Illustration: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Illustration: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
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On Sunday mornings in the late 1980s, Indians of all stripes would religiously sit in front of the TV, barefoot, to feel the godly blessings of their beloved deity via Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan on Doordarshan.

But when some of those devotees left, many still sat glued to their screens, paper and pen in hand, to take notes from recently retired cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar, who would offer precious insights into the sport to his audience every week. It was the Little Master’s little masterclass about the game, much before remote classes could even be imagined.

Sunil Gavaskar Presents would go into granular details about historic matches in world cricket, both Tests and one-day internationals. It would deconstruct India’s famous victories, offer on-field anecdotes, dissect player psyche at crucial moments, and explain new developments in the game.

Today, one can watch explainer videos on YouTube or do a quick Google search to gain incisive knowledge about any aspect of the sport, but Gavaskar did it in the 1980s, when access to information was limited. Through the show, he would teach viewers the ABC of cricket — the level at which one should hold the bat, how to play forward defence and a clean straight drive, and how to hold the bat in the perfect ‘V’ grip.


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How it all started

In 1986, Sunil Gavaskar was approached by advertiser Sumedh Shah with an idea to open a first-of-its-kind sports talent management company, just around a year before Gavaskar retired from international cricket.

To keep the cash coming in when the company had just started, Gavaskar began writing syndicated columns in dailies across the country. But that was just one avenue. The next big thing at the time was TV, and so India’s first sports show was conceived.

Saeed Mirza, director of the much-loved Doordarshan programme Nukkad was brought on board as director, while Sumedh Shah was the producer.


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Gavaskar’s casual charm and ‘elephantine’ memory

While Gavaskar’s name got people to the screen, it was his effortless charm and detailed knowledge of the game that kept them glued. Sharad Kadrekar, a former sports journalist from Mumbai, tells ThePrint, “Gavaskar’s way of talking is a little hatke. With his liberal use of Marathi and Hindi words, he would talk to his viewers in a very conversational and interactive fashion that made the show very interesting.”

Atlanta-based cricket junkie Subu Sastry, who works with General Electric, recalls the ease with which Gavaskar used to talk and share anecdotes. “Today, everyone shares their expertise quite frequently on all kinds of platforms, but Gavaskar did it way back then.”

In some episodes, Gavaskar shared little nuggets about the Indian team’s camaraderie, how they celebrated each wicket on the field, and how closely bonded the players were. “He used to share insights about players like Bishan Singh Bedi, (B.S.) Chandrasekhar, (E.A.S.) Prasanna, (S.) Venkataraghavan; on how they celebrated a batsman’s dismissal by running towards each other, the kind of friendship and love that they shared. He used to bring all these moments to viewers, stories you couldn’t simply know without watching the show,” says Sastry.

Gavaskar would also discuss developments in the game, and how players and countries reacted to them, such as the introduction of the 15-over field restrictions in one-day cricket (which has now evolved into the ‘powerplays’), where only two fielders could be placed outside the 30-yard circle.

Gavaskar’s sharp memory, which Saeed Mirza described as ‘elephantine’, also helped the show. “As much as I’ve seen Gavaskar, his memory doesn’t betray him. He remembers everyone and everything, even the ground workers on the field; he expresses his gratitude to them. So, his knowledge of the game is also emboldened by that memory through which he could bring his viewers details perhaps no one else could,” says Kadrekar.

And the music, by Sharang Dev (son of Pandit Jasraj), added zest to the show, played whenever an iconic or historic moment was replayed for viewers. “The sound of that music carries a generation’s childhood in it… always takes me back to a happy place,” Subu reminisces.

The detailing of the show and the lengths to which Gavaskar went to re-create iconic moments for his viewers also make it unforgettable for many. “He talked about Vivian Richards in the 1979 World Cup final at Lord’s, where he played a shot that was particularly ahead of its time,” Subu explains. “Richards was dominating the Englishmen, and off the last ball of the West Indies batting innings, Viv moved across the stumps to convert a yorker from (Mike) Hendrick into a low full toss and flick a six towards square leg nonchalantly. Very tough shot to play, and Gavaskar highlighted that, and give insights into the technique.”

But probably there was one prophecy that Gavaskar made on the show that still stays with its viewers. It was the original Little Master announcing the arrival of the inheritor of the title, Sachin Tendulkar.

In an episode aired in the 1990s (by which time the show had moved to Star Sports), Gavaskar told a young Tendulkar he would strangle him if he didn’t score more than 15,000 runs and 40 Test centuries. It looks like Tendulkar took him seriously, and the nation, of course, remains grateful.

Today, no clips from Sunil Gavaskar Presents are available to stream. There were 13 initial episodes telecast over as many Sundays in 1987, but recordings of the remaining shows, and information about when they were telecast, is not available.

Subu says he’s the only one with some VCR recordings. “The show is mostly lost. A lot of us have it stored as our photographic memories, and I have some tapes that I keep uploading online for the world to enjoy. But I don’t think anything else really exists.”

Gavaskar’s show did fulfil its purpose and probably achieved much more than it set out to. His talent management company Professional Management Group took off to become India’s first of its kind in sports. But through this venture cricket, fans got treated to Gavaskar’s insights into cricket, which was God-speak for many. And for some, that’s the reason why India started loving cricket the way it did.


Also read: Cricket Samrat, the magazine that religiously spread the gospel of cricket for 42 years


 

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