They say cricket is an allegory of life. Action in Test matches traces many crests and troughs, the passages of smooth sailing and rough seas, to mimic the journey across time itself.
Can we indeed look at the many memories left by the game and try to figure out how reality will pan out away from the ground? Or, can we at least deduce the fate of cricket itself when the action shifts from the greens and blue skies to the formal confines of the board rooms, trading flannel for suits?
As Indian cricket faces its darkest hour, the Supreme Court has stepped in and tried to promise imminent sunny days. The infamous N Srinivasan has been asked to step down, and Sunil Gavaskar and Shivlal Yadav have been requested to share the role of the BCCI President during the interim period of the clean-up. The former will be responsible for all matters pertaining to the Indian Premier League, the tournament that has turned out to be the biggest and ugliest blot on the murky time-scape of Indian Cricket. And Yadav will be handling all the other affairs of the Board.
As expected, the recommendation has been hailed in many quarters – often with cries approximating ‘A Daniel come to judgement.’ The many men who have idolised Gavaskar – and there are millions – have no doubt that light is about to break through the end of this darkest tunnel. At the same time there have been enthusiasts – in the strict non-Meiyappan sense of the word – who are more sceptical, uneasily hinting at the contractual associations Gavaskar has had with BCCI, his past refusal to criticise the Board even after glaring transgressions. Besides, Shivlal Yadav is not really a man with a spotless record as an administrator – to put it very, very mildly.
Speculating about the outcome of the tenures of these two gentlemen is a risky affair. However, can we look at the game itself and try to find out how a Gavaskar-Yadav collaboration is likely to perform? Let us go back to December 1985, Adelaide, with India engaged in the first Test against Australia. It was a weak home side, the attack inexperienced and ordinary, including two debutants – Merv Hughes and Bruce Reid. After the hosts had piled 381 on a placid wicket, India responded with 97 for one by the end of the second day. Gavaskar, dropped by Wayne Phillips off Craig McDermott early in the innings, was unbeaten on 39.
On the third morning, the ace opener did not resume his innings. A blow to the forearm off a McDermott snorter had put him temporarily out of action. The Indian middle-order progressed at snail’s pace through many rain interruptions to end the day at 176 for three. It was after lunch on the fourth day that Gavaskar re-emerged to continue the innings. The match by then was heading for a tame draw, the score 247 for five, rain still in the air. He ended the day unbeaten on 94, having taken India past the Australian total, the score at stumps reading 391 for seven.
By the time the ninth wicket in the form of Syed Kirmani went down on the final morning, Gavaskar had already gone past his 31st Test hundred. With the score on 426, in walked Shivlal Yadav.
With a small lead and almost a day remaining, a declaration could perhaps have been considered. However, captain Kapil Dev had himself captured eight Australian wickets in the first innings, and perhaps knew how backbreaking it would be to bowl a side out on such a track .
Hence, the innings continued rather meaninglessly. Gavaskar and Yadav, the latter perhaps the best No 11 since the Second World War, batted on without any bother against the tired and toothless bowling. They stayed together for two hours and 23 minutes and put on 94 before Yadav fell to the part time fare of David Hookes. The last man walked back for 41. Alongside him Gavaskar returned undefeated on 166. This Adelaide collaboration in fact tells us a lot which can be extrapolated to fit the current reality.
Gavaskar was not always infallible, he had to retire hurt after being struck on the forearm. However, he did come back to bat with customary poise and take India ahead. Hence, perhaps one can look positively at his taking fresh guard after the perceived injuries suffered by his image through the associations with BCCI. The master and Yadav did enjoy a fruitful partnership, complementing each other, keeping the bowlers at bay. Yet, as they piled on their runs, the stand meant little in the context of the match as the Test petered out into the dullest of draws. The circumstances did not really allow for much else.
At this point of time, however, as they get ready to combine forces yet again, Indian cricket stands to benefit immensely from their association. Gavaskar and Yadav have indeed worked together and productively. It remains to be seen whether their new association at the head of the governing body of the sport is carried out in the best interest of Indian cricket.
The two men definitely have the experience and ability to make it happen.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at @Senantix)