Sunil Gavaskar turned 70 today. It is 32 years since he retired from international cricket. Yet his birthday still evokes a large response from the cricket fraternity and an assessment of his contribution to Indian cricket.

Though Gavaskar was part of the Indian team that for the first time won a World Cup in 1983, he will be remembered mainly for his performance as a batsman in test cricket.

Between January 1980 and September 1986, I got an opportunity to watch Gavaskar bat in five different test matches.  It was a mix of successful performances such as a century in a victorious cause against Pakistan in 1980 and a double century in a draw against the West Indies in 1983.

There was also a disappointing performance against an English side led by David Gower in January 1985. England won the test and defeated India in a test series where the hosts not only started as favourites but also took an early lead.

Gavaskar, during that phase, was the most influential cricketer along with Kapil Dev. The captaincy alternated between them and both produced memorable performances.

What remains in one’s memory is the manner in which he batted. There was a compactness to his batting that remains unmatched. One hasn’t seen another player look so compact and so in control.

Most of his runs were scored without protective headgear. For a couple of years, he sported a skull cap. But by the time he retired he had gone back to batting with a floppy hat.

Some of his better innings were played against the most menacing fast bowlers in the history of the game. Just to remind everyone how good a player of spin he was, his last innings, a remarkable one, was played on square turner against capable Pakistani spinners.

His great contemporary G. R Viswanath was the more stylish player. But the compactness and precision of Gavaskar’s batting made watching him a delightful experience.

Finally, what stays in the mind is the manner in which he batted.  It was a joy watching him bat.

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