.
But did you play badminton in school?
No, besides cricket, it used to be table tennis.
What made you take up badminton? Was it to stay fit, after having begun playing for India?
The late Naren Tamhane (a former India ’keeper and chief selector) suggested that I take to badminton in the off season, which then would be from May till September... I’d largely play doubles in the Bombay Gymkhana. As the court time was limited, doubles allowed more players to participate... Later, after I was through with cricket, I had to play doubles for I didn’t have the legs for singles!
Have you had a favourite badminton player?
Prakash Padukone... In my view, Padukone has been India’s greatest sportsman after 1970-71, from the time I became an international cricketer. I don’t wish to be disrespectful towards the many other big achievers, but Padukone, who won the All England in 1980, dominated like no other... He used to hammer the Chinese.
What are your thoughts on today’s headline-makers, Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu?
Both have been doing very well and their successes will serve as an inspiration... In fact, badminton is becoming a career option and that’s a significant change. A welcome change, too.
The IPL started it all... Could the leagues ‘threaten’ the older structures?
Don’t think so... In badminton, for example, the calendar is clear. The IBL didn’t clash with anything major. The leagues in China don’t clash with a major badminton event. The scheduling is critical.
Lastly... Did you get to spend much time with Wei, the No.1?
Not much, unfortunately... But from whatever interaction I had, he came across as humble... Very down to earth... Also, he was happy to mix around and was keen to help the less experienced shuttlers.