Bonhomie Behind Rivalry: When Imran Asked Sunny To Defer Retirement

New Delhi, October 22: In cricket, rivalries between players from different nations usually lead to friendships and, in some cases, fiery duels that are etched in the minds of cricket fans.

Ahead of India-Pakistan clash at the ICC T20 World Cup in Melbourne on Sunday, we look at India’s clash against the great Sunil Gavaskar and Pakistan’s inspirational all-rounder Imran Khan which increased the excitement factor among the two cricket fans.

Gavaskar dominated batting in world cricket in the 1970s since his West Indies debut earlier in the decade. Imran, meanwhile, dominated bowling but was also an excellent all-rounder for Pakistan after struggling in the early stages at international level.

Gavaskar first met Imran in competitive cricket when India toured Pakistan in 1978–79, finishing the streak with 447 runs on an 89.40 average, despite the hosts winning 2–0.

In the years to come, Gavaskar and Imran faced each other on many occasions, with the right-hander meeting the fiery seaman’s challenge with sheer class and patience.

Gavaskar also led India to their second win in the Test series over Pakistan, the first coming in 1952-53, 1979-80, both at home.

Tests aside, Gavaskar also did fairly well against Imran in ODI cricket.

In tests, Gavaskar hit 2,089 runs with an average of 56.45, he also made 600 ODI runs with an average of 33.33 against Pakistan.

Gavaskar had written extensively in his 2018 column in a leading national daily how Imran had successfully persuaded him to postpone his retirement until Pakistan came for a tour of India in 1987.

“‘You can’t retire now. Pakistan is coming to India next year and I want to beat India in India. If you’re not part of this team, it won’t be the same. Come on, let’s compete one last time,’ Imran replied when I told him that I plan to retire through England at the end of India tour,” Gavaskar wrote.

“It was 1986 and we were having lunch at an Italian restaurant in London. I said that if the tour announcement was not made before the final Test I would go ahead and announce my retirement from international cricket. The tour was actually announced in a few days.

“Pakistan won the last and final test of this series after the earlier tests were all drawn, beating India for the first time in India. I didn’t announce my retirement at the end of the Pakistan series as I was keen to play the MCC Bicentenary Test at Lord’s a little later.

“When this team was announced there was Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Imran and Javed Miandad. Imran and I had a 182-run partnership, and what I enjoyed was the conversations we had at the end of each over, when two batsmen usually come down the pitch to give one another encouragement.

“That’s exactly how it was initially when we were trying to assess the bowlers and the situation, but as the partnership grew Imran and I shared stories from the Pakistani and Indian locker rooms and laughed about it.

“Then when he smashed a six in the MCC President’s box, I joked that wasn’t what was expected when they picked him for the game. He turned and asked where the media box was and I said it was too far even for you to hit there,” Gavaskar wrote.

Although he found it difficult to sack Gavaskar, Imran was otherwise successful against India – winning a total of 131 wickets in Tests and ODIs against arch-rivals. But it was the mutual respect and friendship between Gavaskar and Imran that has stood the test of time.

Gavaskar went on to explain in the article how Imran went from being a raw pacer to one with lethal control and accuracy, which was seen in the 1982-83 series against India.

“We have known each other since 1971 when he was trying to qualify for the Worcestershire County team. He was just a scrawny boy then, a medium-sized, open-chested pacer, bowling inswingers, but with little or no control.

“When we played him in a friendly seven years later, he had filled up and was really fast now. The inswingers were still his stock deliveries, but he had also developed the ones that went straight through, outpacing batsmen as they played inside the line and awaited the inswinger.

“He almost single-handedly destroyed India by taking 40 wickets in 1982-83, ending the career of India’s top batsman of the decade, GR Viswanath, in the process. “Vishy” shouldered his arms to a ball path outside the off-stump and he swung so hard he almost knocked out the leg stump,” Gavaskar wrote.