To again connect with all that is good and noble in cricket, read Gundappa Vishwanath’s recently released autobiography
‘Wrist Assured’ by Gundappa Vishwanath & R. Kaushik; RUPA, Rs. 595, 280 pages
The only time I ran onto the cricket field during a match (I was 12), my hero Gundappa Vishwanath had reached a 50. I shook hands with him. You shouldn’t meet your heroes or you will be disappointed, I was told later. But I didn’t have to readjust my sights at all. You came for the square cut, but stayed for the charm, a charm that is also the strength of his autobiography, co-authored with journalist R. Kaushik.
There was a vulnerability about Vishwanath’s batting that is the companion of those who operate on the edge of the possible. It is an attractive quality in a performing artist, from tight-rope walkers to classical singers. If Sunil Gavaskar was the Apollo of Indian cricket, all intellect and technique, Vishwanath was the Dionysus, all ecstasy and unexpectedness.
It is nearly 40 years since he retired, yet Vishwanath remains the exemplar of wristy Indian batsmanship, and connects us with all that is good and noble in the game. Skipper Vishwanath once recalled Bob Taylor to the crease when he knew the batsman wasn’t out. He lost the Test but gained something bigger. He is probably the most loved cricketer of my time—a love that went beyond respect or admiration, although it contained both.
I would have been disappointed if his autobiography had spilled the beans on the disastrous 1974 tour of England, or the many series that had as much intrigue and conspiracy as runs and wickets. That is not Vishwanath’s way; I was not disappointed.
There is instead a remarkable honesty—he writes, for instance, of how he might have been leg before early on in the match against Mumbai that ended the latter’s run of 15 Ranji triumphs in a row (he went on to make 162). The book’s best parts are the famous Vishwanath anecdotes—funny, self-deprecating, delivered with a twinkle in the eye. Like the time he addressed Richie Benaud as ‘Bednau’ because the commentator had called him ‘Vishnawath’, or the private vacation he had with Tiger Pataudi.
Vishwanath, Gavaskar and the Spinning Foursome (Bishan Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkatraghavan) placed India on the doorstep to greatness. India never lost a Test when Vishwanath made a century, and won most famously in Trinidad, chasing over 400. Brian Johnston called Vishwanath the ‘compleat’ batsman and rated him above Gavaskar, an assessment the latter agreed with.
Wrist Assured tells us much about the public Vishwanath (despite the occasional irritant of referring to himself in the third person), but little of the private person beyond the effort he put in to make everything look effortless. Wouldn’t we have loved to know how he met and married Gavaskar’s sister Kavita, for example?
This is a book both for those who love him and the IPL generation which needs reminding how special he was. And how a special gift can be nurtured and is rewarded regardless of background if you have the steel.