Vishwanath, cricketers’ cricketer, is “human being first, cricketer next”

Excerpt from the original master’s autobiography reveals a lesser-known side of his

By Gundappa Vishwanath with R. Kaushik | March 29, 2022


#Cricket   #sports   #Gundappa Vishwanath   #autobiography   #literature  


Wrist Assured: An Autobiography
By Gundappa Vishwanath with R. Kaushik
Rupa, 280 pages, Rs 595

Before there were masters, there was Gundappa Vishwanath. Most elegant batsman (batter was a not a word then), and arguably the greatest when it came to a square cut. Cricketers were not flashy back then, but Vishwanath has an unusually understated persona. Unfortunately, his career was over before most middle-class discovered the joys of watching cricket live – that came after the 1983 World Cup victory. (He played his last Test, against Pakistan, earlier that year.)

But for cricket buffs, here is a chance to relive the ‘Vishy’ phenomenon, with his autobiography, ‘Wrist Assured’. Decorated with never-heard-before anecdotes and events from the living legend’s life, it is a no-hold barred autobiography that promises to be cricket connoisseurs’ delight.

‘Wrist Assured’ traces the cricketing journey of the wristy genius from the dusty by-lanes of erstwhile Bangalore to the most iconic venues in the world. It offers deep insights into the mind of a champion, and of the trials and tribulations of an international career that saw both despair and delight in his very first Test. Vishwanath followed up a first-innings duck with 137 in the second against Australia in Kanpur in 1969. The same crowd that had hurled matkas on his way back in the first innings rose as one to celebrate his century, providing him his first important lesson – nothing succeeds like success.

His solid middle-class upbringing instilled in Vishwanath a clear sense of right and wrong which he harnessed throughout his 91-Test career. ‘Wrist Assured’ provides a ringside view of what made Vishwanath tick and why he is one of the most adored and respected cricketers to have graced the cricketing stage.

The former Indian captain, short of stature, towered over the cricketing landscape for nearly two decades. Universally loved, Vishwanath danced to 14 hundreds in 91 Tests. Remarkably, India never lost a match whenever he touched three figures. As impressive as his numbers are, Vishwanath is remembered with fondness for the sheer joy he provided with his magical touch.

The book is co-written by R. Kaushik, a cricket writer for more than three decades and also co-author for VVS Laxman’s autobiography, ‘281 and Beyond’. It was released by Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Sourav Ganguly on March 12, 2022 at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore.
 
Here is an excerpt from ‘Wrist Assured’:


HUMAN BEING FIRST, CRICKETER NEXT

I am not sure when it was, but the first time I saw my name in the newspaper, a jolt of electricity shot through my body. I experienced a thrill I didn’t know was possible. It was heady and intoxicating; I wanted to see my name in the headlines on a regular basis.

The entire process fascinated me, I must admit. Here I was, playing an obscure schools’ match in some remote part of the city, so how did the newspaper reporters know about this? How did they know who had performed in which match? Where did they get the information from? I had numerous questions but no answers, largely because I asked these questions of myself.

I hadn’t been big on reading newspapers until that point. But from then on, every time I played a match, I’d scan the papers the next morning to see if I found a mention. One particular day, I was very disappointed that I had been ignored. My older brother, who had watched my sudden
interest in newspapers with mounting curiosity, asked me what was bothering me.

‘I thought they would carry my score. I played really well yesterday.’

‘How much did you make?’

‘I am not sure. Maybe 15 or 16, I batted beautifully.’

With a chuckle, he told me, ‘That’s not enough to merit being reported. You have to score at least 30 runs or take two wickets. Otherwise, they will run out of space, won’t they?’

That was an eye-opener; I understood that to be recognized, I had to perform. If I wanted to see my name in print, I had to score big. I loved reading my name, so now I had an added incentive to keep performing.

I never took a newspaper to my family or my friends and proudly boasted that my name had been carried. I derived satisfaction from being recognized; even today, when I see my name on print, I feel electrified. Honest.

* * *

As I have mentioned previously, cricket and I were a natural fit. From the time I first held a bat, I had no time for anything else: not another sport, not academics. I was too young to know what I wanted, or how to go about things, but I knew I’d play for the country. How? Wish I had
the answer.

My first reality check came when I was not picked for the state schools’ team. I sat down and asked myself if I knew where I was headed. I thought my life in cricket was over even before it had begun, but I wasn’t unaware that academics wasn’t my cup of tea simply because I had no interest in studies. I had no choice but to pursue cricket if I wanted to make a name for myself, if I wanted to be successful, if I wanted to have a career (not that there was a career to be had out of cricket then). It was a very happy coincidence that I would be pursuing something I loved deeply.

Simply put, cricket is my everything. It’s my life, it’s made me what I am. I love the game so much that even today, I set my alarm clock to 4.30 a.m. when India are playing in Australia to catch every ball of every Test match. I might not necessarily enjoy all the formats, but because it is my sport, I watch any and every live cricket on television. Whenever I can, I go in person to the Chinnaswamy Stadium; I talk and joke around, but I never take my eyes off the ball, literally.

Few people outside of my immediate circle had heard of me when I made my debut for Mysore in the Ranji Trophy. All that changed within one day. On the first day of the match against Andhra in Vijayawada, I was unbeaten on 200-plus. When I woke up the next morning, I was
delighted to see my name figuring prominently in the local papers. As I walked into the ground, my senses acutely sharp, I could hear people whispering my name. Wow, so this is what being recognized entails! I could live with this, for sure.

Between that game and my India debut, when I was frolicking with my friends on the streets of Bangalore, I’d try to gauge if others on the road recognized me. I didn’t think of myself as a celebrity, but I’d look from the corner of my eye to see if any of the people we passed on the
road identified me, mentioned my name. If they did, I’d inwardly be delighted. Perhaps that’s how it was for my other contemporaries too, I don’t know. I can only speak for myself.

I had been entranced from the beginning by the attention famous people get, by the appreciation for not just their craft but also their conduct. My shining example was Dr Rajkumar, the great Kannada and south Indian actor who captivated me with his presence and charisma. He was my first non-cricketing hero. Even now, when I hear of the reverence and affection with which people talk about him, my heart is filled with joy. The legacy he left behind is celebrated not only in Karnataka, but across the country; it’s an unbelievable legacy of kindness, warmth and love.

I’d watch his movies by myself, if I had to. He lorded the screen, just like Mr N.T. Rama Rao and Mr Sivaji Ganesan did. When I looked around, I’d see the awe on people’s faces as they watched them perform. We all knew we were seeing masters at work.

I wanted to be like them. I wanted to entertain people, I wanted their appreciation. Compared to Dr Rajkumar, I have achieved little, I am aware. But I craved people’s appreciation. Being recognized was a huge boost. It gave one the confidence that people are following your progress, so you must give something back to them as well.

[Excerpt reproduced with the permission of the publishers.]

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