A well-deserved crown

Gundappa Viswanath with the Castrol Lifetime Achievement award, which he received from Sunil Gavaskar.-VIVEK BENDRE

The words ‘great batsman’ and ‘nice human being’ are often used in the same breath while referring to Gundappa Viswanath. K. C. VIJAYA KUMAR speaks to the maestro, who was recently honoured with the Castrol Lifetime Achievement award.

Some weeks ago, after sun-down in Bangalore, a few sports journalists were busy indulging in banter at a Karnataka Premier League cricket tournament’s get-together function. Repartees and noise were part of the ambience when a diminutive man, but high in stature, walked in. Within seconds the sports writers scrambled to their feet, created space and with folded arms and attentive eyes were all ears as G. R. Viswanath exchanged pleasantries.

The spontaneous respect he got within those few seconds is a pointer to his halo that has not diminished one bit, long after he had played his last match for India in 1983. His career has been a glittering one with 6080 runs from 91 Tests.

Cut to the present, the little big man, who recently won the ‘Castrol Lifetime Achievement Award’ at a glittering function in Mumbai, was all smiles when asked for his first thoughts. “I won the BCCI’s Lifetime Achievement Award last year and this year I have got the Castrol Trophy. May be I will talk after I score a hat-trick, let me get one more award like this,” he says and laughs.

Humour has always been his hallmark, much like the oft-quoted references to his square-cut. And during International matches at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, if you hear E. A. S. Prasanna, Syed Kirmani and B. S. Chandrasekhar laughing aloud in the Secretary’s chamber, it just indicates that Viswanath is holding court with his anecdotes and one-liners.

Besides humour, modesty has also been a Viswanath trait. It has also acted as a shield as he largely stayed away from the limelight. “After I retired, I took two years off and then I became a selector, became the chairman (of selectors), then I became the ICC match referee and through that I was occupied for many years and the responsibilities demanded that I stay behind the scenes,” Viswanath says.

Viswanath is a batting consultant at the National Cricket Academy.-K.V. SRINIVASAN

Modesty was also evident when he began to introspect his latest award. “Last year when the BCCI honoured me I was thrilled. I had earlier attended many functions where I have seen great cricketers being honoured and I used to secretly wish that I too should get an award like that. It is a similiar feeling now with the Castrol honour as I am joining a list of great players who got this citation previously,” Viswanath says. The earlier winners of the Castrol award include Vijay Hazare, Polly Umrigar, B. S. Chandrasekhar, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and E.A.S. Prasanna.

Any regrets? “The human mind is such that you are never satisfied and you will always think that you could have done better may be as a player, but I have no regrets. When I was named for this award as well as the earlier BCCI award, I thought about my formative years in first-class cricket and then my International stint playing for India and the manner in which I did various roles within the cricket administration and I think it is a beautiful graph,” Viswanath says.

Viswanath was often associated with aesthetics besides guts as evident in that famous 97 against Andy Roberts and Co., in Chennai in the 1975 Test and he believes that batsmen who are a pleasure to the eye still thrive in the modern era. “I have always loved watching Sachin (Tendulkar) bat. I also like the complete and correct cricketer Rahul Dravid. Yes, there are still players who are pleasing to watch, but the trend of the game like any other sport, tennis for instance, has begun to follow power-hitting.

“There is also talk about shortening Test matches! I think the fifth day contest between a class batsman and a top class bowler defines quality and character, why lose that? I think all three formats of the game can co-exist,” Viswanath says.

The words ‘great batsman’ and ‘nice human being’ are often used in the same breath while referring to Viswanath. Does he believe that the game has lost its niceties? “It is still a gentleman’s game, but the ultra-competitive nature has almost made this sport into an industry. There is so much at stake that a player might have an extra edge on the field, but ever since match referees came to the fore, incidents have come down,” Viswanath says.

The road ahead? “For the last few years I have been associated as batting consultant with the National Cricket Academy and it is such a satisfying feeling to teach these young boys who also recognise that I too have come through the grind and respect that. We are also reviving the Karnataka Cricket Academy. I am the Chairman and my good friend Syed Kirmani is the Director,” Viswanath says. He may have acquired a sneaking affection for golf in recent years but his cricketing heart is still as strong as ever.