Pataudi's words shaped my career, says Viswanath

India's erstwhile batting stalwart Gundappa Viswanath shares with Sportstar memories from his debut Test in Kanpur, which features a reassuring intervention by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.

Pataudi's two words “meant the world” and gave Gundappa Viswanath the confidence to walk out and carve out a scintillating 137 in Madras.   -  Getty Images

G.R. Viswanath. An epitome of humility, batsman of rare elegance and class. A master at the crease, demolisher of best bowlers, with a sublime late cut or a sweetly-timed square drive. He was poetry in the middle, his bat an artist’s brush, painting the canvas with some of the most alluring strokes.

Green Park. 1969. Viswanath making his debut at 20. “It was a dream Test. I was in the reserves in the previous series against New Zealand. In the first Test (against Australia at Bombay), I was not even in the reserves at the end of a 15-day camp. I wanted to go home but (EAS) Prasanna asked me to stay back and watch the match. Good I listened to him,” Viswanath told Sportstar.

On the rest day of the Test, chief selector Vijay Merchant wanted to watch some of the youngsters at the ‘nets’. Viswanath was among them. Obviously he made an impression. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was leading India and he insisted on including some fresh faces for the Test at Green Park. “My stint in the ‘nets’ and my preceding domestic cricket scores helped me get in. Pataudi asked for me, put me in the XI,” recalled Viswanath.

And then he got out for a zero on debut. “I remember well. It was (Alan) Connolly who got me. A fast bowler, he came and bowled an off-break, slower one, and I edged it to (Ian) Redpath at short-leg. I was devastated. It seemed end of the season for me. You can understand a youngster’s feelings. Would I get another chance? Fortunately for me I got a second chance to bat in the same Test.”

Viswanath did not sleep for two nights. “I was not nervous when I batted first. But the second time I was tense. It was then that I remembered two words from Pataudi that shaped my career.”

Two words

Despondent at his dismissal, Viswanath sat alone when someone tapped on his shoulder. “I turned around and saw Pataudi.” The skipper told him to “just relax.” As Viswanath insisted, those two words “meant the world” and gave him the confidence to walk out and produce a scintillating 137.

The journey from 90 to 100 was daunting. “It took me 48 minutes I remember. I was scoring through singles but it did not bother me. (Ashley) Mallet was a tall off-spinner and he had troubled me no end. It was satisfying to late cut him and reach my century. I can play the innings in my mind even now.”

His dismissal for zero had invited scorn from a section of the spectators who threw kullhads (earthern tea cups) at him.

“I just walked with my head down. I was hurt and hugely disappointed. The same crowd applauded me when I walked back after my century. Thereafter I was never worried what the crowd would say. If you got runs, they would clap. If not, then you better be prepared,” said the soft-spoken Viswanath.

Viswanath was a touch artist who reserved his best for the most challenging situations. When he scored a century, India never lost. He scored when the rest failed. A package of the most aesthetic strokes you can enjoy, the Karnataka batsman later played an innings that ranks alongside V.V.S. Laxman’s 281 against Australia at Kolkata. His unbeaten 97 against West Indies at Madras in 1974-75 is a timeless classic. “I still get calls from people who saw that,” he literally whispers.

Which knock is closer to his heart?

“The Madras innings because the pitch had tremendous bounce and the attack was menacing. The 137 defined my career. It will always be special.”

Any abiding memory of the 137? “Being able to pick (mystery spinner) John Gleeson quickly. A few cuts and square drives are well etched,” said Viswanath.

But even now what he remembers the most are those two magical words from Pataudi that propelled his career. Indian cricket owes it to Pataudi for ensuring the genius of Viswanath was not lost under the shadow of insecurity.