"Move over Don, it’s Sunny now" proclaimed most of the banner headlines in the morning newspapers on December 29 1983 and why not? A famous record, seemingly unapproachable, had finally been surpassed the day before and the cricketing world saluted the man who did the impossible.
Ever since he retired in 1948, Don Bradman’s tally of 29 hundreds appeared to be quite unsurpassable. Even with the proliferation of Test matches and even while a handful of batsmen had crossed his tally of 6996 runs and that of Walter Hammond’s 7249 which for long stood as the world record for anyone to reach 30 hundreds appeared to be Mission Impossible.
Colin Cowdrey got as far as 22 after playing 114 Tests – more than twice that of Bradman – and Gary Sobers improved on that figure to get to 26 after 93 Tests before retiring in 1974.
Around this time the leading batsmen in the game were Vivian Richards, Greg Chappell and Sunil Gavaskar. If anyone could get past Sobers and come close to 29 it would be these three was the general opinion. But nearly a decade later Chappell had retired with 24 hundreds from 87 matches.
Given his swashbuckling approach it was no great surprise that by this time there was a marked decline in Richards’ century ratio. So the man to watch out for was Gavaskar for the Indian opening batsman combined technical excellence with an insatiable appetite for runs allied to the age old qualities of dedication, determination and concentration.
Ever since his remarkable debut series in the West Indies in 1971 when he amassed 774 runs in four Tests with four hundreds including a century and a double century in the same match Gavaskar seemed destined for greatness.
It was quickly obvious that he was not a meteor for he continued to make runs consistently and more important continued to notch up big scores. By 1979 he had had 20 three figure knocks in just 50 Tests, a ratio only Bradman could boast of, and even though this obviously could not be maintained as he grew older, the hundreds against his name crossed the 25 mark as 1983 dawned.
Fortunately for Gavaskar that was the year the Indians had a lot of Test matches, first in Pakistan and the West Indies and then return contests against the same two teams at home.
But during the year he celebrated his 34th birthday so obviously he couldn’t last very long. And yet one by one the centuries were notched up and he crossed No’s 26, 27 and 28 towards the end of the year bringing Bradman’s long standing record into focus.
On October 29 1983, Gavaskar scored his 29th hundred against the West Indies in New Delhi and the considerable achievement was celebrated loud and long. Now that he had drawn level with Bradman, could he go past him was the obvious question.
There were still four Tests to be played in the series before the end of December. Gavaskar came close to doing so in the next Test at Ahmedabad but was out for 90. During this innings he went past Geoff Boycott’s record tally of 8114 runs in his 95th Test. Thereafter his form nosedived and his scores were 1, 12, 3, 0 and 20.
Coming into the final Test at Madras – which was his 99th - Gavaskar’s morale could not have been high. He had requested that he be dropped to No 4 in the batting order. For the last few years he had been finding it increasingly difficult to be physically and mentally relaxed to open the innings after fielding for an extended period.
As luck would have it, Anshuman Gaekwad and Dilip Vengsarkar fell to successive balls from Malcolm Marshall and the score was zero for two when he entered. Richards joked with Gavaskar immediately after he came in "Maan, it makes no difference if you bat lower. The score is still zero."
At close of play India were 69 four in reply to West Indies’ first innings total of 313 with Gavaskar batting on 36. The following day the fifth wicket fell at 92 but Gavaskar found able support from Ravi Shastri and kept the scoreboard moving at a steady rate.
He got to his half century and by then the near packed MA Chidambaram stadium crowd sensed that they could well be witnesses to history. As he cruised through the 80s and 90s, the cheering reached a crescendo. The big moment finally came in mid-afternoon when Gavaskar pushed Winston Davis for a single to mid-wicket. The Bradman barrier has at last been breached after 35 years.
Having created history, Gavaskar now batted more freely. He went on to get 236 not out which surpassed the Indian record of 231 by Vinoo Mankad - hitherto the highest score by an Indian in Test cricket.
He scored four more hundreds before retiring in 1987 and his record of 34 three figure knocks was fittingly enough broken by another Indian, Sachin Tendulkar, in 2005.