‘A great cricketer and a fantastic human being’

K. MURALI KUMAR

Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, one of the greatest opening batsmen in Test history, turned 60 on July 10, 2009. His Bombay team-mate and childhood friend Milind Rege pays tribute to the batting legend.

When Sportstar requested me to contribute a piece on Sunil Gavaskar, who turned 60 on July 10, I reminisced the times we’ve been together, for almost close to six decades. Call it relationship, friendship or whatever, the essence of this bond is trust. Implicit trust.

Call it destiny, because in the initial years there were so many kids in a compound of four buildings, all closely knit families. ‘Aai’ (Sunil’s mother) was singly responsible for bringing our families together. That’s what I call destiny. She sent us to the best school in Mumbai — St. Xavier’s High School — when most other children went to vernacular schools. It helped us a lot.

We were exposed to a different environment and it was something that allowed us to develop independently. We played cricket because Sunil’s uncle was Madhavrao Mantri, who was looked up to by all in Mumbai.

I am often asked as to how and when Sunil developed the burning desire to play for India. All of us, and that included Eknath Solkar, Ramesh Nagdev, Ramnath Parkar, Amarnath (both Surinder and Mohinder) and Syed Kirmani, were friends and played a lot of Inter-State cricket with and against each other and played the game like every other kid did.

Once Sunil was chided by his ‘mama’ Mantri that he should touch and feel the India cap only when that honour was bestowed on him. And I firmly believe that Sunil kept that remark at the back of his mind. As a batsman, he was like any other kid in Mumbai. He played for the fun of the game. But what set him apart from all of us was that his concentration levels were totally different, and this particular aspect took him to a completely different zone.

Sunil’s penchant for batting was obvious when he batted for two to three hours in our compound where most of us managed up to only five minutes.

I might have been an exception but my stay at the crease used to be for only 20 minutes. Sunil bored us to death. In fact we were so angry that we once cheated him. He was infuriated at this — an attitude which was apparent in his cricketing years. We broke his bat and hid his equipment (he owned them all but allowed us to play with them). We thought that he would stay away. But that did not happen; he was back the next day with all the gear.

It also amazes me how his temperament had changed over the years. Sunil was highly temperamental. He did not like being cheated. While at St. Xavier’s College, we would go to the movies with each one of us paying for his ticket. We once conned Sunil into booking the tickets. He was gullible and did exactly what he was told to. At the entrance of the theatre we did not pay him our share. He must have been livid and I laughed the loudest. It must have upset Sunil that his childhood friend had taken him for a ride. He did not react at all.

On our way home we boarded a local train. And when the ticket checker arrived, Sunil coolly handed me over to him. I had to pay a fine of Rs. 10, which in those days was almost half-a-month’s pocket money. Sunil then had a glint in his eyes as if to say “…didn’t think you would con me!”

Sunil now is chilled out, as they say. When he meets his friends, he has a great time. There are times when one has to tell him to break the party. He respects seniors, especially senior cricketers.

Being a legend, it’s normal that his cricket is talked about. Sunil once invited me to his room during a Test match in Kolkata (then Calcutta). He ordered dinner at 8 p.m. and retired for the day at 9 p.m. after having a quick bite. He had already begun preparing for the next day’s play. What dedication! It was amazing to see him switch off completely. I don’t think he was listening to what we chatted. I then realised that I had to leave him alone. That is our friendship — a complete understanding of each other and a tremendous respect for each other. We never take anything for granted and never expect anything from each other. That’s the kind of bonding we have.

I turned 60 in February this year, and memories of our childhood are still so fresh in my mind. Sunil is a wonderful human being with very high moral values. When I look back, I recollect all the fun we have had together, the tears we have shed, the highs and the lows of a lifetime spent together. And my belief in the saying, ‘No man is the whole of himself, his friends are the rest of him’, becomes even stronger.

God has been good to me. He has given me some real good friends and Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, a great cricketer and an even more fantastic human being, tops them all.

God bless you Sunil with all the peace and happiness forever.