GUNDAPPA VISWANATH – KING OF SQUARE CUT
As Gundappa Viswanath who turned 72 yesterday ( 12th Feb.2021), a reminiscence of a fabled career unfolds here.
“ A sport so gratifying, for those who played and those who watched it “ Scyld Berry, famous author in his book “Cricket The Game of life “.
And it was always a pleasure to watch Gundappa Viswanath’s fine art. Hewas a Piccaso of Indian cricket.
U.P. PAN PARAG
The diminutive Right Hand batsman from Karnataka made his international debut in 1969-70 series ,( a series marred by crowd disturbances in Bombay, Calcutta and Bangalore ) in the 2nd Test at Kanpur, U.P. against the visiting Australians. And in the very first test he showed his batting prowess hitting a century in the second innings albeit his first innings duck. Though the Test was drawn, a new cricketer was baptised with high quality batting in Gundappa Viswanath. Here is a batsman who had broken the hoodoo of the Indian who scored a century in his first Test, never to score another but he did not make runs in the quantity his style and ability suggested he could. Now, for the first time, Vishy made his class tell : an Indian batsman not only defended his wicket, but was able to take charge of the bowling.
After a disastrous tour of England in 1974, the selectors have sacked Ajit Wadekar as Captain and recalled Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi to carry the mantle of leading the Indian team for the West Indies series of 1974-75. This series also witnessed so many controversies including dropping of Bedi for the first test at Bangalore as he failed to appear before an Inquiry committee into the team’s dismal performance in England. The selectors also compounded the selection of players and Captain when regular captain Pataudi was injured. And we also saw so many openers during the course of the series.
This series saw so many injuries to both sides, especially India and it was Vishwanath and Farouk Engineer & Prasanna who have only played all the 5 tests in the series. And so it was Vishwanath who had to do the major chunk of batting and he rose to the occasion well.
After India were down with 2-0 in the 1974-75 series with West Indies ( with defeats at Bangalore and Delhi) , India fought back brilliantly in the 3rd Test at Eden Gardens and Vishy didn’t disappoint the cricket crazy Bengali’s played a patient knock of a half century in the first innings and a sparkling century in the second innings , his first century against the Windies in the second innings. And the spin trio of Bedi, Prasanna and Chandra steam rolled the mighty west indian batting line up and set up the first victory of the series here. His take on Andy Roberts was a bolt from the blue for the West Indian team.
.https://youtu.be/_2ESaYJ-6jU ( Eden gardens in 1974-75 series))
All the roads lead to Chepauk stadium and the stadium itself was resplendent with a festive look as the “Harvest Festival” Pongal ( those days”Pongal” festival was synonymous with a Test match at Chepauk) was round the corner.
Indian captain “Nawab of Pataudi” called it correctly at the toss and elected to bat. Indian openers Eknath solkar and Farouk Engineer were removed very early by medium pacer Bernard Julien and the diminutive Gundappa Viswanath arrived and immediately he indulged in his penchant square cut shots taking on the “Silent Assassin” Andy Roberts who was breathing fire into indian batsmen with his lethal deliveries. And on the other end the wickets were tumbling like packs of cards to the guiles of Andy Roberts, Vishy fought a lone battle. He stood like a rock of the Gibraltar and steadied the innings in the company of tail-enders from 91-7 he carried the mantle of batting and shepherded the team with a respectable score of 190 while remaining himself unbeaten on 97. His brother in law ,Sunil Gavaskar in his book “Idols” eulogises Vishy’s batting effort as “ His square-cutting meant that Clive Lloyd had to keep two fielders on the third man boundary, and the way Roberts was bowling that day, it is a tribute to the quality of batsmanship. The moment Roberts bowled on the leg side, Vishy flicked him past square-leg and past mid-wicket. And the moment there was an over-pitched delivery, he drove it through the covers with elegance.”
After Vishy’s heroic knock, it was the turn of the Indian spinners who ran through the mighty Windies line-up and set up a victory and as the series was tied up with a two all with the final test at Bombay.
Throughout his career, Vishy always rose to the occasion and played significant knocks when the situation demanded.
Vishy’s Century in the first innings at M.C.G affectionately known as “ G” (Australia) in 1980-81 series was a memorable one considering the fact that when other players couldn’t even reach 25 in the first innings , Vishy played a truly gritty knock. Gundappa Viswanath was passing through a bad patch. Garfield Sobers, then living in Melbourne, advised him to play straight and not attempt any shots square of the wicket until he was on 40.
Following his advice, Viswanath scored 114 in the first innings. Vishy heeded the advice of the great all-rounder’s advice and it paid off. And the match and the Test series would have been in limbo, but for the intervention of the Indian team Manager Wing Cdr. S.K. Durrani, who asked Chetan Chauhan to continue the match. After given out LBW, a dubious decision, Sunil Gavaskar the then captain, when he was on 70, a fuming Gavaskar asked his batting partner, to return to the pavilion. Chauhan was reluctantly leaving the field. But near the pavilion, the manager asked Chauhan to continue the innings and India went on to win the Test thanks to excellent bowling by Kapildev, in spite of his illness as India defended a paltry 143 as Australia were bowled out for just 83 runs. And Vishy was rightfully declared the Man of the Match for his excellent century.
https://youtu.be/-sVFNElJrpg (at MCG in 1981)
India’s greatest run chase in the Caribbean islands came as a rude shock to the West Indies team led by Clive Lloyd. In fact it was then the highest chase in a Test. The drama happened at Queens’s Park Oval, Port of Spain in 1976 series. It was the third Test of the series and West Indies already 1 up in the series. Clive Lloyd set India 403 runs in the fourth innings expecting his spinners would run through and would win. But his calculations were proved wrong. First it was the turn of the “Little Master” Sunil Gavaskar, whose favourite hunting ground started the proceedings with a well made century. Then it was his brother-in-law Gundappa Viswanath who put up 159 runs with Mohinder Amarnath. Viswanath matched his supple grace with the bold outline of Amarnath’s strokes in a stand of 159 to carry India to 292 for two by tea. Driven to despair by the failure of his spinners, Lloyd claimed the second new ball. It fared no better than the old, as 37 came from the eight overs shared by Bernard Julien and Michael Holding – who limped off the field after his opening stint. Viswanath gained his fourth Test century but lost his wicket when there were 70 runs left, as he responded instinctively to Amarnath and lost the race to the stumps to Jumadeen. Then Brijesh Patel polished the innings with a well made 46 runs and India romped home with 6 wickets and it was a great upset for the Windies.
And there were his other useful knocks like
- century in 1978-79 against West Indies in Chepauk, which helped India to win the Test and the series by 1-0
- Century in Bombay in 1972-73 series against the visiting England team and in fact after the knock, Tony Greig cradled him in his hand like a baby and the test ended in a draw
- His valuable 83 & 79 runs Vs Newzeland on a bouncy track. India reached 270 in the first innings mainly through Viswanath, who applied himself with much more purpose than all his colleagues save Mohinder Amarnath. Viswanath stayed nearly three hours and hit ten 4’s in a courageous and cultured performance.
Viswanath captained India in the one-off Golden Jubilee Test against England in 1979-1980. During that match, Viswanath had recalled English player Bob Taylor to the crease when he had felt that the umpire had made a wrong decision. This decision went on to cost India the match as Taylor went on to score crucial runs, but earned Vishwanath accolades from everyone. For him, the spirit of the game always remained paramount.
Vishy was a lucky mascot. Whenever he scored a century in a Test, India didn’t lose that test. He hit 14 centuries and India won 11 tests and 3 were drawn.