One of India’s greatest ever batsman, GR Vishwanath, universally hailed as a batting genius, is a forgotten hero even as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) celebrates India’s 500th Test at the Green Park Oval.
Ironically, it was in Kanpur that GRV’s epic international career was launched. The pint-sized batsman, the original ‘little master’ slammed a century on Test debut against a powerful Australia at the very venue in that distant 'summer' of 1969.
On Friday, sitting alone on a huge sofa in a marquee and watching young aspiring cricketers exhibiting their skills in the Karnataka Premier League in the cricketing outback of Hubbali, he lamented that he had not been invited for a momentous occasion.
“I waited in Bengaluru right till the start of the Test (India vs New Zealand 1st Test commemorated as India’s 500th Test) expecting to receive an invitation from the BCCI. I would have gone even if they had invited me in the eleventh hour. I have no ego. The issue is not about BCCI. I wanted to be part of the celebrations as I have so many fond memories about this ground and of playing Test cricket for India. But the invitation never came. I am hugely disappointed and
saddened at being left out,” he said.
Vishy, as he is fondly known by his cricketing friends, then decided to pack his bags and make the 400-odd kilometre drive to Hubbali to be in the midst of many other former and current Karnataka cricketers now involved with the KPL.
He arrived at the ground last afternoon to be met with the tragic news that former Karnataka wicket-keeper, Shiruguppi whom he had selected and groomed, had lost his young daughter. Immediately Vishy’s wife Kavitha left for neighbouring Dharwad to pay Vishy’s and her last respects.
“I’m shattered by the news. We knew his family and had gone for their house warming some time back,” said an emotionally moved Vishy.
But it was the pain of being ignored by the BCCI that came back again.
Vishy who along with Sunil Gavaskar held the Indian innings together in almost all Tests, played most of his cricket in an era when there was no helmet or many of the other protective gear prevalent these days. It was just the bat, pads, box, left-thigh pad and gloves for him. Most of them would seem primitive in comparison to current gear. In fact it called for skill and courage to take on the world's fastest bowlers without head and chest protective gear and most Indian batsmen struggled in hostile conditions. It was only Vishy and Gavaskar who rose to the occasion time and again.
What worked for Vishy was his superb hand-eye coordination, total confidence in his skill and bat speed. The cut shot was his favourite stroke: “you need a positive shot to hit back at the pacemen,” he would say. And it was this shot that was also his most productive.
Vishy was the master at counter-attacking. The unbeaten 97 he made against the fearsome Andy Roberts in an India total of 190 in the 1974-75 series is talked of in awe to this day. The West Indies spread the field when he took strike in a bid to give him a single and have a go at the other batsmen. But Vishy cut, slashed and drove remarkably to star in that famous win.
Of course the most magnificent moment was when Vishy slammed that century against the West Indies at Port of Spain that helped India to successfully chase a record target of 403.
Vishy’s many knocks, including in England when his century helped India avert a defeat, or his 114 in Melbourne when it set up a win, were always played with rare style and panache. He was a fearless, stylish batsman who caressed the ball to the boundary with a finesse rarely seen in the game.
There was grace, beauty and class in his batting. How the BCCI could forget this cult figure and instead invite someone like Mohammed Azharuddin, who was accused of match-fixing and banned from the game is beyond comprehension. Azhar was never brought back to play the game and when Rajeev Shukla was queried on his invitation he is reported to justified it thus: "He's a former India captain. We cannot ignore him."
Well in case the BCCI forgot, Vishy, besides being a former India captain and brilliant batsman, was also a gentleman who played according to the spirit of the game. Who can forget that magnificent gesture of his when he captained India in the Golden Jubilee Test against England in Mumbai and recalled batsman Taylor who he thought had been unfairly given out.
India lost that Test but Vishy held that his recalling the batsman was not dependent on the result. “That’s the way I play my game and I would not do it any other way,” he said.
Vishy served the BCCI in many ways. As selector he introduced many talented youngsters, including Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble to the team. At other times he was the manager of the Indian team and also an ICC match referee.
Yet, BCCI, who seem to have time for persons of uncertain integrity, conveniently forgot to invite one of India’s greatest cricketers. That's not cricket, BCCI.