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Thursday , February 18 , 2010
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Sunny: All-rounders made the difference in 1985

The legendary Sunil Gavaskar, who is in Calcutta in connection with the ongoing India-South Africa Test, spoke to The Telegraph (at Eden Gardens) for close to an hour on Wednesday. The one-on-one had a specific subject — victory in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket (WCC).

The following are excerpts

Q Winning the 1983 World Cup remains the biggest achievement. As important, perhaps, was the 1985 win. Well, 25 years on, what straightaway comes to mind?

A The time taken to appoint the captain for the WCC... It took such a long time for the selectors to come to a decision and, finally, I was entrusted with the job.

We’d not done well in the last (home) series before that, against David Gower’s England... What were your own expectations and what was the mood in the team?

Basically, the mood was positive. Positive because we had a change in personnel, we had younger players coming into the team... That always makes a difference. Siva (Laxman Sivaramakrishnan), Sadanand (Viswanath)... If you have guys who have not had the trauma of defeat hanging over them, new guys, then they bring a fresh perspective and are a lot more positive. That rubs off on everybody... Sadanand, I remember, was absolutely magical... Because of the time difference and all that, he was not able to sleep after checking-in (at the Hilton in Melbourne) and, so, he went around the city on his own and found out which Indian restaurants served vegetarian food and where you could give the laundry, for the laundry in hotels can be very expensive... Then, when we had a team meeting a bit later, in the evening, he came up with all that information. It was absolutely incredible and everybody went ‘hey, that is great’...

That relaxed the whole team...

(Laughs) Oh, totally... Everybody had a big laugh... It was such a good way to get a team meeting going... Here was a young man who showed lots of energy and wicket-keepers need to show that because they are the ones who lift the team, lift its spirits.

Given everything that happened in the 1984-85 season, what were your own feelings on landing in Australia?

I was very confident. I was also very relaxed in the mind, as I had decided to give up the captaincy... Confident because we had a good team, we had all-rounders and we had very, very good spinners (Siva, Ravi Shastri)... The MCG, especially, is a big ground and to try and hit a leg-spinner consistently into the stands would not be easy. Unlike now, in those days, you had to clear the fence (not just the rope) for the hit to be a six... The all-rounders did make a difference.

So, in the mind, you were free?

Oh yeah... Whatever happened, I knew that was going to be it... I was, of course, hoping to continue as a player. But the worries of captaincy, the responsibilities of captaincy, I knew, were going to be with me for those three weeks only.

Before taking that big decision, did you have a discussion with anybody or was it something you kept entirely to yourself?

No, not really. I just kept it to myself. There is always a bit of a shelf life for captains, because you can do it effectively for a certain period after which you tend to, maybe, lose that edge... You tend to lose that sharpness, you tend to become a tad complacent... So, you are actually better off going when enjoying the captaincy. You are better off leaving the position or the game when you are enjoying it, because you then take positive memories with you.

The Indian team after winning the World Championship of Cricket in 1985. (Standing, from left) Manoj Prabhakar, Mohammed Azharuddin, Ashok Malhotra, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, Ravi Shastri, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar. (Sitting, from left) Sadanand Viswanath, Chetan Sharma and Madanlal. Not in the picture are Mohinder Amarnath and Roger Binny

The first match was against Pakistan... Back then, an Indo-Pak match was probably received with more passion... Did you, perhaps, think that we’d got the wrong team as our first opponents?

In fact, Pakistan was probably the best team to face... For, if you beat them, you would be on a roll. Playing them first up was, perhaps, the best thing that could have happened. It really meant that we simply could not afford to be slow starters, had to be quick off the block.

What are your memories of that match?

I remember the way (Mohammed) Azharuddin played during his unbeaten 93. I also remember the way our bowlers performed, dismissing a strong batting line-up for just 183. (Roger) Binny was absolutely brilliant (four for 35). He was a very underestimated bowler, who moved the ball both ways. Occasionally, because he was such a strong guy, strong in the shoulders, he would get unexpected bounce...

How did the team celebrate that convincing (six-wicket) win?

It was a day-night game and there is hardly any time (to celebrate) after such matches... By the time everything gets over and one returns to the hotel, it is almost midnight. That is the time you are just looking to try and catch some sleep.

Fine, but what was it like emotionally?

One felt very good... We had not been winning, so it was huge for us. It boosted our confidence.

The next match was against England. Any special memories?

Well, we went into the match with a touch of apprehension, because we had just played them a few weeks earlier and lost. We were a bit apprehensive that the same story would unfold, but Siva and Shastri bowled really well, with each picking up three wickets... The batsman had already done their job, posting 235.

Very decent, in those days...

Absolutely, in those days 225 was looked upon as a par score in a 50-over game... Just tells you how far we have come from there.

Why did you, again, bat in the middle-order?

We had (Krishnamachari) Srikkanth and Shastri, who were doing very well. Being an all-rounder, Shastri gave us a lot of flexibility. As also the presence of Binny, Madanlal, Mohinder Amarnath... They gave the captain plenty of room to manoeuvre... That was the biggest plus of the 1985 team... As the openers had settled down well, I dropped myself down the order... After all, Srikkanth and Shastri were delivering.

Were you comfortable in the middle-order?

I was quite okay... Was not a problem at all because, invariably, Srikkanth and Shastri gave a great start.

Do you recall anything else from that match (won by 86 runs)?

No, just the bowling of the spinners... That sort of vindicated the selection of Siva, in particular, because there had been snide comments over what he would do in ODIs. He showed that he deserved his place.

The next match was against Australia, the hosts...

What comes to mind in a flash is that Srikkanth went after their new-ball bowlers... I think there was a (Rodney) McCurdy, one of the muscular types... Srikkanth took him apart and when the bowler would try and say something, Srikkanth, in typical manner, would walk away to square leg, looking at the sky... It was quite a waste of time for McCurdy, but was quite enjoyable to watch from the dressing room! We won by eight wickets with plenty of overs to spare.

What was the crowd support like that day?

Pretty good. India, indeed, is very fortunate that its team gets support just about everywhere.

The three wins took India to the semi-finals, against New Zealand... Did the momentum make you feel comfortable, or was there also a fear that the law of averages could catch up?

Luckily, none of the guys in the team were complacent, for the simple reason that there was an Audi as the prize for the man of the series, the Champion of champions. So you could see that those who were doing well were not going to be complacent, despite the fact that they might have got runs and/or wickets in the earlier matches. In those days, you could not get a foreign car that easily, a fair bit of red tape was involved... There was no complacency, just a bit of wariness that our record against New Zealand wasn’t very good.

As captain, what were your thoughts? Those days you didn’t have coaches and analysts and physios and so on...

Maybe it helped not having so many people trying to tell you to do this and do that... Had that been so, the mind would have been left cluttered. Cricket is a game where you go out and play on your own and, while it is good to have inputs, at the end of the day, you have got to bat/bowl on your own... Cricket is a lonely game and the best way is to do it on your own. That (approach) teaches you to think on your own, teaches you to think on your feet and that’s important. In a way, then, not having too many people certainly was a plus.

Are you then advocating that there should be fewer men in the support staff?

(Laughs) I do not know what the thought process of the modern player is... You do certainly need people to help you with your cricket. And, if those people are not going to impose themselves on you, but be around when you want to talk to them, then it is fine... You know, sometimes the coach is better off being a sounding board rather than a banging board... So, there’s nothing wrong in having people around, so long as they are not in your face all the time.

New Zealand got bowled out for 206...

I recall the assault by Lance Cairns (39 off 29 balls) in the final overs. Till he exploded, we had been looking to restrict them to a much lower score... But, then, Cairns had an unorthodox manner and was capable of hitting the ball from way outside the off stump over square leg... He was dropped off Madanlal by, I think, Srikkanth... Later, he did catch Cairns, but after not making an effort once in between... I was a bit upset and, because I was fielding some distance away from him, gestured that he should at least make an effort.

At the break, what was the mood in the dressing room? That making the final was just hours away?

Yes, but we realised that we had to bat sensibly... That, if we got off to a good start, we would be all right. However, we lost a few wickets and they bowled very tightly... (Richard) Hadlee was never easy to get away and, so, we found ourselves in a situation where, suddenly, the asking rate had gone up. Now, I was padded up to go at No.5, but I saw Kapil (Dev) getting a little anxious, tapping his feet and keeping on looking at me. I think he knew that I would promote him up the order and was waiting for my signal... His body language suggested that he was saying to himself ‘Look, I hope he doesn’t change his mind... I want to go out there and bat’... I gave Kapil the signal and he produced a brilliant innings.

An unbeaten 54 off 37 balls...

Yes, Kapil broke the shackles and it also meant that Dilip Vengsarkar was able to play freely. Eventually, we won by seven wickets with some overs in hand.

Surely, the team must have celebrated?

We had an unfortunate incident when we were leaving the ground (the SCG)... One of the Indian supporters got a bit too demanding and got into a bit of a scuffle with one of the players... We had to intervene as we didn’t want unpleasantness... Sometimes, after a few drinks, Indian supporters overseas tend to think that the Indian cricketers should belong to them... Then, of course, there was a funny occurrence the same night, but that is not something for a family newspaper like yours.

Who was the player involved?

(Laughs) I will not identify him... Not that the incident brought shame to him or to the country.

Finally... A few days later was the final against Pakistan... Were you pleased about meeting them, again, or a bit nervous?

We were in such a confident frame of mind that we would not have minded the Rest of the World... The West Indies featured in the other semi-final and they would always be difficult. They would have been far more difficult opponents, so Pakistan was just fine.

To be concluded on Friday

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