A talking point that often comes up regarding the state of cricket is the balance between bat and ball.
Sunil Gavaskar was technique personified and a joy to watch. Steve Smith has a technique of his own, and though he’s not exactly a pretty sight when batting, he’s effective and the best in the business.
Both of these terrific batsmen hit exactly 774 runs in two epic series 48 years apart.
Let us look at both efforts, which helped their teams immensely. First let’s go down memory lane to recollect Sunny’s special series.
Gavaskar was a domestic cricket sensation when he was picked for the Indian team to tour the West Indies in 1971. The squad was led by Ajit Wadekar. It was the first time the casting vote was exercised by Vijay Merchant, chairman of the selection committee, because the selectors were deadlocked as to whether Tiger Pataudi or Wadekar should lead the team.
Gavaskar missed the first Test due to a finger injury, allowing Jayantilal Kenia to open the batting with Abid Ali. Jayantilal was out for just five to a miraculous catch by Gary Sobers. It was to be his only Test innings in his only Test match, an interesting instance of a career cut short due to a brilliant fielding effort and of course due to the genius of Sunny Gavaskar, who made the opening spot his own for the next 16 years.
The first Test ended in a draw. Highlights were Dilip Sardesai scoring 212 when India were 5-75 and Ajit Wadekar asking the West Indies to follow on, though the lead was 170. Sobers was unware of the rule that if a day’s play was lost, the follow-on rule would apply at 150 and not 200. He was surprised when Wadekar asked him to follow on and Ajit had to explain the rule to him.
The second Test of the series was Sunny’s debut match, which India won. He played an important part. Opening the innings with Ashok Mankad, he was third out at 186 for a debut innings of 65. The star was certainly Dilip Sardesai with 112.
India were out for 352 in response to the West Indies’ 214.
While in the first innings it was Prasanna who shone, in the second it was Venkat. Both offies were responsible for giving India an easy target of just 125. Sunny Gavaskar was unbeaten on 67 and India achieved the target with the loss of just three wickets, giving the visitors a crucial 1-0 lead.
An interesting piece of trivia is that Jack Noreiga took nine wickets in the Indian first innings, and while this was his only series in a short career of just four Tests, to date he is the only West Indian bowler to have nine wickets in a Test innings.
How crucial that lead was would be seen in the next three Tests. India successfully held onto the lead and batted their way to comfortable draws with Sunny playing a stellar role in all three. The third Test saw Sunny score a century and a 64 not out as India comfortably batted out the 35 overs required to draw the match.
The fourth Test saw Sunny with his first failure after four consecutive knocks of 50-plus when he was out off debutant Uton Dowe for just one run. However, Sunny hit his second ton of the series and India were 5-221, surviving a full 103 overs mainly due to Sunny’s unbeaten 117.
Finally, in the last Test Sunny’s 124 along with Sardesai’s 75 helped India to a highly respectable 360. However, the West Indies piled on 526 to put India in some potential trouble. Sunny rose to the occasion and his 220 batted India to safety. The side put up427 and batted 197 overs in the process.
For the West Indies the target was 262 in 40 overs, and they almost lost the Test as they lost eight wickets for just 165. It was a historic away series win for team India.
Sunny’s scores in the series were 65, 67*, 116, 64*, 1, 117*, 124 and 220. His series total was 774.
Now let’s have a brief look at Steve Smith’s recent exploits.
Steve Smith had come back into the team after serving a year-long ban. He had had the captaincy taken away from him, and on his return he was on a mission. In the first Test at Edgbaston Australia elected to bat upon winning the toss but were reduced to 8-122. It looked as though England would take a decisive step towards winning the first match, but Smith had other ideas. He combined with Siddle (44) for an 88-run ninth-wicket stand and with Lyon (12) for a 74-run last-wicket stand to take Australia to 284.
England took a 90-run lead and it appeared as if they had their noses in front, but Smith came up with 142 runs and combined well with Wade (110) to take Australia to 7-487 declared before Lyon and Cummins with six and four wickets took Australia to a 1-0 series lead.
The second Test saw Smith hit on the neck by Joffra Archer at 80 runs. He had to leave the field, and though he did come back and was out for 92, he couldn’t bat in the second innings and was out of the third Test entirely. The third Test of course saw a miraculous innings from Ben Stokes to get England a famous win and level the series score 1-1.
The fourth Test was anticipated for Smtih’s return from injury, though there was speculation as to how confident he would be. He responded in the best fashion ever, scoring a majestic 211 to take Australia to an imposing 8-497 declared. In the second innings he could have easily hit 100, but he put his team ahead of himself and was out for a brisk 80. Australia won the Test to go up 2-1, which ensured Ashes would be retained with one Test remaining,
The fifth Test saw an important win by England to draw the series. Smith scored 80 of Australia’s 225 runs in the first innings, and despite having set a target of 399, it was only when Smith was out for 23 that England breathed easily and victory was theirs.
Smith’s scores in the series were 144, 142, 92, 211, 82, 80 and 23 for a series aggregate of 774, exactly the same as Sunny Gavaskar. Incredibly he top-scored for his team in six of the seven innings and he had a unique record of ten consecutive Ashes innings with a score of 50-plus.
Sunny Gavaskar ended his career as one of the best batsmen of all time. Steve Smith is already being spoken of as Australia’s best since Donald Bradman and potentially second best of all time. He is just 30 and capable of anything, and I’m looking forward to him scaling even more batting peaks.