Cricket is a sport with around 2.5 billion fans globally, second only to soccer. One place it is popular is India, where for the first time in history, it ranks No. 1 in the world. One player who has shaped the sport is first baseman Sunil Gavaskar, widely regarded as one of the best opening batsmen in history and India’s best player.
Gavaskar was born on July 10, 1949 in Bombay, India, now known as Mumbai. He was named India’s Best Schoolboy Cricketer of the year in 1966 and joined the Vazir Sultan Tobacco Colts XI in the same year. In the same year, he joined the Bombay team. In the 1968 to 1969 season, Gavaskar played for St. Xavier’s College and made his debut, but made a duck, which is when a batsman fails to score a goal. He responded by scoring 114 against Rajasthan in his second match, earning him a spot on the 1970 to 1971 Indian team to tour the West Indies.
India’s national cricket team played their first Test match, which is a match between two separate countries, in 1932, as they became the sixth country to get granted Test status. However, they struggled when they first started out as they did not win a single Test match until 1952, when they defeated England by eight runs, nearly 20 years after they played their first Test. Even after winning their first match, they struggled consistently, being one of the bottom teams and winning just 36 of their 196 Test matches. Things were about to change for the better, though, and quickly.
In his first-ever Test match from March 6 to 10, 1971, Gavaskar quickly made a name for himself. While it may have been his first Test match, he did not play like it for eight innings. He scored 774 runs in total, which to this day is the most ever scored in a Test debut. In four of those eight innings he scored over 100 with an average of 154.8, including scoring 220 runs in one inning alone. Gavaskar went from a no-name to a star almost overnight.
While most cricket players stand around 5-foot-9, Gavaskar is only 5-foot-5. However, this turned out to be an advantage as he dominated short-pitched bowling as well as fast bowling.
Throughout his career Gavaskar set numerous records, including being the first-ever Test cricket player to score over 10,000 runs, the highest number of Test 100s with 34 before fellow Indian Sachin Tendulkar broke it in 2005. He held the record for the highest number of Test runs in a career with 10,122 for nine years and 105 days before Australia’s Allan Border broke it. He became the first-ever Indian player to reach 100 catches, with 108 in his career.
Alongside his numerous stats, Gavaskar won 34 Tests and became the first-ever Test player to play in 100 consecutive Tests. Back in his home country, for his team Bombay, he won 20 Ranji trophies, three Irani cups and six Duleep trophies. In 2009, he was inducted into the International Cricket Council’s Hall of Fame.
Gavaskars’ impact on the sport did not just come from the pitch. Alongside Kapil Dev and Gundappa Viswanath, he helped shape India into a cricket powerhouse and was able to inspire countless Indians in the next generation of players, including Tendulkar, to carry on what he started all those years ago. If it was not for Gavaskar, Dev and Viswanath, cricket in India would not be where it is today.