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One too many for the wrist

Op-Ed 2022-05-14, 1:00pm

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Sudhirendar Sharma



Sudhirendar Sharma

India never lost a cricket Test match in which Vishwanath had scored a century.

Four decades after he put away his bat, Gundappa Vishwanath goes down memory lane to relive and revive all that went into making him a wristy genius of the world cricket. What comes out is an absorbing Wrist Assured, a biography that is as smooth as the square cut that had mesmerized a generation of cricket lovers. Following on his first-innings zero with a resolute 137 in the second innings on his debut against Australia at the Green Park at Kanpur in 1969, Vishwanath had touched the lowest of depths and experienced the highest of peaks in his first outing in international test cricket. Those four days of anxiety and ecstasy had proved path-charting for the little genius, whose classic square cut had helped him notch majority of his 6,080 runs scored in 91 Test matches played for the country. 

 

One might wonder if these statistics by a five-feet-two yesteryear cricketer significant enough to warrant attention? Among many, there are two stellar reasons for him to be counted amidst all time great cricketers. In an era when a draw was considered as good as a victory, India never lost a cricket Test match in which Vishwanath had scored a century. And, one of his 14 Test centuries had contributed to then highest successful second-innings chase in cricket history against mighty West Indies at the Port of Spain in 1976. All this contributed to subtle change in mindset: the Indian cricket team was no longer talking about not losing but had actually started discussing winning. Vishwanath’s wristy square cut had contributed significantly to this strategic shift. By the time he retired in 1982, India had become a cricketing force to reckon with.    

Co-written with veteran sports journalist R Kaushik, Wrist Assured takes the reader on a nostalgic journey to the formative years of Indian cricket that contributed to the making of the little genius as one of the most adored and respected cricketer. For better part of his 13 years in Test cricket, Vishwanath was second only to Sunil Gavaskar in importance for the team. Many of his knocks had no parallel - such as the 97 he made out of India’s 190 against West Indies at Madras in 1975, the 114 out of the team’s 237 at Melbourne against Australia in 1981, the unbeaten 112 against West Indies in Port of Spain in 1976. These scores earned India precious wins, but many of his 35 half-centuries were game-saving scores no less. 

Vishwanath was an instinctive player, mindful of situations and conditions to unleash his natural talent. ‘What is the point of playing, if you are not better today than you were yesterday?’ A dreaded zero on his debut became a life’s lesson in cricket, reason enough for Vishwanath to play with such caution that he had only 10 zeroes in 155 Test innings. There is no shame for a batsman in getting zero, provided one knows why you got it and how to avoid its recurrence. Wrist Assured is a brutally honest self-assessment of his cricketing career and an appreciative inquiry on the contribution by contemporary cricketers in the making of the little genius. 

The wristy square cut may have fascinated viewers across the world but it was a stroke born out of necessity. How else would have a little thin boy made the ball to reach the boundary? Earlier in his career, Vishwanath had realized that by using the pace of the ball the square cut had the greater potential to cross the boundary than any other stroke. Over the years, such was the technical finesse to his signature stroke that opponent captains would station extra fielders to check the stroke. Ideal for his back-footed horizontal-blade square cuts, Vishwanath always used a light weight super-short handle bat for executing the square cut and the hook. How he developed the steely wrists to execute a perfect square cut is interesting to read.

Vishwanath must have maintained a meticulous journal on his cricketing escapades for co-writer Kaushik to generate perfect linguistic expressions to his feelings and reflections. Wrist Assured takes the reader back in time to those cricketing years when ball-by-ball commentary was the only means for cricket lovers to create visuals of the playing arena. Vishwanath helps the reader relive those momentous innings through his eyes, nothing more exquisite than the batsman sharing the twists and travails of facing some of the fastest bowlers in the game. To hold onto one’s nerves at the sight of blood on the pitch demands courage to back oneself up amidst the entire opposing team gunning for your wicket. 

In his post-cricketing years, Vishwanath chaired the national selection committee, was appointed an ICC match referee, and offered expert advice as a television commentator. In his multi-faceted roles in the world of cricket, Vishwanath comes out as a modest and self-effacing person. ‘Cricket’s life lessons have made me the person I am’, he concludes. 

Wrist Assured: An Autobiography

by Gundappa Vishwanath with R Kaushik 

Rupa, New Delhi. 

Extent: 267. Price: Rs, 595.

(Dr, Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer and researcher specialising in development issues. He is based in New Delhi, India)

First published in the Hindustan Times on May 14, 2022