Gundappa Viswanath talks about his greatest moments, playing with Sunil Gavaskar and a few disappointments on the occasion of his 69th birthday.
Gundappa Viswanath was the original wristy artist in Indian cricket. The batting great, who turns 69 on Monday, was the first from India to score another century after making one on Test debut – 137 against Australia in Kanpur in 1969. But he won a legion of admirers for his batting feats during a 91-Test career (6080 runs, average 41.93, HS 222, 14×100, 35×50).
After retirement he had served as chairman of the national selection committee, and it was his panel that selected Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid for the 1996 tour of England where both made a big mark.
An avid golfer these days, Gundappa Viswanath took a trip down memory lane in this interview in Bangalore.
What qualities should one possess to be a successful Test batsman?
The two most important requirements for a successful Test batsman are sound technique and cool temperament – the ability to remain unruffled in tight situations. One must know how to relax. The important thing is to take each Test as it comes as each greatly differs from the other.
What made Sunil Gavaskar such a batting phenomenon?
The great qualities possessed by Sunny were a perfect technique, unruffled temperament and great powers of concentration. The greatest thing about him was that whatever the level of match he played, he never threw his wicket away.
Which Test innings would you rate as your best?
It is a difficult to answer as I have played quite a few really fine knocks. A crucial knock from the point of view of my Test career was 75 not out against England in the second innings of the fourth Test in Kanpur in 1972-73. I had fared poorly in the first three and in the first innings in Kanpur. There was talk of dropping me. In the second innings, we were 39 for 4 with a first innings deficit of 40 when I played that knock that saved my country and me embarrassment. My confidence was restored and I got 113 in the next Test at Mumbai, becoming the first Indian to score a second century after making a century on Test debut.
The innings you described was crucial for your Test career. Which innings would you rate as your best ever?
Without doubt, my 139 in the second innings of the third Test at Kolkata vs West Indies in 1974-75 would rate as my best. We had lost the first two Tests and there were three more to go. A loss at Kolkata would have meant loss of the series. At Kolkata, we conceded a first innings lead of seven runs. I top-scored with 52 in our first innings of 233. In the second innings, despite my 74-run stand with Farokh Engineer (61), we slumped to 152 for 5. Madan Lal (15) and me then put on 40 for the sixth wicket. After that Kharsan Ghavri (27) and me put on 91 for the seventh wicket to help India reach a fine total of 316. West Indies, set a winning target of 310, were bundled out for 224 to lose the match by 85 runs. India reduced the 2-0 lead West Indies had.
Please tell us about your century on Test debut (versus Australia in the second Test at Kanpur in 1969).
I was selected in place of the great Chandu Borde. After I was selected, captain Tiger Pataudi made it clear to chairman of selectors Vijay Merchant that I had to be in the first eleven, and not be a reserve. In the first innings, I got out for zero. Merchant mentioned my first innings failure to Tiger. I was doubly nervous as first of all, I, a 20-year-old, was making my Test debut, and secondly I had got out for zero in the first innings. While I was waiting for my turn to bat in the second innings, Tiger told me to relax, saying not to worry and I would do well when my chance to bat came. My captain’s words eased my tension and I went on to score 137 against a quality attack which had good pacemen and spinners. My innings ensured India did not lose the Test.
Can you tell about BS Chandrasekhar’s great spell against England in the Oval Test of 1971?
That spell of Chandra’s (6/38) went a long way in helping India win the Test and series – India’s first against England in England. That day, Chandrasekhar was at his magical best and the English batsmen were so mesmerised they just didn’t know how to play him.
What was the Indian team’s batting high during your Test career?/h3>
It was the third Test against West Indies at Port-of-Spain in 1976. In our second innings, we were set 403 to win and we achieved the target scoring 406 for 4. At that time it was the highest successful Test run chase bettering Don Bradman’s Australian side’s 404 for 3 versus England in 1948. Initially, we played with the intention of saving the game. Only at tea time did we feel we could win and batted accordingly with Brijesh Patel putting the finishing touches with an aggressive 49 not out. Before Patel’s fireworks, Sunny scored 102, I got 112 while Mohinder Amarnath made 85. There were very good partnerships too.
What was the ‘low’ in Indian batting during your Test career?
It was definitely our 42 all out in the second innings of the Lord’s Test of 1974. That day the wicket was alright, only the conditions were typically English, gloomy and with heavy atmosphere. Chris Old and Geoff Arnold exploited the conditions and bowled exceptionally well. They were very accurate too. We did not have an answer that day.
You played a bit of one-day cricket too. Which knock of yours do you rate the best?
My best innings in this format was my 75 out of 190 against West Indies at Birmingham in the 1979 World Cup. This knock gave me lot of satisfaction as I scored against fast bowlers of the calibre of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft.
You’ve played against some of the best fast bowlers the world has seen. Who would you rate the best?
Of those I played against, Andy Roberts was the best. He was a really quick bowler with great control and extraordinary variety. He used to bowl two bouncers – the second one was such that one never saw it till it hit you. I was quite thrilled to score a lot of runs against Roberts at his fastest in the 1974-75 series. Graham McKenzie whom I played against in my debut series in 1969 was also a great fast bowler, deceptively quick and possessing great control over swing. Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee were also top-class fast bowlers. Denis Lillee was not at his fastest when I played him. So I have not really considered him.
Finally, any disappointments?
Yes, the way I had to leave Test cricket. I did have a poor tour of Pakistan in 1982-83, but so did many others. Again, I was finding too much Test cricket a bit strenuous. I did want a short break from international cricket. Unfortunately, the break proved to be a permanent one.