Book review - Guts amidst Bloodbath: Aunshuman Gaekwad shares love for Sachin, betrayal and more

‘Guts amidst Bloodbath’ is a fitting collection of stories to bring out former India cricketer and coach Aunshuman Gaekwad.

Published : May 29, 2023 16:12 IST - 7 MINS READ

The book cover of Aunshuman Gaekwad’s ‘Guts amidst Bloodbath’
The book cover of Aunshuman Gaekwad’s ‘Guts amidst Bloodbath’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The book cover of Aunshuman Gaekwad’s ‘Guts amidst Bloodbath’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

For someone who was scared of fast bowlers as a teenager to have grown into one of the most resilient batters against the new ball was some feat by Aunshuman Gaekwad. He was made of rare grit and ambition to grind the attack even as the ball whizzed past his nose and sometimes struck him at various spots on the body. “Each blow made me more determined,” he recalled. His stubbornness at the crease also made the fast bowlers his greatest enemies. They looked to hit him, hurt him. He accepted the blows and grew as one of India’s best batters against the fast bowlers.

Gaekwad, whose father DK Gaekwad was a Test captain, built a career that transcended generations, starting as a player in 1969, to donning different roles - coach, selector, administrator, and broadcaster. He had to document his cricket journey and he captured it all in a book form titled most appropriately - Guts Amidst Bloodbath. Gaekwad and blood had a close connection indeed.

His debut, at 22, against the West Indies at Calcutta in 1974-75, came in exceptionally scary circumstances. Gaekwad walked in to replace a bleeding Tiger Pataudi, hit on the chin by a ferocious Andy Roberts. The ball was flying. When Gaekwad crossed Pataudi he saw blood dripping onto the shirt. “It was disturbing.” When he arrived at the crease, there was blood on the pitch to greet him. The man waiting for Gaekwad in the middle was G. R. Vishwanath who said some soothing words, “There’s nothing in the bowling. Don’t worry.”

Gaekwad, as he recalls in the book, did not worry. Even after taking an express delivery on his thigh. He saw off the fast bowlers but succumbed to the left-arm spin of Roy Fredricks. He was adjudged caught behind to a ball he never nicked. A memorable debut made all the more delightful because India won that Test. In the next match at Madras, Gaekwad hit a brilliant 80 that set his career on the right course. It also made him popular with the ladies and a Girls Hostel warden requested him to visit the place and sign posters of him that adorned the walls of the rooms. There was a fan who wrote long letters to him, one in blood on a handkerchief. “I stopped replying to her,” writes Gaekwad after that incident.

Bookmark for the autobiography ‘Guts amidst Bloodbath’.
Bookmark for the autobiography ‘Guts amidst Bloodbath’. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Bookmark for the autobiography ‘Guts amidst Bloodbath’. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Gaekwad deals in detail with his experience of being hit by Michael Holding at Sabina Park in 1976 when his glasses went flying. Sunil Gavaskar was the one to accompany Gaekwad to the hospital. Gaekwad’s body was battered from the blows that he took as the West Indians bowled a barrage of bouncers and beamers at the Indian batters. When Viv Richards and Deryck Murray walked up to check on his well-being, Gaekwad just waved them away. “I didn’t want their mercy. They didn’t have any,” he writes. 

The book is replete with anecdotes that highlight his personality and his association with other players, seniors and juniors. Gaekwad is great friends with Gavaskar. The book tells us that they were both born in the same place - Dr. Purandare’s Clinic on Marine Drive - three years apart. “We are also great friends because in all our partnerships we never got each other run out,” Gavaskar said when launching the book at a function in Mumbai’s Cricket Club of India. Gaekwad was rated one of the best openers in the country in the 70s and 80s. “He was good both against the bouncing as well as the moving ball. In my memory, he played Kapil Dev (who was in his prime) better than most,” Ravi Shastri is quoted in the book.

There are some exciting passages on controversies that Gaekwad encountered - the 1978 tour to Pakistan when skipper Bishan Singh Bedi, frustrated with the biased decisions of the home umpires, threatened to pull out the team from the tour.

Gaekwad’s experience in 2009 of being appointed coach of the Gujarat Cricket Association following a breakfast meeting with Narendra Modi (then Chief Minister of the state) makes for interesting reading. “I have handed Aunshuman all the responsibilities of cricket,” Modi had reportedly announced at a public function in 2010. Gaekwad remained in that position for two years. His tenure, however, ended on a sour note. A two-sentence letter terminating his job. “They didn’t have any courtesy to even call me,” Gaekwad writes.

But one anecdote that brings to light the betrayal by a former colleague leaves the reader stunned. At the end of the 1999 World Cup in England, Gaekwad, at the request of manager Brijesh Patel, shared his report with the latter. Gaekwad’s faith was shattered when sections of his report were leaked to the media. “I sent it to him thinking that he would just like to know the format. To my disbelief, certain portions of my report, which was supposed to be confidential, appeared in a local newspaper the very next day. It was very disheartening,” writes Gaekwad. Ironically, it was Gaekwad who had proposed the name of Patel for the job of manager of the team for the World Cup.  

Gaekwad shares his love for Sachin Tendulkar, who gave his best during his stint as a coach. The 1998 Sharjah triumph, the Anil Kumble 10-74 feat against Pakistan, and some incredible victories are written about fondly. He also gives his views on match-fixing and reveals a team member carrying huge cash in his kit bag in the dressing room. Gaekwad had returned as a coach in 2000 when Kapil Dev had relinquished the job and Indian cricket was ravaged by match-fixing allegations.

Gaekwad does not spare some of the foreign coaches attached with the Indian team. He rips John Wright for writing in his book that he had “seen physio Andrew Leipus giving the players a white powder with milk which could have been steroids.” Gaekwad wonders how people could make such stories out of thin air. Gaekwad also reveals how a foreign coach wanted to know from him “how to keep the boys together.” This, as Gaekwad writes, was after having spent one year with the team.

Written by Aditya Bhushan and edited by Sachin Bajaj of Global Cricket School, it is a fitting collection of stories to bring out Aunshuman Gaekwad, whose highest Test score of 201 (against Pakistan at Jalandhar) came nine years after his debut. Gaekwad played 40 Tests in his 11-year old career. For his 56-year-old association with the game, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) honored him the Col. CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award

The book brings out a less talked-of fact about Gaekwad’s batting exploits. In the 1982-83 season, he had scores of 104, 1, 57, 225, 64, 81*, 144 and 15 in the Duleep and Ranji Trophy. He was at the peak of his form but the selectors remained unimpressive. For four years from 1979 to 1983, India played 37 Tests and Gaekwad, between the age of 27 and 31, was not picked for even one of those matches.

The book has a riveting chapter on Gaekwad finding Jyoti, his partner for life. They overcame obstacles, including from within the family, to take the path of joy. “Actually, Aunshu and I stuck around together more because the people around us didn’t support us. We had no one to fall back on but each other,” Jyoti says candidly. “He is the better half,” says Jyoti, who is a wonderful painter and conducts exhibitions of her work regularly in Baroda. They live in a beautiful house in Baroda in breathtaking surroundings where peacocks walk into their kitchen every morning.

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