It was a decisive moment during the Golden Jubilee Test between India and England at the Wankhede Stadium in February 1980.
Having been dismissed for 242, India had the visitors on the back foot at 85/4 when Bob Taylor was adjudged caught behind off Kapil Dev but the Indian captain had his doubts, consulted his colleagues, walked up to the umpire and declared: “Sir, I am withdrawing my appeal”. The decision was reversed.
Taylor and Ian Botham, went on to add 171 for the sixth wicket before the latter took seven wickets in the second innings to add to his six in the first as England won by 10 wickets.
The Indian captain? Gundappa Vishwanath.
“I had absolutely no regrets. We had been beaten fair and square. I couldn’t have said the same, or lived with it, had we not tried to recall Taylor and then gone on to win the Test. That’s not cricket isn’t it,” asks Vishwanth of the decision that has acquired a permanent place in the annals of Test history, in ‘Wrist Assured – An Autobiography’ (with R. Kaushik/Rupa).
But then, that’s how the master of the square-cut, who reckons that more than 4,000 of his 6,080 Test runs have come through the wristy stroke, has always played his cricket.
“I played cricket because I enjoyed doing so. I had great fun pursuing my passion, and I was fortunate my passion became my profession. From my first day to the last, I played cricket my way. My approach didn’t change one bit, nor did I make significant modifications to my batting. I had a certain notion of how cricket should be played, and I derive immense satisfaction in having stuck to my guns, my conviction,” Vishwanath writes.
That conviction saw Vishy, as he was popularly known, playing 91 Tests and 25 ODIs for India from 1969 to 1983, finishing with 14 hundreds and 35 half centuries.
Noting that he never felt the need for a “complete technical overhaul”, he adds: “I knew my game, I understood what worked and what didn’t. As a cricketer and batsman, I was the best judge of my game. I had to be brutally honest with myself, not hide behind excuses.”
“I was ruled by my instinct, a constant companion throughout my roller-coaster journey. My instinct dictated that if the ball was there to be hit, hit it. Don’t overthink, don’t stress about consequences, but don’t manufacture strokes, don’t go looking for the ball when it isn’t there. If you want try out a new stroke, don’t do so in a match unless you have practiced extensively in the nets. Don’t let your heart rule your head,” Vishwanath writes.
“Ultimately, it’s about you, you are the boss in the middle. People can point out chinks and offer solutions, but they can’t bat for you, they can’t score runs for you,” he maintains.
That’s how the square-cut became his signature stroke – but not his only stroke.
“My tryst with the cut began with the tennis ball, which invariably got big on you. I was a slight, thin boy with no power to speak of, and while I did play the drive and the flick, seldom would the ball reach the boundary. The cut, by contrast, didn’t require me to generate power entirely on my own. I could use the pace of the ball. I am not saying every cut I played fetched me four runs, but it had greater potential to cross the boundary than any other stroke. Over time, because I played it so often, I got quite good at it, though it also brought about my downfall, a fair few times. On the so-called risk versus rewards charts, however, I was seldom in the red; by a conservative estimate, I reckon more than 4,000 of my 6,080 Test runs came through the cut,” Vishwanath explains.
Profusely illustrated with rare images from the archives of ‘Deccan Herald’ and ‘The Hindu’, ‘Wrist Assured’ traces the cricketing journey of Vishwanath from the dusty by-lanes of erstwhile Bangalore to the most iconic venues in the world. It offers deep insights into the mind of a champion, and of the trials and tribulations of an international career that saw both despair and delight in his very first Test.
Vishwanath followed up a first-innings duck with 137 in the second against Australia in Kanpur in 1969 – though he considers as his defining knock his 97 in the first Test against the West Indies at Madras in 1975 -and the same crowd that had hurled ‘kulhars’ on his way back in the first innings rose as one to celebrate his century, providing him his first important lesson that nothing succeeds like success.
“I don’t claim to be the perfect human being. Far from it. I am sure I have hurt people, but what I do know is that I have never done so knowingly. I don’t like to hurt anyone because I don’t like being hurt. You must be with others how you expect others to be with you. That’s my philosophy. I believe you don’t have to achieve anything in life, just being a good person is an achievement in itself.
“That’s what I want to be remembered as: a nice person, maybe a good batsman too. Sport, any sport, teaches you how to be a good human being if you are willing to learn. Why just sport, every walk of life comes with the same lessons. Cricket has taught me things I might not have learnt otherwise. Like gentleness. Don’t taunt the bowler, enjoy your batting. When you apply these learnings to life, the world invariably becomes a better place.
“Cricket’s life lessons have made me the person I am, warts and all. I will be eternally indebted to the sport I live for giving me my identity, and to the almighty for giving me cricket, above all else,” Vishwanath concludes the book.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)