0-8? Not on Sunil Gavaskar's watch!

Last Updated: Tue, Jan 31, 2012 06:55 hrs

When the legendary Sunil Gavaskar retired in 1987, he was seen as India's greatest Test batsman ever. Some even put him ahead of Don Bradman.

Today, a few people in the microscopic minority still consider him the greatest ever.

Gavaskar played from 1971 to 1987.

In one way, that could be counted as amongst our best eras for Test cricket. There are many interesting statistics about the Gavaskar era.

For example, how many times was India thrashed 0-4 or 0-5 in the pre-Gavaskar era? The answer is four times.

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How many times have we been thrashed 0-4 in the post-Gavaskar era? The answer is three.

How many 0-4s were there in the Gavaskar era? The answer is zero. That is despite the fact that we played six Test series at that time.

What was India's Test losing percentage in the pre-Gavaskar era? We used to lose a whopping 42% of all matches that we played.

In the Gavaskar era that fell steeply to 27.1 %. When we look at statistics pertaining to the post-Gavaskar era, we find that it's gone slightly up to 29.2%! So we are marginally losing more matches after Gavaskar retired.

The real difference is that we are winning more Test matches than that era (also thanks to matches with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) and Gavaskar was the master of the ''draw''. He used to play prolonged matches and ensure many more draws than India used to do before.

A lot of people called him boring due to that factor and hated the high number of draws we had at that time.

But looking at the 0-8 whitewash, a person like Gavaskar would have been a boon and would have managed to draw nearly half the matches and probably been hailed a hero.

Fourth innings king...

If one looks at the fourth innings of a match, where many greats languish in the mundane 20s and 30s, we find that there he averaged an astonishing 58.25.

He debuted in 1971 taking on world champions West Indies on their home turf.

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At the second match at Port of Spain, the West Indies set a fourth innings target of 124. Gavaskar's 67 not out saw us win comfortably by seven wickets.

If you think that was no big deal, then you may remember the Bridgetown match in 1997. The West Indies set us a victory target of 120. Captain Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, M Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, NS Sidhu & Co. could muster up only an 81 all down as the Windies used just 3 bowlers.

Coming back to the 1971 Windies tour, Gavaskar debuted with an astonishing 774 runs with an average of 154.8. That ensured that we drew the rest of the matches to win 1-0.

In the third match in that series, the Windies set us a target of 295 and Gavaskar was playing on 64 and India 123-0 when play ended.

In fourth match, they set us a target of 335 and India were 221-5 with Gavaskar not out on 117!

In the final match a brilliant 220 second innings knock by Gavaskar saw India set a victory target of 262 for the Windies and they were 165-8 when play ended. Had it been six-day Tests at that time, we might have actually won 3-0!

But one of the chases was finally fulfilled when in 1976, we effected a world record chase of 406-4 on Windies soil in 1976 at Port of Spain. Gavaskar hit a crucial 102.

In 1979 at the Kennington Oval, England set us a victory target of 438. A fine 221 by Gavaskar saw us being 429/8 when the opposition captain appealed to call for bad light and have the game called off!

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In 1982, England set us a victory target of 306 and we were 170-3 with Gavaskar 83 not out.

Even in the famous 1986 tied match in Australia, when India scored 347 in the last innings, Gavaskar top scored with 90.

With Gavaskar around an improbable victory was possible till the dying stages of a Test match.

The lost art of the draw...

Gavaskar could simply down the shutters at one end if there was no chance of a victory. A 100 off 250 balls from the master meant that wickets fell at only one end and batting collapses were much rarer.

That's absolutely priceless for an opening batsman!

That art of the draw has been totally lost to India. Winning is great, but when a team has absolutely no chance of winning, like it did in England and Australia, if a few batsmen go totally defensive and manage to draw a couple of matches, then it goes a long way in boosting the morale of the team.

Test matches ending in 3-4 days are quite ugly. One wonders whether the time has come for Gavaskar to be at least batting coach to the Test team.

The greatest ever?

One also has to remember that Gavaskar played on much more hostile pitches and bowlers in that era. There were no neutral umpires and sometimes their bloopers and bias made one tear one's hair in frustration.

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There were also no endless video analyses of bowlers and pitches to do batting homework before a series.

There were also no Bangladesh and Zimbabwe to milk runs against.

His 10,000 Test runs (he was the first to get that landmark) were pure gold in that era.

An opening batsman who could tame the new ball in the hands of the most fearsome of fast bowlers on the greenest of pitches on Day 1 and then pull off impossible chases on Day 5 when the pitch had totally deteriorated.

It is in this light that Gavaskar could still be called India's greatest Test batsman ever.

The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/

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