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Vishwanath has been unfairly excluded from global list of 100 best cricketers

By Harsh Thakor 

Gundappa Vishwanath scaled zones in batting artistry or wizardry unparalleled amongst Indian batsmen. The best of his batting was a manifestation of the divine. He was also the epitome of cricketing sportsmanship. Sadly 40 years ago he unceremoniously bid farewell to the International cricket world, after the concluding test at Karachi in 1982-83., in January end.
Very hard to visualise a character like Vishwanath being reborn today His memories are embedded in cricket lovers today when sportsmanship and grace have virtually been relegated to oblivion with the game of cricket turned into a commercial commodity. Today agro and unsporting behaviour is a routine feature Vishy shimmered cricket’s spirituality. His behaviour on the cricket field was grace personified, No one in his age defined cricket more as a gentleman’s game, than Vishy.
Vishwanath could execute strokes that were surreal with his steel wrists. His strokeplay resembled the touches of a painter’s brush, literally composing or painting an innings. His repertoires of strokes in an innings were like the colours of a rainbow and gave vibrations of a lotus blooming Vishy transcended regions unexplored in the art of batting and commanded a cricket ball in the manner of a conductor leading a symphony. Technically Vishy was very correct possessing most rhythmic footwork and immaculate defence. The best innings of Vishwanath were like classical monuments sculpted. He treated the cricket ball like a child. Even when executing a defensive stroke, he was a joy to behold. There was hardly an adjective that could do justice to the purity of Vishy’s strokes.
I never ever saw a batsman execute a square or late cut shot with such remorseless ease .Vishy ‘s repertoire included a stroke that was a medley of a flick, pull and hook combined, which no one else executed. Vishwanath took touch art to heights s rarely ever climbed. With the deftest of touches Vishwanath could bisect the most impregnable fields. Vishy also could execute the most exquisite drives, particularly through the covers.
Although he served as a coach after retirement unfortunately he also became an alcoholic in his later life. I feel his reign as an Indian test cricketer was curtailed abruptly, never being called back by selectors after being dropped in 1983.His improvisation would have come in very handy in ODI cricket.

Batting Career

In his very debut at Kanpur in 1969-70 he scored a scintillating 137 against Australia giving a most illustrative indication of his supreme cricketing gift. Above all it was executed in a crisis, which was predominant feature of Vishy’s entire career.
Vishy played an important hand in India’s first test win at the Oval in 1971 scoring an immaculate 33 in a run chase.
He compiled a classical 113 at Brabourne stadium against England in 1972-73.
In England in 1974 he gave glimpses of his talent with some sparkling batting in losing causes at Manchester and Lords, in overcast conditions.
It was against West Indies in 1974-75 at home that Vishwanath gave his career’s most glittering performance when scoring 568 run sat an average of 56.8.Vishy’s batting resurrected India like a phoenix from the Ashes, after being 2-0 down to levelling the series at 2-2 with his classic 139 at Kolkata and unbeaten 97 at Madras. He cut, drove and hooked the great West Indian fast bowler Andy Roberts with an assurance few ever did. His knock at Madras was rated by Wisden as the 6th best test innings ever at that time.Vishy blended the imagination of a musical composer with the skill of a surgeon, bisecting the most impregnable gaps. In that knock cricketing skill or wizardry reached heights rarely transcended. I have rarely ever seen such a batsman single-handedly launching a counter attack against sustained pace on a fast track.
In 1975-76 in West Indies Vishwanath was one of the architects of India achieving the highest then 4th innings total to win a game at Trinidad .Hs 112 paved the path or to launch a historic resurrection from dire straits.. After Gavaskar had laid the base scoring 102 Vishy wrote the next chapter in an epic, taking the bowling attack by the sword. One can never forget how he would rise up on his toes to dispatch short balls against the Express pace bowler Michael Holding. Though he was run out but he made an Indian win mere formality then. Sadly in the decider at Kingston he fell victim to intimidatory bowling, failing in using his genius to come to the party by unleashing a counter attack.
In 1975-76 at Dunedin versus New Zealand Vishy scored 79 and 78 in conditions where the ball was moving all around the place., on a green top. Facing the likes of Richard Hadlee he resembled a surgeon performing an operation on patient considered incurable. With great judgment he left deliveries, displaying exemplary judgement in negotiating the moving ball. Sunil Gavaskar described it as the best batting he ever saw against a moving ball.
At Kanpur in 1976-77 he conquered the great Richard Hadlee like few batsman ever did, playing in bad light. His unbeaten 103 was an exhibition of batting mastery at it’s highest zenith, blending every component for a perfect innings. Domination was revealed in areas of the sublime.
On the 1977-78 tour of Australia Vishwanath did not score a century but still was the most prolific batsman, with an aggregate of 473 runs.,and averaging a remarkable 55.He scored five fifties in succession which played major role in India making a spectacular resurrection to square the series after being 2-0 down. On fast tracks he demonstrated his prowess against pace when taking apart Jeff Thomson.
In Pakistan he scored 145 at Faisalabad to become the 1st Indian batsman to score a century against every test playing nation. However he was inconsistent for the rest of the series apart from a fine 83 at Karachi.
At home in 1978-79 against West Indies Vishy’s 124 at Madras in the fourth test, on one of the fastest pitches ever won India the series. India were ressurected from the dark woods in spectacular counterattack by Vishy to enable India to reach 255 in the 1st innings .Significantly the great Sunil Gavaskar had scores of 0 and 4... He went on to score 179 at Kanpur in the fifth, his then highest score.
In the 1979 Prudential world Cup Vishy scored a scintillating 75 out of a score of 190 against West Indies, the greatest pace bowling attack ever, playing them better than perhaps any batsman ever did . Skipper Clive Lloyd classed it close to the best knock ever against his team’s pace attack. One of the most breathtaking exhibitions of domination of express pace.
He was a model of consistency in England in 1979. At Edgbaston when India were given a humiliating innings defeat ,Vishy scored 78 and 50.At Lords Vishy played a counter attacking role in enabling India to draw the test at Lords after India was 310 run s behind in the 1st innings. A 210 run stand with Dilip Vengsarkar lifted India from the depths of despair. Ironically Vengsarkar thanked Vishy for the great encouragement he received for scoring his 1st century at Lords. I can’t forget Vishwanath so often boosting his partner .Sadly a dubious umpiring decision being given out of a bump ball in the 4th test at the Oval, robbed Vishy of giving the finishing touches to a glorious Indian victory, with India falling 9 runs adrift of a record 438 run target.
Very successful with a record aggregate of 521 runs and average of over 73 versus Australia in 1979 at home. However he completely lost form against Pakistan in 1979-80 although India was triumphant.
In 1980 in the Jubilee test at Mumbai against England Vishwanath recalled Bob Taylor when he was wrongly adjudged caught behind, with England precariously placed at 85-6.It possibly cost India the game but took sportsmanship to scales rarely touched in cricket, and won a victory for cricket as a whole.
In 1980-81 he compiled an epic 114 out of a total of 237 at Melbourne. This knock virtually took India out of the doldrums to stage one of cricket’s most sensational turn arounds to win a test and draw a rubber on Australian soil for the first time. The memories of his strokes on this day are always embedded in my memories .His late cutting of a Dennis Lillee Yorker to the fence was touch art at scale almost unparalleled..Vishy was the architect of a miraculous Indian win .Ironically Vishy was on the verge of being dropped, after undergoing a loss of form.
In 1981-92 in a home series against England he made a spectacular comeback when scoring 107 in the 3rd test at Delhi. English captain Keith Fletcher ranked it amongst the best innings ever saw. India were in dire straits before Vishy did the repair job, after being on the threshold of being dropped .At Madras in the fifth test he compiled his highest ever score of 222, participating in a 281 run stand with Yashpal Sharma. It was a sheer masterpiece, being the then highest score by an Indian batsman against England, scored in 638 minutes, with 31 boundaries.
In England in 1981-82 Vishy gave glimpses of his endowed talent when scoring 3 successive match-saving fifties at Old Trafford and Oval. His knocks procured draws for India, from precarious positions. He inspired youngsters like Ravi Shastri, in the middle.
Sadly Vishy the 1982-83 tour of Pakistan, consistently fell prey to the fiery pace and guile of Imran Khan. I don’t have words to express how sorry I felt he was dropped for West Indies tour of 1983, subsequently .Thus the saga of his career ended in Pakistan. It was most unceremonious ending for Vishy’s test career.

Evaluation of Vishwanath

Had he done complete justice to his great talent, Vishwanath could have joined the club of all-time greats like Sachin Tendulkar or Viv Richards. A test record of 14 centuries, and 6080 runs at an average of 41.93 in 93 tests and 151 innings is outstanding, but still not in the league of the all-time great batsmen. At home he averaged 47.32 aggregating 3502 runs while disappointingly overseas he averaged 36.30, aggregating 2578 runs In 1st class cricket he amassed 17970 runs at an average of 40.93 with 44 centuries. Lack of temperament and consistency led to his undoing. He was equally at home on the fastest Australian wickets, to the seaming English conditions and the turning pitches on the subcontinent. Failure in his final series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan made his very healthy average of 45+dip to below 42.
Arguably he was a better batsman on bad wickets than Sachin Tendulkar or Sunil Gavaskar .The great West Indian paceman Andy Roberts and Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee rated Vishy a better batsman than Gavaskar, on fast or bouncy wickets. Syed Kirmani and Sandeep Patil classed Vishy as the most perfect batsmen they ever saw.
It is significant that Vishwanath averaged 49, which is 6 more runs than Gavaskar did in test matches won and India never lost a game when he scored a century. At his best he shaped wins or turned them more than his brother-in-law, Sunil Gavaskar.
Vishwanath was most unselfish and never played for personal records or milestones. In that light Rahul Dravid in recent times was very similar. I can never forget the innumerable occasions Vishwanath rescued India from dire straits. It is worth referring to Anantha Narayana’s statistical research in cricinfo on the true worth of Vishwanath’s scores to India.
Vishy’s 50+ averages against West Indies and Australia spoke for itself. Notable that 8 of his 14 centuries were scored against West Indies and Australia.
Arguably in the 1970’s Vishwanath may have made the world test xi at his best, competing for a place with Zaheer Abbas. In my view they were the 2 most stylish Asian batsmen ever. Even a whisker did not separate the merits of these two batsmen.Zaheer was the better batsman on slow wickets and against spin. Vishy was the better player on bouncy tracks and pace.
It is not for nothing that the great Sunil Gavaskar ranks Vishwanath as the best batsman of his time and even a better player than him. Ironically like Gavaskar,Vishy faced the best pace bowling without the aid of a helmet.
In my view for pure batting grace or style I would rank Vishwanath alongside Denis Compton, Ranjitsinghji, Frank Worrell, David Gower and Zaheer Abbas . In terms of elegance amongst Indian batsmen only ML Jaisimha ,Mohammad Azharrudin and VVS Laxman ,were in the same league as Vishy.
Amongst Indian batsman in test cricket in my opinion, only Tendulkar,Gavaskar, Kohli ,Sehwag Dravid would rank ahead of Vishwanath.
For sheer natural talent he arguably stood only behind Sachin Tendulkar,amongst Asian giants and amongst the dozen most gifted batsmen ever.
In facing genuine fast bowling I rate Vishwanath the best ever Asian batsmen with Majid Khan and Inzamam Ul Haq.
On bad wickets in my view, with Majid Khan and Ian Chappell, Viishy was the best batsmen of the 1970’s.
I can’t recall more than 5 batsmen better than Vishwanath in blending style with correct technique in cricket history.
It is my deepest regret that Vishwanath did not play in Kerry Packer World series cricket, where he would have pitted against the very best in the world.
The cricketing world also missed a Vishwanath facing the left arm pace bowling maestro Wasim Akram, which would have been cricket’s most spectacular contests.
After his retirement it was Mohammad Azharuddin and later V.V.SLaxman who carried on where Vishwanath left, in terms of batting beauty.
I feel Vishwanath has been unfairly excluded from the list of 100 best cricketers by Cristopher Martin Jenkins,John Woodcock and Geoff Armstrong. Even if does not rank with a Viv Richards or Tendulkar Vishwanath stands on par with stalwarts like Ted Dexter ,MartinCrowe or David Gower.
Unlike Rahul Dravid,Vishwanath lacked temperament and consistency or as much concentration. In many ways his style and approach to batting was a complete dichotomy of partner Sunil Gavaskar. Throwing away his wicket or carefree batting was a trademark of Vishy’s career.
In my personal view weighing all the pros and cons I would place the tag of ‘truly great’ on Vishwanath.
I recommend all readers to read the essay by Rajgopal Nidamboor on Vishwanath in ‘cricket Bouleverard’ who describes Vishwanath as an equivalent of a Rembrandt to batting, crediting him with giving bating art a new dimension. Also suggest writing by Vijay Lokapally in scoreline, Rajan Bala, Ramchandra Guha and Partab Ramchand , the interviews of Anshuman Gaekwad and Krishnamchari Shrikanth and the view s Dennis Lillee, Andy Roberts , Gavaskar,R avi Shastri ,Syed Kirmani and Sandeep Patil.
---
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist and a keen student of cricket history

Comments

Unknown said…
I have often wondered why much was never written about this classical master .
Unknown said…
His exclusion and inclusion of ordinary players has made the list quite ordinary. Gandapa Vishwanath was one of the top players of his time and a most dependable member of squad comprising of stalwarts like Gasvaskar, Vangsarkar, mohindar amarnath, chetan chuhan, kapil dev etc. He was a brilliant stroke players and a treat to watch. His exclusion raises serious doubts on the impartiality and capability of writer. Such players could have been an obvious peak. I am surprised and disappointed.
indravikramsingh.blogspot.in said…
This is a fair assessment of Visvanath, the artist with the willow, his handling of pace bowling with rare finesse and courage, and his Old World sportsmanship. To rank him among the top 100 cricketers or not, is a matter of personal opinion and very subjective. There have been so many superb players. How does one rank them, what parameters does one use, unless one is talking about a Bradman or a Sobers? Visvanath's wristy elegance is the stuff of folklore. To rack up an average of 50, often the yardstick to rate a batsman as great, one has to pile up big scores, apart from consistency. Stylish 60s or 70s are not enough, and I think that is where Visvanath was found wanting. He was certainly a batsman from the top drawer worth going miles to see.
Kshitij D said…
Wonderful write up!

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