The genius of Sunil Gavaskar and the genius of Sachin Tendulkar do not merit comparison. Nor justify contrast. Apart from being geniuses with the cricket bat in hand, there is precious little common ground for evaluation. Different periods; different priorities; different attitudes.
When Gavaskar began his trek in international cricket in 1971, India had not yet registered a single Test victory abroad, except in New Zealand. But by the time of Tendulkar’s advent the scenario had changed substantially, with India having won the 1983 World Cup and performing in both versions of cricket.
Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was a product of the ’60s. A generation born and bred in the aftermath of the violent Partition. It was a period of uncertainty and struggle, a period of consolidation. Young Indian cricketers modelled themselves on the lines of the three Vijays of Indian cricket: Merchant, Hazare and Manjrekar. Technique, temperament, tenacity followed the requirements of the longer version of the game. No serious cricket player had heard of one-day cricket. One-day cricket meant park cricket for casual cricket lovers.
By the late ’80s the emphasis had shifted diametrically, in mode and manner. Inspired by India’s World Cup win, this generation had different priorities. One-dayers had become immensely popular. The grounds were fast filling up. The matches guaranteed a win-loss result. A massive new group of cricket enthusiasts had cropped up. They wanted instant entertainment. The players too were willing and able to serve the sauce to developing taste buds. The cricket lexicon admitted unusual words: sponsorship, helmets, betting, bribery. The whole gamut of the English summer meadow game was turned awry. This was the age of power, the age of speed, of gay abandon. The age that brought Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar to international limelight.
Globally, the socio-political atmosphere underwent rapid changes. Space is seen as a tourist destinattion. The Berlin Wall became a path. During such times of flux, could cricket be left behind? The basic tool that symbolises the game, the bat, underwent radical change. The weight increased, the balance became more evenly distributed. Even its edges were no longer tapering, but as thick and solid as the meat of the blade. The punch a modern bat packs is amazing, even snicks go over boundary ropes. By comparison, bats from the Don’s time look laughably unsubstantial.
Sunil: Exemplar of classical batsmanship Sachin: The great modernist, embodying newer challenges
Unfortunately, power invites victimisation. In the euphoria of the ODI’s popularity, the honest art of bowling became a helpless victim. The often-hapless bowler was commanded to bowl just 10 overs at the most. With the ban on bumpers and beamers, his weapons of annihilation were taken away. More sadly, the cerebral bowler was denied even his last option—a choice of field placing. His position in the unequal battle can only be likened to that of the poor bull in a Spanish bull-ring: a mere target of a sadistic horde. In the race for revenue, the bowler was ravaged. No union came forward, no ombudsman.
Sunil and Sachin are epic models of two different generations. From their respective summits, the true intent of both masters has been to entertain. When smg drove straight past the bowler, there was a ripple of applause; when srt does it now, there is wild uproar. Different times, different tunes. In smg’s days the sternest test of a cricketer was the Test match. Today the emphasis has shifted to the ODI competitions. Different age, different attitudes.
Sunil represented and exemplified classical patterns of batsmanship; Sachin embodies new challenges and innovations. Sunil would eliminate risks and erect an innings with exactitude, whereas Sachin erupts with a burst of strokes all across the ground.
In the slow-paced ’70s, Sunil could take his time and plan. In the fast-paced world of contemporary cricket, Sachin has had to match the zeitgeist with an appropriate repertoire. Neither allowed the hazards of motivation and health to affect them. Their remarkable skills and constant striving for perfection made them consistent beyond compare. Both are monuments in the pantheon of cricket. Credits to the country; and credits to the game of cricket.
Sunil scaled the summit of Test cricket in style and splendour, although his performance in the limited variety wasn’t remotely comparable. Sachin’s prodigious performance in both forms of cricket, and the Twenty20 form of the game, shows his amazing versatility.
The principal reasons aren’t far to seek. In Sunil’s days, no worthwhile player prepared himself for the eventualities of one-day cricket. In fact, uninhibited strokeplay was frowned upon. In Sachin’s case, one can easily visualise that with the proliferation of one-day competitions, the genius is finding it difficult to adjust his concentration to the constant changes demanded by the different forms. But let there not be any unnecessary apprehension. For he will soon shift his weight to the longer version. He would set himself targets in Test cricket and, like his famous predecessor, achieve those with his customary brilliance. Although statistics do not tell the full story, who can deny that we are yet to have a better alternative for objective evaluation? smg’s Test aggregate of 10,000-plus runs is an achievement in itself. But the more pertinent point is that the majority of his 34 centuries were scored in others’ backyards. Docile Indian wickets didn’t inflate his figures.
But Sachin is the undisputed master of modern batsmanship. His match-winning innings and man-of-the-match awards come with such regularity that it’s his failures that become headlines. Sachin’s unique quality is that he bats like no other Indian batter. His batsmanship is cast in the West Indies mould: power, daring, excitement. He typifies the spirit of modern India. Born and bred in independent India, he is a product of confidence and exuberance.
Modern India knows not the rigours of colonialism nor the chaos that followed Partition. They walk tall, they speak their mind. Sachin and Sunil typify the distinctive ethos of their times. Indian cricket is fortunate to have them.
When Sunil made his debut at Port of Spain, Trinidad, India had a dismal overseas record. But the young debutant made amends immediately as he and his senior colleagues put Gary Sobers’s vaunted West Indians on the mat. Since then, he and his mates brought us other memorable Test and series victories. They were the pioneers who proved that India too had it in her to become world champions.
By the time Sachin arrived on the international stage, India were no longer pushovers. It had emerged as a cricketing power. But long, fallow periods of ordinary cricket had slackened cricketing progress. Sachin and his mates decided to firm up things, crank up concentration, and play inspired cricket. Even now, it is the magic of Tendulkar’s batsmanship that we must rely on to scale greater heights.
In Gavaskar’s days, the greatest bane of Indian cricket was provincialism. An impression had gained ground that a few states had the monopoly of India’s cricketing talent. By the time of Tendulkar’s reign, narrow parochialism had ended. Today, even unfancied regions have deserving players in the national XI. This maturity and liberalism, born of success, has been the greatest contribution of the firm of Gavaskar, Tendulkar & Co.
Gavaskar has been the solid foundation on which the superstructure of Tendulkar stands proud and beaming. They complement each other. They combine to form the edifice of Indian cricket.
The writer, a former Ranji player, is a cricket writer