Gundappa Viswanath who was born on February 12, 1949, was one of the batting mainstays for India during the ’70s. An artistic batsman, ‘Vishy’ as he was often called was known for his sportsman spirit and calm nature on and off the field.
Vishy was also a classical batsman for India who has many memorable innings for India played in extremely difficult conditions. The ‘Bob Taylor Recalled’ incident during the 1980 Jubilee test match was one of the most talked about incident of that era and a great illustration of Viswanath’s honesty and the spirit with which he used to play the game.
Viswanath started very early and despite not having a formal coaching and a short stature came up the ranks pretty quickly through age-group cricket and Ranji Trophy for Karnataka.
Gundappa Viswanath didn’t have a great debut to start with. During the test against Australia at Kanpur in 1969, He scored a duck in the first innings. But the skipper, Tiger Pataudi showed complete faith on Vishy.
Tiger told him, “Relax, don’t worry, you’ll get a hundred in the second innings.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Viswanath scored 137 runs in the second innings, a knock crafted with 25 boundaries. Thus he became the first cricketer to score a duck and a century on test match debut.
Gundappa ‘Winner’ Viswanath
Gundappa Viswanath from his debut match went on to become the lucky mascot for India. Whenever he scored a century, India never lost any match. His maiden Test ended in a draw with the remaining 13 where he hit a hundred resulted in Indian wins. Viswanath always rose to the most difficult situations. He was particularly brilliant against the powerhouses of the 1970s, Australia and the West Indies. He had a batting average of over 50 against both the giants.
One of his famous knocks came against West Indies In 1976 in Trinidad. India successfully chased a target of 403. Gavaskar set the tone with 102 but it was Gunwapa Viswanath’s 112 that helped India to chase the score. One year back his well crafted 97 against West Indies in Madras was yet another example of his master class. In India’s total run 190, Vishy’s contribution was 97 and that knock came against the bowling attack containing Andy Roberts. It didn’t only help India to win the match, it was also acknowledged by Wisden.
Above all his greatness on the 22yards, the fans always remember Vishy for his sportsmanship. He captained India in two matches and one of the matches was the Golden Jubilee Test against England in 1979-80. The Indian captain was fielding at first slip and Boy Taylor was on the strike. A catch behind the wicket, off Kapil Dev, was given out by the umpire Hanumantha Rao. Taylor was hesitant. So was Vishy.
The Indian skipper was certain that there was something wrong. There had been no contact and persuaded the umpire to change his decision. Calling back Bob Taylor meant taking a huge risk for his own side. But to Vishy, it was always the spirit of the game ahead of anything else. Recalling the incident Gundappa Viswanath never took the credit and explained how his colleagues were influential behind the same.
“ I didn’t call him back on my own. The close-in fielders were looking at Bob. They asked me, ‘Is he out?’ I said no, certainly not. Then they said why don’t you call him back… so I went up to Hanumantha Rao, the umpire, and said, ‘Sir, I am withdrawing the appeal.’
The Teammate & Friend
As a cricketer, Gundappa Viswanath is easily one of the best test batsmen that India has ever produced. Even the little master Sunil Gavaskar went on record to certify him as the greatest. Gavaskar said,
“I have seen situations when we all struggled against the opposition, but then Vishy would score off the good deliveries. The rest of us, we thought we could keep out the good balls and score off the bad ones. But Vishy, he had four-five strokes to the good balls that were bowled to him.”
Gundappa Viswanath and Sunil Gavaskar shared a great bond. They were so close that it went beyond friendship and Vishy married Sunny’s sister Kavita. Interestingly, when Gavaskar became a father, he named his son ‘Rohan Jaivishwa’ after three of his favorite players – West Indian Rohan Kanhai, Indian greats ML Jaisimha and Viswanath.