'India’s batters are the envy of the world'
If the Nagpur pitch spins big, it will pose an equal challenge to the Indian batters but Gavaskar isn't worried
In Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border - the first two cricketers to scale Mount 10000 in Test cricket - India and Australia could not have found more suitable names for the trophy.
In the ’70s and first half of the '80s, many of India's away tours were marketed by overseas broadcasters around one name - Sunil Gavaskar. There’s a Channel 9 promo from the ’80s that extols the ex-India opener as ‘the mighty Gavaskar’ before breaking into their famous jingle ‘C'mon Aussie C'mon’.
From the time the India-Australia rivalry has been rechristened as the Border-Gavaskar trophy, India's stock as a force in Test cricket has been on the rise. Now approaching its 16th edition, India has finished winners in nine of those.
"It's been a great honour to have a trophy named after you in contests between two great cricketing countries. I am overwhelmed and grateful," Sunil Gavaskar said in an interview, before the Nagpur Test that starts Thursday.
In what was a very different world when Gavaskar played, India wasn't cricket's economic superpower. All the respect the Indian team got came thanks to performers like him, Kapil Dev and the like. The umpiring wouldn't exactly be neutral. Gavaskar’s walkout-threat after being adjudged leg-before to Dennis Lillee in the 1981 Melbourne Test is well documented. Since Gavaskar has explained his side of the story. He picked up that 1980-81 series as the most memorable India-Australia series from his playing days. "For that’s where despite the horrible umpiring, we drew the series 1-1. The team showed they weren’t going to turn the other cheek," he said.
India-Australia encounters have always had an edginess that makes the rivalry so special. In Border-Gavaskar trophy's 27-year lifetime, the batting legend picks the 2001 series at home as his most memorable. "India made a fabulous comeback (with wins at Kolkata and Chennai) after losing the first Test. It just pips the 1998 home series and the 2007-08 series in Australia."
INDIA HOLDS THE EDGE
In the upcoming series, India has a host of spin options to choose from to employ in spin-friendly conditions. Australia’s spin options to partner their premier off-spinner Nathan Lyon are all light on experience. Yet, Gavaskar thinks, it’s Australian fast bowling injuries that could hurt the visitors more. “Both the teams are superb. But Australia is likely to be without their potent threat Josh Hazlewood (and Mitchell Starc) for the first time,” he said. “That could tilt the scales India’s way.”
If the Nagpur pitch spins big, it will pose an equal challenge to the Indian batters. Gavaskar is not one of those who thinks India’s current batting crop is susceptible to spin bowling. “Our top batters are probably the envy of the cricketing world. I have full confidence in them,” he said. “Apart from Cheteshwar Pujara, others may not venture down the pitch, but that doesn’t make their footwork suspect.”
Gavaskar is close to doubling time as a cricket broadcaster to his 17 years as a player for India. The evolution of the game has reached a peak with teams like England attacking like no tomorrow even in Test match cricket. Is that sustainable? “It’s the most enjoyable to watch for sure,” he said. “Only time will tell whether it’s sustainable. Right now, they certainly do seem to have the batting line-up for it.”
But he also believes, the game will also have room for an old-school batting style like that of Cheteshwar Pujara, who will complete a century of Test matches in the second Test of the series.
“What a yeoman servant of the game Cheteshwar has been. Brought up the old fashioned but highly effective way of putting a massive value on his wicket, he is the batter that makes it easy for the others,” he said. “There are a few others like Kane Williamson who also bat like him and it tells you that you need all kinds to make a successful team.”
“I hope he caps his 100th Test match with a huge hundred,” he added.