Sunny & Sunny discuss the World Cup's thrills and possibilities. THE WEEK presents Yajurvindra Singh (Team India, 1979) in conversation with Sunil Gavaskar (Team India, 1975, 1979, 1983, 1987)
India will soon be engulfed by the euphoria of World Cup 2023. This tournament, since its inception in 1975, has established itself, and a team winning it is recognised as the world champion. Like the Olympics and World Cup football, it is held once in four years, and, therefore, it seems to have the same aura as those revered sporting events.
I, Yajurvindra Singh, have had the pet name “Sunny” since birth. I was a member of the Indian World Cup side in 1979. My roommate on that tour was none other than one of the greatest batsmen ever to play the game, Sunil Gavaskar. In the cricketing world, he was nicknamed “Sunny” and hence the battle of an identity issue emerged between us. His claim of the letter ‘U’ in Sunny and not ‘O’ was one that we, even today, are unable to find an acceptable solution to. This dispute has involved many intellectuals and even the well-read Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan. Sanity and maturity finally took over and we have now compromised and settled this peacefully, as of now. This was necessary, as we both live in the same building in Mumbai.
The one passion that we both have is cricket and, especially, Indian cricket. Sunny ‘G’ and I are like chalk and cheese. He is meticulously organised and well-structured in every which way. For him, everything has to be well thought out, with a definite meaning/purpose to it. I live for the moment and enjoy a bit of uncertainty that goes with it.
A whiff of nostalgia with the World Cup round the corner overcame me and a tête-à-tête with my old room partner seemed an ideal way to remember India’s journey over the past 12 editions of the World Cup.
Sunny ‘G’ must be one of the only few who has been involved in every World Cup since its inception, a period of 48 years. He has been involved as a player, commentator and as an ICC representative, being part of their Cricket Committee.
A trek to his eighth-floor flat brought about memories of our cricketing days together. Before sauntering out to meet him, my eyes fell on his book Sunny Days on my bookshelf. A peep into the very first page was a photograph that I took years ago, with a lovely message from him, saying, “One of those sunny evenings in Baroda, from one Sunny to another”, signed, Sunil Gavaskar.
On entry into his airy and bright flat, a painting depicting the two Satya Sai Babas by M.F. Husain greets one and a sense of calmness pervades the place. Tea, with biscuits and farsan, took me back to 1979 when the two Sunnys had to share a pot of tea and a KitKat chocolate that came with it, as Indian cricketers were paid a paltry sum of £15 a day. We learned the art of sharing and cost-cutting pretty soon. A great way for team building was meals together and it did bring us much closer. We have all remained friends and hours fly by when we meet, reminiscing about stories and the days gone by.
Sunny ‘G’ is very articulate and can act and mimic on the spur of the moment. Cricket, especially the World Cup, was on our agenda today and we took to it like ducks to water.
ME (Yajurvindra Singh): What are your wonderful memories of the World Cup?
SG (Sunil Gavaskar): Naturally, the 1983 World Cup win. It was sheer magic. Mind you, we did beat the West Indies in our very first match and that win did make us believe in ourselves. The other memorable moments were, one the best-ever World Cup innings played, when Kapil Dev made that brilliant 175 against Zimbabwe and the famous six by Mahendra Singh Dhoni to win the 2011 Cup.
ME: One has to also take into account that during Kapil’s knock there was no such thing as field restriction. His runs would have been many more, otherwise. One gathers that his shots had so much power that fielders were, at most times, just spectators fetching the ball.
ME: We were part of the 1979 side and you were also there in 1975, 1983 and 1987. What do you think brought about a change in the way ODI cricket was played and how it was perceived by the Indian team?
SG: Both in 1975 and 1979, we had very little experience and knowledge about the limited 60 overs game. The change came about in 1981 when we played 10 ODI matches, five against Australia and five against New Zealand. We then understood how to approach our batting, bowling and especially the field placements. Furthermore, it also taught us as to what type of players are required for this format. In 1983, we had six genuine all-rounders in our side, who could contribute with the bat as well as with the ball. Spearheaded by one of the best in Kapil Dev, there was always someone else who stood up to support him.
ME: SG, you have always been one who fought in the earlier days for equal status for Indian cricket in the world. In 1979, on our arrival in the UK for the World Cup, after freshening up at a hotel near Heathrow Airport, we were transported by bus all the way to Scarborough, Yorkshire. This was to play our warm-up matches against Pakistan. It was cold and rainy and we barely managed to play one afternoon and that, too, on a wicket where the fast bowlers were not allowed to bowl. The bosses at the MCC did not find it important enough to bother about India or Pakistan. What a change has come about today—any venue around the world will give its right arm to host the two teams.
A funny anecdote that comes to mind involves you, SG. Imran Khan, with his Greek god physique and attitude to match would come to our dressing room wearing just his briefs. He always made a beeline to talk to you and, in doing so, flexed his muscles. Most of us made sure we had our shirts on and you, with that sarcastic grin on your face, played with a straight bat, even off the field. When he left, you imitated him, which naturally had all of us laughing a lot.
The 1983 win and the World Cup moving to Asia in 1987 must have truly made you feel proud.
SG: India, after the 1983 win, established itself forcefully as one of the top sides in world cricket. The cup moving to Asia was a significant and historic move in which I.S. Bindra and N.K.P. Salve played a major part. As an Indian, one was elated and since then India has never looked back.
ME: Whether one accepts it or not, the World Cup tournaments in England did have their own charm and tradition. I feel that needed to be pursued and unfortunately it has been completely overlooked since then.
I remember the photography session of all the teams at the Lord’s Cricket Ground attired smartly in their national blazer and tie. The renowned photographer, Patrick Eagar, took the photos from the first-floor balcony. Apart from the photo session, one interacted with other cricketers, many of them legends. Greeting and meeting them on equal terms gave one a feeling of achievement and assurance of being an international cricketer.
The other was the banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. This, too, was a memorable moment, as the royal family lined up to meet each one of the participating cricketers and even joined us in the palatial hall later. This was a fabulous get-together of top cricketers. SG, you may not remember, but there were so many of them eager to meet you and I did take a bit of advantage by standing next to you. Even the present ruler of Britain, King Charles, wanted to converse with you.
SG: In 1987 in Delhi we all did gather together for a group photograph and a banquet to keep up the tradition. However, this apparently faded into oblivion later. Sad! As the photograph did have a significance attached to it.
ME: In 1987, you proved to us after scoring 103 runs in 88 balls against New Zealand at Nagpur that you had transformed yourself into a limited overs player. You retired soon thereafter and later became involved with the ICC, to head their Cricket Committee.
What was the one change that you brought about that had an impact on subsequent World Cup tournaments?
SG: The ODI rules at that time did not permit the bowlers to bowl any bouncers. I felt it was unfair to the fast bowlers. Tailend batsmen with little skill, along with the comfort of not facing a short ball, were taking mighty heaves at the pacers. I changed the law to allow one bouncer per over for each individual batter. Presently, the law is one bouncer per over and I do not entirely agree with it being called a wide even if it is just above the head. A batsman should be able to play the hook shot to a ball that is just over the head, at a bat and glove height. A good bouncer is one that skims just above the head and one needs skill to handle it. Fast bowlers are once again suffering, as they bowl in order to keep the ball below the head height, and subsequently get pulled or hooked to the boundary.
ME: Coming to the present, who would you rate as your favourite team to win the cup? Naturally, both of us want India to win, what are your thoughts?
SG: India, with the win in the Asia Cup under their belt, are settling down well. I cannot fathom as to why the senior players have been given rest against Australia in the ongoing ODI series. Keeping up the winning momentum is essential for one to go into a tournament like the World Cup. The Asia cup in Sri Lanka gave the senior players enough rest.
I am also a little concerned about the batting form of Rohit Sharma, who is a vital cog, both as a captain and in the Indian batting line-up. The Australian series would have been a perfect opportunity for him and India to beat Australia and put them into a negative mind-set. The injury to Axar Patel may prove a boon for India. The option of an off-spinner of the calibre of Ashwin could come in handy.
I feel Kuldeep Yadav, who is bowling well, could play an important part in this World Cup for India. A majority of the batsmen in present day cricket do not watch the hand and hence play a wrist spinner off the pitch. Kuldeep is bowling a shade quicker; the batsmen are, therefore, getting less time to read him. This has made a huge difference in his performance which should augur well for India.
ME: I am a shade sceptical about Kuldeep. In the past, he has shown a tendency to get ruffled easily when batsmen start taking a toll on him. A wrist spinner needs a big heart and clever thinking, so one hopes that he has changed his mental approach sufficiently.
SG: Rohit is a captain who has faith in Kuldeep and that itself means a lot to any bowler.
However, the most exciting aspect of the World Cup will be as to how top order batsmen will face Jasprit Bumrah. He is bowling superbly and apart from his vicious incoming deliveries, he has his outswing in place. How teams handle Bumrah’s initial four overs will be exciting to watch. India will be looking at him to take the initial wickets and his presence could be just the catalyst for the others to get wickets as well.
ME: I feel South Africa looks to be a good side as outsiders. They have a good bowling attack and hard hitting all-rounders who are now familiar with the Indian conditions because of the IPL.
SG: England and Australia are powerful sides. I feel the Indian think-tank missed a beat there [by not fielding seniors in the series win against Australia].
ME: The most important factor for me will be the fatigue and fitness factor. Travelling around India is never easy and playing 100 overs and recovering from it at the latter part of the tournament will be taxing for players. The support staff, especially the fitness trainers and physiotherapists, will need to play a major part to keep the players fit and well. The quality of the support staff will also play a major part in this World Cup.
The other issue that comes to mind is that of the home advantage which one earlier had. This has diminished, especially in India. The players and coaches of most of the foreign teams are familiar with the Indian facilities and conditions. Most of them have been a part of the IPL franchises and are now well versed with an effective strategy for their respective national sides.
SG: You have a point there.
• • • • •
I initiated the final part of our discussion which was about the pulsating theme song of the World Cup—Ranveer Singh dancing and prancing away like only he can to a beat that could make even a fit Virat Kohli think twice.
SG opened the door to get into the car in his pristine and well-ironed white collarless shirt with a dark trouser and Modi jacket, which gave him that aura of a well-dressed professor. He was on his way to do a mentor talk for a corporate client and one wondered whether he had been asked to do one for the Indian cricket team as well. If not, India has truly missed an opportunity there.
To get something more out of this intimate tête-à-tête, I asked Sunny ‘G’, known for his dance moves on a few occasions, whether he would do a dance with Ranveer if India wins the World Cup.
With a twinkle in his eyes and a mischievous smile on his face, Sunny ‘G’ made a parting remark, “Sunny with an ‘O’, I will dance with Ranveer if India wins." He further added, “Just for your knowledge, Ranveer and I have danced in a cricket dressing room before. So it will not be an issue.”
A quick goodbye was the most prudent way out for me, lest he insists on me doing the dance as well.