50 years ago: Abid Ali on Sunil Gavaskar’s epic Test debut

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Fifty years ago, on this day (March 6), India`s batting great Sunil Gavaskar made his Test debut against West Indies team at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad during the 1970-71 series.
Gavaskar, 71, along with the Indian team, went on to create cricketing history five decades ago by helping their country beat the West Indies for the first time and Gavaskar one of the heroes of that win, ended up playing 125 Tests in which he scored 10,122 runs with 34 centuries and 45 half-centuries.
Gavaskar made his Test debut at the age of 21, in the second of the five-match series, which the Ajit Wadekar-led side won 1-0. 
India came into the second Test on the back of a confidence-boosting draw at Kingston, Jamaica. Gavaskar was set to play at Sabina Park, but a finger injury ruled the diminutive opener out.
Having fully recovered, he opened with fellow Mumbaikar Ashok Mankad, replacing  Kenia Jayantilal.
Gavaskar contributed substantially to the historic victory. His teammate – all-rounder Syed Abid Ali – recalled how the debutant rose to the upper echelons of Test cricket in his first match itself. “He [Gavaskar] did extremely well as a youngster. He had a wonderful debut as well as a series. He batted like a champion on his debut,” Abid Ali, 79, told mid-day.com from Tracy, California, USA.       
Gavaskar scored 65 in the first innings and top-scored with an unbeaten 67 in the second innings to see India home. He went on to score 774 runs in four Tests.
Abid Ali, who made his Test debut against Australia at Adelaide during the 1967-68 away series, felt the stars aligned perfectly for Gavaskar leading up the Test series.
“When Sunil got selected, he was scoring runs for Bombay University. He was in very good form and that helped,” said Abid Ali, who played 29 Tests with 1018 runs and has 47 wickets to his name.
West Indies captain Garfield Sobers won the toss and opted to bat. The hosts were bundled out for 214 in the first innings with Charlie Davis top-scoring with an unbeaten 71. 
For India, spinners Erapalli Prasanna (4-54) and Bishan Singh Bedi (3-46) put on a superlative bowling performance. Abid Ali too chipped in with crucial wickets of Roy Fredericks (0) and Clive Lloyd (7), both bowled. In fact, Fredericks was dismissed by Abid Ali off the first ball of the match. 
Openers Mankad (44) and Gavaskar got India off to an impressive start in the first Innings as the visitors scored 352 with Dilip Sardesai (112) notching up a century to help Wadekar`s men take a 138-run lead. Sardesai had scored a double century in the first Test.
India then dismissed the hosts for 261 with off-spinner S Venkataraghavan bagging a fifer. Bedi and fellow left-arm spinner Salim Durani claimed two wickets apiece. “Salim’s two wickets were vital – Lloyd and Sobers – both dangerous batsmen,” stressed Abid Ali.
With 124 to win, India lost three wickets before Gavaskar and Abid Ali put on a partnership of 41 to help India achieve the required target.  
Recalling the second Innings when he joined Gavaskar in the middle, Abid Ali said: “We didn’t required too many  to win the match. I went in somewhere in the middle of the innings. I had the chance to hit the winning run. I got a full toss but I played it to the cover fielder. Sunil came up to me and said, ‘Why did you do that?’ I said, Sunil, you are the youngster. I think it`s better if you hit the winning run. It will do you good. And finally, he did that.”
Abid Ali admired Gavaskar`s technique and said he is the best batsman he has seen. “Sunil’s technique was a masterpiece. I will give full marks to him amongst the present and past cricketers. This boy had a lovely technique,” said Abid Ali, who retired in 1975.
For Abid Ali, Gavaskar was born for cricketing greatness even before he made his debut. “He was a star already coming into the series. And as the series progressed, we all could see how good he was. He too knew he had the talent, but he was a modest cricketer with the right upbringing,” Abid Ali concluded.   
India’s seven-wicket win in Trinidad ushered in a new era, the Gavaskar era. And he inspired a generation of batsmen. Each and every one of them would also be grateful to March 6, 1971, the day it all started.

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