Humble as ever!

Turning the clock back... batting legend Gundappa Visvanath, now 65, settles into his compact stance at the inauguration of a cricket academy in Hyderabad recently.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

It was down memory lane when V.V. Subrahmanyam caught up with yesteryear great G. R. Visvanath in Hyderabad recently.

Gundappa Visvanath, the supreme touch artist with the willow of yesteryear, has rarely spoken on any cricketing matter during his innumerable previous visits to Hyderabad in different capacities, as a player, coach and Karnataka selector, too. But when on a private visit to open an Academy on February 24, 2014, he was in his element in an informal chat after knocking back a few balls in his inimitable style.

“It was never easy to face the likes of fast bowler McKenzie or the then mystery spinner Gleeson. But honestly I was not too bothered about these things. Yes, I was nervous after scoring a duck in the first innings on Test debut,” the star cricketer of yesteryear, now 65, recalled about his entry into international cricket against the Aussies in the 1969 series in Kanpur. “There were butterflies in the stomach before my turn came to bat. I was not sure where my career would head after the first innings duck, whether I would get another chance or not if I failed again in the second essay,” he explained.

“Then, when I was intently watching the partnership between Ashok Mankad and Ajit Wadekar from a corner of the dressing room, there was a tap on my shoulder. When I turned back, it was my captain ‘Tiger’ Pataudi. He told me, “Just relax, don’t worry. You are going to hit a century,” Visvanath recollected those testing moments. “Well, he might have said that to ease the pressure on me. But, destiny saw me scoring a century. Since there is no video of that knock, I am not sure how to rate it, but it should be one of the best in my career,” he said with a big smile.

Which of his 14 Test centuries would he rate the best? “Honestly, it is very difficult to pick one. For it is not just centuries. There was that 97 not out (against the West Indies pace attack led by the then fastest bowler Andy Roberts in the 1974-75 series at Chepauk). I think the 139 in the Kolkata Test (in the same series) should rate very highly, for I had to stay at the crease for long,” Visvanath explained. “I think that innings (97 not out) was one of those days when everything clicked. It was my best innings, I think. During that knock, I had to play strokes with only Ghavri (Karsan) around with me,” the impeccable stylist of Indian batting remarked.

Visvanath signing autographs for young enthusiasts at the academy.-

Reflecting on Hyderabad, Visvanath said that he was very happy to have visited the City over the years for it has a rich history of producing great cricketers. “There was Jaisimha, who was my hero. Then, my first captain, ‘Tiger’ Pataudi, Abbas Ali Baig and later on Azhar, V. V. S. Laxman. I always enjoyed playing with or against most of them. I mean the whole atmosphere was different then,” he pointed out.

Referring to the popularity of T-20 cricket, Visvanath felt that it was exciting and indispensable in a way. “But, it is important to get the basics right at a very early age. For this reason, I feel that only those who have played some grade of cricket should coach the kids in schools. And not some drill-masters. This saddens me,” he said.

True to his nature, Visvanath refused to be dragged into any debate of sorts on whether India needs separate captains for different formats — Tests, one-dayers and T-20s. “I wish to leave it as it is. If you ask me about my captaincy, I am glad that I led India and I enjoyed it,” he told the select audience.

Not surprisingly, Visvanath was a picture of humility right through the visit. He met some of the former Hyderabad cricketers like Kanwaljit Singh, Noel David and Vanka Pratap and even signed autographs for the enthusiastic young talent. His parting words were that the game was greater than an individual.