Satyagraha reveals curious aspects of the personalities of its practitioners. It can result into mashing and mixing of one’s personal whims with the political aims, and vice versa. Gandhi experimented with abstinence in a bid to become worthy of political freedom. He pushed Indians to face lathis to melt the rigid British hearts. Abrupt withdrawal of the Non-cooperation Movement and Gandhi’s acceptance of the Partition Plan cannot be explained satisfactorily to this very day. Every Indian is subconsciously a Gandhian. He carries within himself dormant seeds of passive resistance. Any hint of internal discontent or presence of harsh external factors can result in the germination of these seeds.
The morning of June the 7th, 1975 was aglow with glorious English sun. A fine day of summer cricket beckoned. India was set to take on the English in the opening match of the first Prudential Cricket World Cup. Administrators and sponsors had high expectations from the tournament. More than 16000 spectators had turned up at the Lords, the Bethlehem of world cricket, to enjoy the game unfold in its new format on a warm, sunny day. Sunny’s day it indeed turned out to be.
The preceding week had been unusually cold and rainy , enough to depress a fussy traveller or someone prone to fall into spells of brooding , and therein might lie the devil showed its presence that day. It was thought to be the first instance in nearly ninety years that snow and sleet had been reported so widely so far south (till London and Portsmouth) in summer. More than 10 cm of fresh snow was reported over the highlands of Scotland. A cricket match between Derbyshire and Lancashire, scheduled at Buxton, Derbyshire on the 2nd was abandoned due to snow. But the temperatures did change abruptly from 2 degrees Celsius to 25 in a spate of just five days, which was even more unprecedented. Such extreme weather conditions can trigger mood swings, and result in odd, inexplicable behaviour. Two years later, Stephen King published The Shining, which documented how a winter storm hit a recovering alcoholic hard, and how he turned his wrath upon his snowbound family. Now Sunny is no Jack Torrence and certainly not Jack Nicholson, and there seems to be no direction connection, but what he did that day belief hopes and expectations .It is just that an inquiry into his never-explained behaviour must consider all lines of justification very carefully.
The English batsmen straight away got into the spirit of the new circus and scored runs at a fast pace. The business-like approach of Dennis Amiss ,who scored 137 off 147 balls, and Keith Fletcher,68, provided a solid foundation for Chris Oaks (51 off 30) to go berserk in the slog overs. It must have been quite galling for a worshipper of cricket to watch such indecorous onslaught on the hapless bowling, as well as on the spirit of the test cricket. The English shopkeepers accumulated runs at a rate of almost a-run-a-ball, reaching 334 in the allotted 60 overs. Someone had to stand up and signal protest, or rather drop anchor, for tests. This run-fest had to be ruined. A great beginning had to be denied , else who would watch the classical game again ?
Indian dressing room could not have fancied their chances during the lunch, despite conditions being described as batting friendly. The last time they had batted at Lords, in a test in 1974 , India were bundled out for 42 in 17 overs. Safety-First cannot be decried as bad approach when survival has to be ensured before anything else. It was vital to bat the full quota of overs and score as many runs as possible to stand good stead in case of a round robin deadlock in the group. This was just the third Cricket One Day International that India was a part of .Sunny had played in both the earlier ones and had scored 28 off 35 ( with a six) and 20 off 23 in the second- both times against England. He had scored briskly in them and tried to embrace the change, but now this was getting too serious.
He began slowly, and was evidently not in the best of touch. He later claimed he had faintly nicked the second ball of the innings, but that no appeal was made by either John Snow or Alan Knott , and Sunny evidently didn’t choose to walk. That did not suit his ‘khadoos’ style. He plodded along listlessly, even played cross-batted shots in a bid to force the scoring rate but failed, and hated himself for it. Such mindless slogging was not what he had become a cricketer for. He did try to play good cricketing shots but the ball didn’t come along nicely. He thought of exposing his wickets and hitting out, but even that didn’t work.
Enough was enough. A batsman was not a daily wager. He was not there to play to the gallery. He was supposed to bat for as long as possible – to tap the pitch, touch the ball, keep it away, frustrate the bowler, enjoy the sunshine as well as the sound of his own willow, and not succumb to the tyranny of the clock and commerce by attempting ungainly shots. Here was a little brown native, a Yindoo, who would not take it anymore. Would not take it anymore. Travis Bickle adopted this philosophy an year later in 1976, and the Taxi Driver became the stuff of legends. Sunny’s satyagraha was widely mocked and derided, perhaps because neither he nor his countrymen deigned to explain his steadfast refusal to score.
As the Indian chase unfolded , he observed Solkar (8 off 34), Gaekwad (22 of 46), Vishy (37 off 59) and Brijesh Patel (16 off 57) struggle with their shot-making on a slowed-down wicket, and his resolve to preserve his wicket grew. The Khadoos from Bombay shall not gift away his scalp and would remain unconquered. Crass commercialization might rule the roost in English cricket, but Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was not a circus monkey.
Perhaps he was himself not aware of the higher purpose behind his resistance, but just became an unsuspecting symbol of defiance that day. Maybe he was too flushed later on to admit it. Sunny is a clever man and must have realized during those 174 balls he played that day, that not only had he rubbed the spectators ,commentators and the opponents the wrong way but with his approach, even his own teammates might have felt let down by him . He had antagonized everyone by the time he returned to the pavilion and the moment of bragging was long past. No explanation would ever suffice, least of all being a satyagrahi. Sunny was anyway never big on words, but high on action (passive action being the virtue of an opener). He had defied market forces that day. One man had stood up, and showed that it could be done.
He would not sully his effort with excuses and apologies. He knew the lucre-minded petty people shall come for him. They might bring out a litany of imagined complaints and grouses. No ,he was not grumpy at the measly meal allowance nor did he suffer from improper bowel movement. There might have been slight headache to begin with, but that had vanished by the time he had gone in to bat. Some sort of displeasure at Venkataraghavan’s nomination as captain , and the team management’s preference for pace attack over spinners, did give him some cause for irritation, but that only explains his irritable mood on that day and not his deeds. Sunny later admitted to his slow start and struggle on a slowed down wicket, but has never got into the reasons for his blockathon as he realized that the tides were against him, and anything he said was bound to be misconstrued, and invite ridicule.
Sunil Gavaskar, as all non-White players, had faced subtle racism during the English tours. He was well aware of our colonial past and the perils of neo-colonialism. Viv Richards and later Imran Khan were more vocal against race ,anti-colonialism and Asian consciousness , but Sunny in his own way, understood these issues well . On that day in June at Lords, Sunil was also a citizen of an ex-colony, performing non-cooperation, civil disobedience and individual satyagraha all in one go, by refusing to cave in to the ex-masters’ expectation of being entertained . A defeat was certain, but he ensured it was so abject that it robbed the winner of any titillation or excitement . Even in a complete rout that it was, history remembers the opening match of the First World Cup for Sunil Gavaskar for his undefeated, agonizing 36 runs off 174 balls (One Four), and does not celebrate Dennis Amiss’ hundred.
Somewhere in an alternate universe, Sunny might still be batting, with ringside audience bored to death and the English players wondering what is the satyagraha directed against – the tyranny of the Raj, or of the clock or the dictates of commerce. Or perhaps, he is a just being a cynical Easterner, who is standing up against forces of change. That is the quintessential Sunny for you.
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