Saturday, May 8, 2010

Why I can’t take Sunil Gavaskar seriously as a T20 commentator

Sunil Gavaskar was a great player. In my team of test players who I have enjoyed watching the most, he would open the batting with Gordon Greenidge. His 221, chasing 438 to win at the Oval in 1979, was one of the finest innings I have seen (saw it on TV, having attended the third day of the game):

But when I listen to him commentating on the T20 World Cup, in the West Indies currently, I can’t take him seriously, and here’s why:

It was opening day of the first World Cup. England played India at Lord’s, batted first and racked up 334 for four , an immense score at the time, quite the equivalent of 400-plus in a 50-over ODI today. They were 60-over matches, but there were no fielding restrictions, no powerplays, and as I’ve explained before, one-day cricket remained a stately affair in those days, first-class cricket with a slightly fast pulse.

The innings was built around a Denis Amiss century, and Chris Old scored 51 at the end of the innings at a timewarp strike rate of 170.00.

So how would India, with the great Gavaskar opening, go about the chase? Would they risk all from the start, or would they build towards an all-out onslaught in the second half of the innings? What a wonderful start to the World Cup it would be if they got even close.

He batted throughout the 60 overs for 36 not out.

I shall repeat that for effect.

Thirty-six not out.

It was as if Sir Edmund Hillary had looked up at Mount Everest, decided it was a bit steep, and gone for a cup of tea instead. Unwilling to compromise his dignity by essaying unorthodox strokes, Gavaskar opted for practice instead, no matter that 25,000 people had paid in expectation of something wonderful.

His teammates tried to lay the blame solely on Gavaskar, but the total of 132 for three does not suggest that all caution was thrown to the four winds (and did it occur to nobody to run him out?). Only Gundappa Vishwanath, a batsman incapable of truly dull play, scored at more than three an over.

India, more than any of the cricketing nations, did not take one-day cricket seriously in those days, when 90,000 would fill Eden Gardens in Calcutta for the most irretrievably dull test match. That changed, literally overnight, when India surprised everybody, but most of all themselves, by winning the 1983 World Cup, a victory that initiated a chain of events culminating in the Mardi gras that is the IPL (S Gavaskar commentating).

You can tell, even now, that his heart isn’t in it. Today, there were two games that imitated the pattern of that match at Lord’s, the teams batting first scoring a very high total that almost immediately became beyond the teams batting second. He kept talking about the need to keep the scoring rate up, and to take risks, when what he really wanted to say was “Keep your bat straight, play yourself in, give nothing away and improve your average. Like I did.”

And that is why I can’t take Sunil Gavaskar seriously as a T20 commentator.

Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket

In the same package as this year’s Wisden , there arrived Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket , co-authored by Stephen Fay ...