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Not for nothing is Sunil Gavaskar called the Jewel of India. He was a unique individual. Many cricket-enthusiasts believe that there was no one like him before he arrived on the scene, and there won't be anyone like him. He was a remarkable match-winner and match-saver. His extraordinary achievements speak for themselves. 10,122 runs, 125 Tests and 34 hundreds are mind-boggling figures.

Gavaskar's exploits against the fast men from the West Indies are part of cricketing folklore, but he was as successful against the other teams. Like all great batsmen, he played several fabulous innings, some of which are widely remembered, and some which aren't. An innings that has sadly been forgotten was a 59 against England at Lord's in the second Test of the 1979 series against England. Youngsters who were present at Lord's that day had the privilege of watching an invaluable tutorial on the art of steering one's team out of a crisis by outsmarting a formidable opponent.


India were bowled out for a paltry 96 on the first day in a Test that was interrupted quite frequently by rain. This dismal batting performance was followed by an even worse display with the ball. England declared at 419, and looked set to go 2-0 up in the series, having already won the first Test at Birmingham. Showers ruined the third day, but the Indians still had to bat for a day-and-a-half to save the match. English all-rounder Ian Botham was only one wicket short of becoming the fastest to take 100 Test wickets. The opener took guard against an opponent as well-versed in cricket's mental games as he. A fascinating duel commenced, with the adversaries eager to out-think and outwit each other. Before this Test, the English plan for Gavaskar had been to maintain a consistent line outside the off-stump and induce an edge. The canny Botham was aware that Gavaskar would probably expect this strategy to continue, and would have prepared himself to tackle it. Hence, he had decided to do something different this time round. He was to test Gavaskar with inswingers.

In those days, Botham's swingers were dreaded by the cricketing world. Most swing bowlers are able to bowl outswingers from close to the stumps and inswingers from the edge of the crease. Botham was no exception, but he could also do the opposite! Plus, there was his proficiency at deception. He had this habit of showing the batsman the shiny side of the ball, and then turning the ball in his hand before delivery without the batsman's knowledge. The hapless batsman, expecting the ball to swing in a particular direction, would suddenly find the ball going the other way! Gavaskar, standing thirty yards away from Botham, was a picture of balance, composure and concentration. Botham's first few deliveries to him were looseners, but he left them alone. Having warmed up sufficiently, the bowler proceeded to unveil his full repertoire. He concentrated on his inswingers, but hurled the occasional outswinger, bouncer and Yorker. A lesser batsman would have crumbled under this multi-dimensional attack, but not Gavaskar. Try as he might, Botham could not get past Gavaskar's defense. 


The all-rounder had found his match. His swingers were scrutinized minutely and played on merit. His good balls were respected, the bad ones punished. Gavaskar completed one of the most satisfying fifties of his career and looked set to get his first hundred at Lord's. Not that he expected it to be a stroll. For there was no way Botham was going to give up.

Gavaskar got to 59 before the duel ended with Botham dismissing him off the fourth ball of a magical over. The all-rounder started the over with a short delivery that Gavaskar negotiated. Delivery number two was a slower ball that Gavaskar smashed, but failed to clear the quicksilver Derek Randall at point. Botham then bowled an outswinger that beat the master. Then came a short delivery pitched just outside the off-stump. Gavaskar went for the cut, only to realize that he had erred. The ball was a little too close to his body for that stroke. It was too late by then, and the ball nicked his bat and flew to the slips, where English captain Mike Brearley held a fine catch. Botham could not have taken a more prized scalp to complete a century of Test wickets.

Gavaskar, who had made up his mind not to get out to Botham, was livid with himself, but he still extended his hand to congratulate the bowler. The jubilant Botham did not notice this as he sprinted towards his captain. Botham had triumphed in the duel, but Gavaskar had done his job. He had instilled the confidence in his teammates watching from the pavilion that this English bowling attack could be thwarted if they applied themselves. As it turned out, Dilip Vengsarkar and Gundappa Vishwanath went on to score centuries and India drew the match with ease.

Vishwanath and Vengsarkar dominated the headlines for their hundreds and fourth-wicket partnership of 210. No doubt, they had batted splendidly, but Gavaskar's duel with Botham had been a greater spectacle.

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2 IndiaIndia 112
3 cricketPakistan 111
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