Anshuman Gaekwad – ‘The Great Wall’ of India : If there was a batsman with a limited range of shots, with a very sound defence technique and a lot of courage in the heart to face and survive the likes of fearsome West Indian bowers, Andy Roberts, Bernard Julian, Vanburn Holder etc, it has to be Ashuman Dattajirao Gaekwad, who made his Test debut against the then mighty West Indies at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, in the 1974-75 series, under the captaincy of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.
Batting down the order, Gaekwad scored 36 runs in the first innings and was also involved in a fourth-wicket partnership of 75 runs alongwith Gundappa Vishwanath (52). This was the third best partnership in the match, which eventually India won by 85 runs.
In a career spanning a decade, Anshuman had featured in 40 Test matches (70 innings – unbeaten on four occasions), aggregated 1,985 runs at an average of 30.07 with 201 as his highest score. He is also credited with 2 centuries and 50 half-centuries. Putting use of his off-breaks, he had also picked up a couple of wickets.
It would not be out of place to call Gaekwad, ‘patience personified’ for his ability to stay put at the wicket inspite of extreme intimidation from the bowlers. There would be no bowler, who all had bowled to Gaekwad, would not have been frustrated at his excellent defence-mechanism.
For this quality of his, Gaekwad was aptly nicknamed ‘The Great Wall’ by his peers both team mates and oppositions.
His patience and concentration was really tested in the second-Test against Pakistan in the 1983 series played at Burlton Park, Jalandhar.
India led by Kapil Dev won the toss and elected to field.
Pakistan led by Zaheer Abbas, backed by a wonderful century by Wasim Raja (125), batting down the order, and a well made half-century by Javed Miandad (66), put up 337 runs in their first innings.
Kapi Dev returned with the analysis of 32-8-80-4, while Ravi Shastri had the figures of 37.2-12-63-3.
Opening the innings for India and losing his partner, Sunil Gavaskar (5), Ashuman Gaekwad went to build very useful and significant partnerships.
Alongwith Yashpal Sharma (7) he added 53 runs for the third wicket, 58 runs for the fourth wicket alongwith Sandeep Patil (26) and 78 runs for the fifth wicket alongwith Ravi Shastri (26).
For the sixth wicket, alongwith Roger Binny (54), Gaekwad added a whooping 121 runs partnership. This, in fact, was the best partnership in the match.
In all these partnerships, Gaekwad’s contribution was more than his partners.
Having spent 671 minutes at the crease, facing 436 deliveries and dispatched the red cherry 17 times to the fence, Gaekwad played the innings of his life-time and notched up a huge 201 runs, his maiden and only double-ton in Tests, until he was ‘caught and bowled’ by Wasim Raja.
None of the Pakistan bowlers – Tahir Naqqash, Azeem Hafeez, Mudassar Nazar, Mohammad Nazir – could make any impact on him.
The match, however, ended in a draw since 7 hours of play was lost due to rain.
Gaekwad, at that time, had scored the slowest Test double-ton, consuming 652 minutes of stay at the wicket.
His valour and courage came to the fore in the fourth and final Test against West Indies in the 1976 series, played at Kingston, Jamaica.
Put in to bat, Gaekwad and Gavaskar opened the innings.
Having scored 16 and 14 in the first Test, dropped for the second and having scored 6 and 28 in the third Test, Gaekwad withstood the onslaught by the fiery West Indian bowlers like Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel, Bernard Julian, Vanburn Holder, who all were at their peak.
It was the era when there was no restriction on bouncers and protective gears like helmet, chest guard, arm guard were not even known.
Playing a patient knock of 450 minutes, Gaekwad ultimately retired hurt after scoring 81 runs and could not turn up to bat in the second innings.
So lethal was the bowling attack that as many as five Indian batsmen – Gaekwad, Vishwanath, Brijesh Patel, skipper Bishen Singh Bedi and Chandrasekhar – were injured and could not bat in the second innings.
It all ended where he started. The third Test against England in the 1984-85 series, played at Eden Gardens, was the last Test played by Gaekwad.
Thus the cricketing world saw a batsman who was really courageous to take the fiery bowlers head on, had the patience and perseverance to stay and concentrate at the crease for a very long period of time and who had a very sound defence which most of the world-class bowlers found it difficult to breach.