A man with no enemies
Hemant Kenkre recalls his encounters with the great man.
I can never forget his last first-class innings. The memory is
still crystal clear. His 5 ft 4 inch frame walking out to bat
for the last time for Karnataka at the Wankhede stadium. Gundappa
Ranganath Viswanath never pottered around. He always got straight
down to business. A few delectable flicks, mystical cuts and magical
drives later, the Karnataka warrior holed out to extra cover.
He was trying to drive Padmakar Shivalkar, his old nemesis.
I watched, with misty eyes, his final walk back to the dressing
room, the sparse crowd not realising that an era had ended. An
era that had started in 1969 against Bill Lawry's Australians
at Kanpur. He scored a duck in his first outing in Test cricket
and followed it with a magnificent 137. An enthusiastic crowd
at the Green Park stadium had seen the advent of a magician. One
who, it is said, had five to six different shots for each kind
of ball (I am being conservative).
As an 11 year old, I still remember that day. I was sailing along
the Western coast to Vengurla, my maternal native place. The upper
deck of the Konkan Sewak was full of mill hands and other assorted
lower middle class May vacationers en route to their homes.
The cacophony of excited voices and irritating children was broken
by an equally excited voice on a transistor. 'And Viswanath has
scored a hundred,' the voice came over the distant Konkan mainland.
A cheer followed. After all, it was not commonplace for an unknown
Kannadiga to score a century on his debut.
''He is a very good
player,'' said D K (Baban) Gavaskar, my maternal uncle and co-traveller.
Babanmama knew his cricket. He was one of the millions who had
cut his cricketing teeth under Vinoo Mankad on Bombay's maidans.
I saw Vishy bat for the first time in a Test at the Brabourne
stadium against Tony Lewis's Englishmen. It was Pataudi's comeback
series. The little craftsman had carved a well made hundred and,
in the process, broken the hoodoo that an Indian batsman who scores
a hundred on debut never reaches the three figure mark again.
The square cuts were there, so were the wristy flicks. But what
took one's breath away was an instinctive hook off Chris Old which
sailed between the pavilion and the west stand, landing into the
swimming pool. Who said Vishy could not hook?
I was also fortunate to see -- live -- two of his best innings.
The superb hundred he scored at Eden Gardens, against Clive Lloyd's
mighty West Indies will forever be etched in my memory. It was
a crucial innings and most of his runs had come with nine, ten
and jack for company. As scribe Rajan Bala notes in his book
All The Beautiful Boys, it was probably the first time the fearsome
Andy Roberts resorted to negative tactics by bowling wide and steep
Watching him that day, it was hard to believe this was the
same genial Vishy in whose company one had devoured mudi at the
Victoria. The other innings was in 1978 at Madras where on a wicket
of unpredictable bounce and pace, Vishy had toyed with the likes
of Sylvester Clarke, Nobert Philip and Vanburn Holder. I asked
him, many years alter, how he managed to cut with such precision
on a wicket which offered dangerous bounce (Chang, a West Indian
batsman, was felled by a Ghavri delivery). "Nothing ba," he said,
'I failed to understand why Kalli (Alvin Kallicharan, the West
Indies skipper) did not put a third man when I was batting." Modest
If there is one word to describe Vishy, the person, it is unflappable.
Let me give you an example. Once on a visit to Bangalore, I was
staying with him. Vishy was to catch the morning flight to Calcutta
to select the Indian team for the Singer Cup in Lanka. The tranquility
of the Viswanath household was shattered by the shrill ring of
It was 0100 hours. I answered the phone and told him it
was a journalist from Calcutta who wanted advance information
on Kapil Dev's selection (there was cloud on that particular issue
Vishy politely told the journo that he could offer no comment
and would be happy to speak to him after the selection committee
meeting was over. ''How can you take this crap, it's one in the
morning!'' I said. He smiled, ''He is only doing his job.''
No wonder the man has no enemies.
Any one who knows Vishy would vouch that the man has a unique sense of humour. Facing the Doordarshan camera after he narrowly missed scoring a hundred in each innings at Bombay against Lloyd's team in 1975, Vishy was asked whether the ball that got him was an inswinger, an out-swinger or a yorker, 'If I had seen it,' said a poker faced Vishy, 'I would still be batting.'
Vishy has completed 50 years. Knowing him, he
would not like any fanfare but would look up and give a shy smile
as he did when passed the half century mark on the field. The
day will begin with a quick visit to the temple. A trip to the
KSCA snooker room. A round of golf followed by some quality time
spent with his wife Kavita and son Daivik and some friends over
for dinner. And knowing his popularity, half of Bangalore would
be their to wish their favourite citizen a very happy fiftieth
birthday. Happy Birthday Vishy!
A fierce combative indomitable spirit
Vishy wanted a challenge to give out his best