Book review: 'Wrist Assured'- a 'wristy' cricketing genius

‘Wrist Assured’ traces the journey of Gundappa Vishwanath ‘Vishy’ from the dusty by-lanes of Bengaluru to some of the most iconic stadiums across the globe

Book review: 'Wrist Assured'- a 'wristy' cricketing genius

Rohit Bhandiye

Cricket was all that G.R. Vishwanath, popularly known as “Vishy” wanted to play since his childhood having picked up a bat at the age of seven and tennis ball cricket made Vishwanath the batsman he became in international cricket since the challenges of playing a tennis ball cricket are unique.

‘Wrist Assured’ co-authored by senior sports journalist R. Kaushik traces the journey of one of the finest batsmen to have ever played for India - Gundappa Vishwanath from the dusty by-lanes of Bengaluru to some of the iconic stadiums across the globe.

Vishy was a true artist with the willow and his stroke play, particularly the late-cut was a delight to watch for cricket lovers. Equally at ease both against pace and spin, Vishy scored runs when it really mattered the most for India. He along with the great Sunil Gavaskar formed the back-bone of India’s batting line-up throughout the 1970’s decade.

A Test captain, chairman of selectors, manager of Indian cricket team, ICC match referee and coach at the National Cricket Academy, Vishwanath has played many roles in his illustrious cricketing career with equal ease.

“The charismatic Tiger Pataudi, my first skipper, was a massive influence on my career. It was at his insistence that I made my Test debut against Australia at Kanpur in 1969,” says Viswanath.

But,Vishy’s international debut saw both agony and ecstasy in his very first Test. The 20-year old debutant scored a duck in his first innings but followed up with 137 in the second. The same crowd that had hurled matkas on his way back in the first innings rose as one to celebrate his century. From being chief villain, Vishy quickly became the hero of the crowd. He learnt his first important lesson – nothing succeeds like success.

“Kanpur was an unforgettable experience. Four days of anxiety and uncertainty, followed by two outlook-altering, path-charting days of unfettered joy. I wasn’t just a Test cricketer now, I was a Test centurion too,” he fondly remembers.

The day after the game, Vishy got a telegram from the legendary actor Raj Kapoor. It said, ‘Congratulations, young man’.

“I was over the moon. I hadn’t met him, but I knew he was a great cricket enthusiast. Even today, I am grateful to Raj Kapoor for the sweet gesture which meant the world to me. It’s a pity I never got to meet him, ” writes Vishwanath.

Infact, Vishy is the only cricketer to score a double century on his first-class debut and a century on debut in a Test match.

“More than 50 years on, I still can’t find the words to describe how much security and confidence the 137 instilled in me. Just like the 230 on Ranji debut had swept away most of the thorns in my path, my Test debut performance was the catalyst for what I consider a smooth ride in international cricket,” recalls Vishwanath.

A Padma Shri and Arjuna Awardee, Vishwanath went on to represent India in 91 Tests scoring 6,080 runs including 14 hundreds and was part of Indian team at the 1975 and 1979 Cricket World Cup.

His patented stroke, the square cut with the eyes firmly on the ball, fetched him a vast proportion of his runs.

“While the square cut was my signature stroke, I enjoyed bringing the wrists into play and driving the ball wide of mid-on. I reckon more than 4,000 Test runs came through the square cut. It was a stroke born out necessity,” he says.

Vishwanath was also part of India’s famous away test wins against the West Indies and England in 1971 under the leadership of the legendary AjitWadekar.

He says, “Ajit was a phenomenal leader who played a big part in our emergence as a strong Test force. He was an excellent batsman in his own right, and his man-management skills were exemplary. He had a host of established players to feed off – Jai (M.L.Jaisimha), Dilip (Sardesai), Pras (Erapalli Prasanna), Salim (Durrani) – as well as young group that included Sunil (Gavaskar), Ekki (Eknath Solkar) and myself. Ajit didn’t impose himself, nor was he insecure when surrounded by such giants as Jai.”

Vishwanath’s gritty knock of 97 not out against the mighty West Indies in the Madras Test match in January 1975 which India won by 100 runs is considered among his greatest innings. Wisden 100, a series from the respected publication, rated this as thirty-eighth best innings of all time, and the second-best non-century in July 2001.

“It’s an innings dear to my heart for the emotions it triggered in those who were at Chepauk that day. Even to this day, more than 45 years after that knock, I get letters and phone calls from strangers just to thank me for entertaining them. Every time I go to what’s now Chennai, all I hear is about 97 not out,” Vishwanath remembers fondly with joy in his eyes.

Karnataka’s first Ranji Trophy win in March 1974 was another high-point in Vishwanath’s career. They defeated the mighty Bombay side in the semi-finals that had the likes of Gavaskar, Wadekar, Mankad, Solkar and Shivalkar and then beat the Rajasthani side in the finals.

“To be part of the first Karnataka team to lift the Ranji Trophy in 1973-74 remains one of the highlights of my career. We had an excellent side led brilliantly by the astute Erapalli Prasanna.”

“Playing for a state like Karnataka was a dream come true for me. All of us just didn’t want to play for Karnataka, we wanted to make Karnataka proud. We wanted to win titles; we felt that was our way of expressing our gratitude for everything the state had done for us.”

“Every time Karnataka has won the trophy post my playing days, I have been transported back to the events of March 1974. I live the emotions with the current players, I share their delight. I can empathize with their feelings. Winning the Ranji Trophy is the ultimate honour for an Indian cricketer,” says Vishwanath with pride.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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