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If ever there was any batsman in the game of cricket who was meant to be an opener, it had to be the 5ft 4-inch Bombay genius Sunil Manohar Gavaskar. Such have been the deeds of this great batsman that words often fail to describe them. He was simply the "most complete opening batsman."Sunil "Sunny" Gavaskar is a record-setting batsman and a national hero to India's cricket fans. His spectacular professional career began with a bang: in his Test debut series against West Indies (1971) he scored a record 774 runs. He has had 81 first class centuries (or hundreds) and scored a total of 25,834 runs, including 10,122 runs in Test cricket (he was the first batsman to score 10,000 runs in Test). In the 1980s Gavaskar, called "The Little Master" (he's 5' 4"), dominated Indian cricket and became famous for his meticulous approach as well as his distinctive headgear. After his retirement in 1988 he became a commentator and columnist. He has also authored several cricket books and an autobiography, Sunny Days (1980). He has been a long time devotee of Bhagavan.

In September 2003, Gavaskar(GAV) visited the Prasanthi Digital Studio and shared his views on two of his greatest passions- Swami and Cricket. In conversation with him was Shri G Venkataraman(GV), formerly the Vice Chancellor of the Sri Sathya Sai Institue of Higher learning. Presenting to you a transcript of that interview………….

A SUNNY DAY AT THE STUDIOGV: Sairam, and welcome to the studios of Radio Sai. It is a great moment for me because never in my life did I ever dream that I would be interviewing a personality like you. For the benefit of our listeners, I should say that though you are not the original little master, as you yourself pointed out during the closing ceremony of the Unity Cup match, yet you were a little master in your own time, and continue to remain a master though you now seem to be getting into the middle age.

GAV: Sairam, Yes, definitely. Age waits for none and I think I am definitely past my youth and the middle age is there.

GV: The passing of your youth is true only as far as your physical body is concerned. But you still remain soThe Young Sunil youthful in spirit and so inspiring! Today I want to take this opportunity to inspire all our listeners the world over by talking to you about your various experiences. Let me begin with a question that I don’t normally ask. Normally I start by asking people, “When did you first come to Swami?” and stuff like that. Today I want to ask a different question. In your career you have been interviewed I don’t know how many times and you have also interviewed others on numerous occasions. Tell me, how does it feel to sit here and chat over Radio Sai? This is an experience, I think, you would have never dreamt of! How does it feel?

GAV: I think it is something beyond description because of the fact that one comes to Prashanti Nilayam and finds Peace that eludes you in the outside world. To be perfectly honest when you go out of Prasanthi Nilayam there is the hustle bustle and hurly burly of every day life which does not give you the kind of Peace that you are looking for. There is always some pressure; but coming down here brings a great deal of Peace. I can feel the Peace even here in the Studio. Normally, irrespective of the number of interviews that one might have done, there is always a certain feeling of nervousness when you do an interview. But that nervousness is simply not there now, because here I am physically very close to Swami. I just feel that He is around here.

GV: That is very nice. There is some sort of magic in the air that grips you, squeezes out all your anxiety and worries, and you feel pretty relaxed. Since you feel so nice being here, I suggest that you should come here more often!

GAV: Yes!

GV: Why don’t you arrange your tours so that you pass through Bangalore? We are just a short distance away from Bangalore.

GAV: I would dearly love to do that and I hope that Swami also organises it in such a way, because He is perfectly capable of organising that.

GV: That is true. On now to my standard opening question for celebrities: “How did you happen to come to Swami?” In fact this question is valid for every single individual because in His own way Swami pulls the strings and brings us all to His fold at the right time and in the right manner, though we are not conscious of it. How did it happen for you, because in your case you must have been very busy then, and in a different role too, playing out there in the field? At present also you are busy travelling and going along with the players, observing what they are doing out there in the middle. In the midst of all that bustle and stress, how did you happen to come to Swami?

GAV: Well, it all started with my mother getting a vision of Swami.

GV: When was that?

GAV: That was in 1970 when she was cooking and suddenly she got a vision of Swami.

GV: This vision - she saw Him in person or something like that?

GAV: She saw Him, and it was something like that. It happened in the kitchen where she was cooking.

GV: It happened in Bombay, now Mumbai?

GAV: Yes, it was in Mumbai. She suddenly got excited about it. She stopped all cooking and just went down the road where the newspaper stall is, to ask for the poster. The newspaper chap had a lot of posters but none of Swami. He showed all the posters to her and she couldn’t find Swami’s poster.

GV: Was she able to place Him?

GAV: No, She didn’t know who Swami was at that time. She had just seen the vision. The newspaper chap then pointed her to another shop a little further down. She went there and looked, and once again there was no poster of the person of whom she had had a vision. So she came back to the original newspaper chap who used to supply us with our daily newspapers.

GV: Which area of Mumbai?

GAV: In Dadar, Balachandar Road. She said, “Please look again”. The newspaper chap replied, “Listen lady, I told you just ten minutes ago that this picture is not there. How can it be there now?” My mother said, “Please look again.” He did and lo and behold, right at the bottom of the pile was the poster of Swami, in exactly the same posture as in the vision, with His hand raised up in a blessing gesture.

GV: The famous Abhaya Hastha!

GAV: It was there and the newspaper chap gave the poster to her. She asked how much and he replied, “I don’t know how this poster has come here. I will not charge a penny because I have not ordered it. This poster is here and it is yours.” Later that poster was kept in my bedroom. I believe that ever since that poster was put up in my bedroom, my cricketing fortunes started to soar high. I was till then a Ranji Trophy player. But fortunes just started to soar from here. Along with my father and mother, I too started to get mentally and spiritually involved with Swami from then on.

GV: Your story is absolutely amazing. I don’t know if you are aware of Mr. Sinclair of America. He had an almost similar experience. It has been recorded by him personally. Swami came to him 2 or 3 times in his prayer room, and at that time Sinclair didn’t know who Swami was. He went to the biggest bookshop in New York City which sells spiritual books and said, “I want a book on somebody who looks like this” and described Swami. The man at the counter smiled and came back shortly with a book on Swami and some Vibhuthi. It turned out that the salesperson was a devotee! Imagine that, in New York. Sinclair then found out where Puttaparthi was, came here and he saw Swami. And Swami was exactly like the person whom he, that is Sinclair, had seen in his house in Connecticut in America, at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.

GAV: Amazing!

GV: So there are extraordinary ways in which Bhagavan comes into the lives of people. I heard a story from Tajmul Hussain of Trinidad, West Indies. He told me of a man, an Afro-West Indian, shall I say, who did not know anything about Swami, not one word. He was a rich man but in deep financial difficulties. He became very depressed. One day he was driving very fast in his Mercedes. He wanted to crash and kill himself. As he was speeding he heard a voice saying, “Come to Prasanthi.” He didn’t know what was going on. He thought he was imagining, but then he heard that command three times. He then slowed down, and told himself, “There is something going on here; I am getting a message. Let me find out.” He asked around and after sometime found out what Prasanthi was, where it was, and what was important about it. He then came here and when he did, he realised that he had been saved by Swami. It is astonishing that you were brought into the fold of Swami in somewhat the same way.

The next question is what sort of impact do you think Swami has made on your life? This question is very important for our young people, and indeed for all of us too.

GAV: He has made a definite impact in the sense that He has guided me right throughout my cricketing career.

GV: In what way?

GAV: There have been decisions that have been very hard to take, decisions regarding certain aspects of the game like, for example, when the captaincy of the Indian team, which is such a prestigious post, was going back and forth. I was getting a little frustrated by it, and it was also affecting my individual game. It was at that stage there was a calming voice that said to me accept what you get.

GV: It was an Inner Voice?

GAV: Yes, it was an Inner Voice that said to me, “Accept what you get”. This was when I was saying my morning prayers. I had a standard prayer since I was a school boy. It was virtually the same thing that I said everyday. I was brought up to study in a Jesuit school where there was a prayer to God. It had been a standard prayer which I was saying for years.

GV: You don’t miss it even in your travels?

GAV: No, I don’t ever miss it.

GV: Fantastic. So as Swami says you literally started the day with God.

GAV: Even to this day, the first thing I do when I wake up is to touch the Feet of Swami in His photograph which is by my bedside and doing that, I take His blessings. When I wake up I want to see Swami’s face first.

GV: Absolutely marvellous! Incidentally if I may do a little bit of commercial, if you go outside, we have a big board announcing RADIO SAI GLOBAL HARMONY and in that we say: Start the day with God by tuning to SGH. But even without our commercial you have been doing it for a long time, and you have seen the personal benefit of prayer. Wonderful, keeping God always on your radar screen.

You say Swami has guided you in all your decision-making and major turning points and so on. Do you know of other players who have felt the hand of God and guiding influence of God in cricket?

GAV: Yes, there is my brother-in-law, Mr. Gundappa Viswanath.

GV: He comes here often.

GAV: He has found Swami’s guiding hand and he, like all of us in cricket, has gone through rough patches in his cricketing career, when nothing seems to be going right. That happens to everybody. It is then that a sense of frustration builds up, and that is where Swami’s guiding hand has come to me. When one is frustrated, there is a tendency at such times to throw in the towel, quit and say, “I don’t want to play any more although I might still have a few more years left of good active playing days.” Vishy [Gundappa Vishwanath] was also going through rough patches as a batsman and there was lot of pressure to drop him from the team. It was around this time that Swami came to his help. After that I think he came down here and when he went back he scored a hundred, and then a double hundred, and just did not look back.

GV: May be you should tell it to other players who want to a score century! Of course it might be very difficult if you were in West Indies to fly over, get Swami’s blessings and then get back. These revelations are very nice and would, I hope, carry a message to our young.

This brings me to a very important matter namely, cricket and character building. I raise this point because when I was in school there was a famous poem of which I remember the last line: Play up, play up and play the game. And we were told how the leaders of England were shaped on the playing fields of Eton and Harrow. I also remember the great discipline, decorum, dignity one saw on the sports field in those years. I have only heard of Frank Chester, the great umpire; you probably have seen him. In those days people accepted the umpire’s verdict without question and there were shows of sportsmanship, and so on. Cricket was a game that was associated with character. Somehow we seemed to have moved very rapidly away from it. Why on earth this has happened?

GAV: I think it is to a great extent due to the commercialisation of the game that has caused some players, but not all players, to lose sight of the fact that this is a game, that this game has got great traditions. As you very rightly said, cricket is a tremendous character builder. As a batsman, you cannot score a century unless there is somebody at the other end to bat with you. That some body may take a few overs of very good bowling from a bowler against whom you are a bit uncomfortable and would not want to face. It might be that your partner may score only 25 or 29 runs but with those 29 runs he has helped you to overcome a tough period and go on to a century. Similarly as a bowler you can’t get wickets unless there are fielders taking catches for you or stopping runs and putting pressure on the batsman by stopping runs and not giving away easy runs. So the game also teaches lessons in character, apart from anything else.

GV: It builds team spirit.

GAV: Yes, it also teaches you to live in a Society with all its inequalities. Society is not equal and there are some more fortunate than others. All pull together. So it is in the game. It reflects in many ways the skill level of the player. There could be somebody who is tremendously skilled but he cannot get a hundred, or he cannot get five wickets unless there is a slightly lesser skilled player who is helping him. All are needed. And sometimes the better player has to look after the lesser skilled players and that is also what Society teaches us. Those who are more fortunate should be looking after the less fortunate. In a sense, I would imagine cricket is a great reflection of Society.

GV: Character brings out also element of courage. Won’t you agree?

GAV: Yes, it does. There are times when things are not going well for you and for your team and it is in situations like this that character shows up via how you brave it, how you fight back, how you bide your time till the tough period is over and then go on to either score runs or take wickets. That is how it acts as a character builder.

GV: Talking of character, I must at this point tell our listeners something because it is very important. You might not have heard this and it might therefore also interest you. I vividly remember Prasanna, with whom you have played, once telling me this on the veranda many years ago. We were somehow talking about you. He said, “Look! People do not understand that Gavaskar played with just the county cap ‘our national cap’, which people were then proud to wear, not the kind of helmets that we have these days. And he scored over ten thousand test runs against the great fast bowlers of the world. And on what sort of pitches did he get his practice and whom did he face in India? The pitches here were lousy and his practice was against slow bowlers like me, and in spite of that he scored well against all the big teams of the world. That is character.” I will never forget that. There was power in that statement that reflected your determination and resoluteness, which really made a deep impression on me. That is why I am able to recall that statement off the cuff.

GAV: Prasanna told that to me also once. I said to him that the only reason I did not wear the helmet was there was nothing to protect inside (laughter).

GV: This reminds me of a joke which I must share with you and the listeners. There was a great erudite Judge named A.S.P. Iyer. He was on the High Court Bench in Madras before Independence when most of the Judges were British. Mr. Iyer was a very witty man. One day he was having a conversation with a colleague, a British Judge. The Englishman said, “Mr. Iyer I don’t believe in God; it is all nonsense. It is all make belief. I can’t see God. How can I believe in Him?” Mr. Iyer was quick to respond and said, “Mr. Smith I can’t see your brain. Am I to presume that you don’t have one?”

Talking of character and great personality I would like to mention at this point Vijay Merchant. I have seen him at close quarters only once, that was in 1948 or 49 in Madras airport after the West Indies Test. That was the first test match I ever saw. Everton Weekes missed his century by ten runs. Those days he was scoring centuries merrily. Five centuries or so he had scored consecutively. He was run out and missed his sixth, I think. After the Test match, both the Indian and West Indian teams were taking off for Bombay. My father used to work at the airport and he took me there to see these players. And that was where I saw Merchant. He always impressed me as a man of great character. I still remember, it was in 1954 or 55. The New Zealand team was visiting India for the first time, and they were playing in Brabourne Stadium in Bombay. Merchant used to broadcast the day’s summary at 9:15 P.M. after the News broadcast by All India Radio. We didn’t have tapes in those days. I used to hear him. I was living in Santa Cruz area of Bombay at that time. That day, batsman Martin Donnelley was in great form and the Indians just couldn’t get him out. The people in the East Stand then started blasting bombs and Donnelley’s concentration was destroyed after which he got out. Merchant was very severe on the spectators. He said, “I feel ashamed to call myself an Indian. Is this the way to treat a guest? There he was giving a fantastic display of batsmanship and our youngsters should have taken lessons watching that.

I used to follow news about Vijaya Merchant now and then and also about his service to the community. I was deeply impressed about his personal discipline. In 1946 he went to England under Nawab of Pataudi Senior. That was one of the wettest summers and those days tours used to be long. It used to start in Worcestershire and go on for three months. Merchant scored seven centuries. It was tremendous. Have you met and talked to him?

GAV: Oh yes.

GV: Would you like tell us something about this great man? He is one of the legends as far as India is concerned, in character and discipline. I salute him.

GAV: Absolutely. According to those who have seen Indian cricket from 1932, he is India’s most technically accomplished batsman.

GV: I have seen him a few times there is no doubt about it.

His second innings -Vijay Merchant at a leprosy campGAV: And the closest after that, really, has been Sachin Tendukar in terms of technical perfection. Late Vijay Bhai [Merchant] said that his second innings in life was better than his first innings, which was cricket. His second innings in life was, as you said, service to community. He was the Head of the National Association for the Blind. He was a great philanthropist. He did plenty of charity work. He cherished that innings, that part of his life much more than his cricketing part. As a cricketer he was an inspiration. I grew up hearing stories about Vijay Merchant , Vijay Hazare, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar. These were inspirational figures to all of us particularly Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare, because they used to score not just hundreds but double hundreds and few triple hundreds, much in the manner of Sir Don Bradman. Because they were Indians they were far more inspirational than say Sir Don Bradman who of course was the greatest middle order batsman that the world has seen. Being a Bombayite I did interact with late Vijay Bhai quite a few times,Don followed a thorough discipline thanks to my maternal uncle Madhava Mantri.

GV: Madhav Mantri was your uncle?

GAV: Yes, my mother’s elder brother. He had played for India in about four Test matches.

GV: If I am not mistaken, he used to open with K. C. Ibrahim for Bombay ?

GAV: Yes, correct for Mumbai. It is absolutely correct. So I had occasion to meet Vijay Merchant and it was always fascinating to hear him talk about the game of cricket, though at that stage he was more into his second innings, which was more of charity work. He was the one who actually picked me for the tour to West Indies in 1971 although I had not played much of first class cricket by that time. I think I had played just half a dozen first class matches. He was the one who said that I am to be picked. On the eve of the tour he met all of us, because he was the Chairman of the Indian Selection Committee then. He met the entire team before the departure. At that meeting he was telling what he expected of the team in terms of performance etc., and how he would expect us to conduct ourselves off the field. After that he turned round and said to everybody - I was the baby of the team, I was youngest member of the team. He said, “I won’t be surprised if Sunil comes back as the best batsman of the tour.” To hear India’s greatest batsman say something like that was bit of a jolt and fortunately, more than putting pressure on me, just inspired me.

GV: This prompts me to ask an important question. There are always people who inspire. But it looks like the nature of the people who inspire has changed. In those days, they were great not only in terms of their professional ability, but they had great character and discipline. Anybody whom you admired inevitably had those things. These days, things seem to have changed. Modern heroes are people who are rich, famous and talented but lack the fundamental foundation namely, character. Is that true or am I mistaken?

GAV: Not entirely true. I think there are wrong conceptions, and mis-conceptions about some people but generally you will find, at least in the sporting arena, there is a lot of hard work that goes behind a success story. Success doesn’t come easily. There are lots of sacrifices which a sports person makes which are not generally seen by the public. Particularly in cricket, because cricket has got a lot of commercial advantages over other sports. Because of the spin-offs in terms of endorsement opportunities and fees etc., the standard of living of a particular person improves. I think that is perhaps noticed more than the hard work and sacrifices that went into achieving that success level. What happened before fame was achieved goes unnoticed because the person was not as well known at that time as he was after success.

GV: True, sacrifice is there obviously; otherwise you don’t rise to the top. But there are certain manifestations of behaviour on the field which make you ache for the old days when such things didn’t happen.

GAV: Yes I think there is more aggression in behaviour.

GV: Arguing with umpires and trying to disturb the coolness of the batsman. If you want to dislodge a batsman, bowl well.

GAV: That is exactly what I keep saying. Recently I had the occasion to deliver the Spirit of Cricket Lecture at Lords in London. I did emphasise on this particular point.

GV: To whom did you deliver this lecture?

GAV: I delivered it to the M.C.C., a Cricket Club at Lords in London. There always has been a bit of chat in the game of cricket, but invariably it has been good-humoured and light-hearted. Suppose I am the bowler and you are a batsman. And you played and missed; as a bowler I would some times ask, “What did you eat for breakfast today?” - you know, something like that. It was always light hearted. Lately, what has happened unfortunately is that winning at cost has become the be all and end all; as a result this particular sense of humour is gone. Instead there is now personal abuse. That is what I spoke about in my lecture. By all means play the game hard. It has always been a hard game, it has been a game where it is played with a hard ball and it can hurt when it hits you in the ribs and hits you in the gloves but there are limits to liberties in decorum.

In earlier days it has always been played fair. I give the example of the West Indian fast bowlers who have been fearsome but they have never said a word to the opponent; just went on with their business. They may give you a glare, which is perfectly all right because they want to put the fear into you but they never abused you. These are people who have taken 200, 300 wickets in test cricket. So I don’t see the reason why others should resort to personal abuse. A little bit of chat is fine; I have no problems with good-humoured chat, but not personal abuse.

Organising the Unity Cup at Prasanthi NilayamGV: I am very glad your about remarks on the way the game must be played. It reminds me of the observation you made at the conclusion of the Unity Cup match to which we shall come presently. You said that in any game there are winners and losers but at the end of the day what matters is how you played the game. I have never forgotten that remark of yours.

Let me now turn to some great personalities; inevitably I have to come to Don Bradman who for all of us will remain Don in spite of your centuries! You are, shall I say No.2 in the list? Don is Don. I am sure it is so for you because I have seen lot of his books in your house. Did you ever meet him?

GAV: Oh yes.

GV: Why don’t you us tell something about that?

GAV: I met him first in 1971 when I was part of the Rest of the World team. The South African tour to AustraliaWith Swami on the day of the match was cancelled because of South Africa’s apartheid policy then. So it was Don Bradman, as the Chairman of the Australian Cricket Board who actually organised for the Rest of the World team to come and play in Australia.

GV: I see.

GAV: He picked me in that Rest of the World squad. I had the occasion to meet him several times on that tour because he was travelling for every match. There was one memorable instance. In those days there were no aero bridges; you just got off from the plane onto the tarmac and did not go directly into the arrival lounge. Australia is a big country and in those days there were mostly hopping flights. We were on our way to Melbourne and our plane stopped at Adelaide [Don’s hometown] and he came to see us. He was talking to Sir Gary Sobers, of whom he was extremely fond. Gary was the Captain of our team; Don greeted him and said, “Where is that little fellow from Bombay? I want to see him.” He then came round and introduced himself and I was absolutely flabbergasted to meet him. That was the first time I met him. He was asking me how things were and all that. Suddenly Sobers saw us and he came. Sir Don Bradman was not very tall, 5’6” or 5’7” at the most. Gary saw the two of us a little away from the rest of the group and talking and he said, “You little fellows, you must always get together, is it?” Sir Don Bradman quietly turned to me and said, “These big fellows might have the power but we little fellows have foot work.” (laughter).

GV: Fantastic, amazing. I think that is a great story. Now what was it about Bradman that impressed you most as an individual, apart from his legendary scores?

GAV: I think straight away when you met him you realise the passion he had for the game, for all the aspects of the game. He was passionate about the game being more important than the individual. He was very very concerned even at that stage that there were certain aspects of Australian cricket, which were degenerating a little bit. But his passion for the development of the game and his interest in players covered all countries.

GV: Do you know anything about his attitude to discipline?

GAV: No, unfortunately not.

GV: There are a few things that impressed me to the extent that I can recall from his book which he wrote when he retired. I don’t remember the title but a few things there impressed me. Don led the Aussies for the last time when they went to England in 1948. The trip was made by ship and not by air; that was the way it was in those days. Apparently Don made sure that Lindwall and Miller, the two Australian opening bowlers shared the same cabin room in the ship; he wanted them to know each other very well. It takes about three weeks to go from Australia to England by boat. That was one thing that struck me. He never left anything to chance. Some critics said that he didn’t even allow the players a free hand in the match against T.N.Pearce’s Eleven, even though it was a festival match. He wanted to win every match. That is how committed he was to discipline, thorough planning, and professionalism.
The other thing that impressed me was he forbade Australians from playing golf, an order, which they hated. Apparently he said golf encourages cross-bat shots. I wouldn’t know about that but as a cricketer you would probably appreciate that much more.

Above all, I liked the thoroughness of planning. One other thing I remember is, during the sea voyage, he made his team-mates sign their names on lots of slips. He told them, “When we travel across England, there would be lots of requests for autographs and in the ship you have a lot of time. Just spend time by doing this.”

One more thing. The England tour was not only long but also very strenuous. There were a lot of speeches to make during the tour but no time to prepare for them. As a captain of the visiting team he was supposed to make speeches. He knew all the counties, and he made notes for all of them and kept them ready, so that when the occasion arose, he did not have to stand on his feet and scratch his head wondering, “What do I say?” I was just amazed.

GAV: Yes, I understand he was a terrific after-dinner speaker. In those days there used to be a function, a dinner, in every county you played. It is not the case now. Nowadays you possibly have utmost two official functions, one by the host association and one by another agency. If you are touring England, one will be by England and Wales Cricket Board and one by M. C. C. If you are travelling in Australia, one will be by the Australian Cricket Board and there may be one reception by the Indian High Commissioner; but the number of functions has gone down. In any case, it is the visiting manager who speaks, not the Captain. Don was apparently a wonderful speaker.

GV: The other thing that I remember was how careful he was with his batting. If he was ‘not out’ at lunch, he would come 15 minutes before and sit in the ground to get his eyes used to the light. Most people get out after lunch for the simple reason that when they come out from dark lunch room to bright sun light, their eyes are not able to adjust. I was amazed and said to myself: my God! This man is so thorough.

GAV: You are right about the eyes getting adjusted to the light factor. It is an important matter because dressing rooms are dark, particularly in England where the light is not always as bright as over here in India. So it did make a difference in getting used to the light.

GV: What I admired was his commitment, his passion and deep involvement. Those are very necessary. In the evening after the game was over while everybody else was apparently down in the bar or in a club, he would be sitting in his room listening to a Gramophone record, to some classical music.

GAV: Yes, That I have heard too.

GV: I now want to come to the great event you organised, which is almost one off. It belongs to the last century in a manner of speaking, an event in which I played a peripheral role. I am referring to the great UNITY CUP MATCH. Tell us all you know about it.

GAV: I would say it was a real privilege to organise the match.

GV: How did it all start?

GAV: Swami in one of His interactions said that He wanted to spread the message of brotherhood and unity amongst everybody in the world through sport. Because cricket is such a big game in our country and in our part of the world, He wanted to have a cricket match. Once Swami gave the go ahead for the match, the preparations started in earnest, right from making sure that the ground was in tip- top condition.

GV: We had no ground before the match.

GAV: Yes, there was no ground. Everything had to be done from scratch virtually. Swami was more keen about the pitch; He was keen about a good pitch because He did not want any injuries. If the quality of the pitch is not good, the quality of the game also will not be good. Prasanna was put in charge of making sure the pitch and the outfield were good. I was given the responsibility of making sure that the players were invited. Swami was keen to have players from all over the world, particularly Pakistan. When I approached the Pakistani players, I wanted to make sure that there was no last minute confusion because of the fact they believe in Islam. I explained to them that you are coming to a place that does not make distinctions between religions and where all religions are given equal respect. They were happy to come. We had four Pakistani players, two current players and two former players.

GV: Yes, I remember about the ex-players, Zahir Abbas and Hanif Mohammad, whom you introduced as the original little master. What surprised me was Hanif got up during the closing ceremony and said a few words, which was not in the scheduled program. He was not a scheduled speaker, according to what we knew.

GAV: That is right. Those were my responsibilities, to ensure we had a proper world eleven. Also the fact Arjuna Ranathunga also is a devotee of Swami. He comes often. He was a big help. He was helpful in getting some of the Srilankan players.

GV: And Kallicharan.

GAV: Yes, Kallicharan was there. From the Indian side, Sachin Tendulkar was the captain of the Indian team then and he was very keen to play this game. Very eager to come down and play.

GV: We have a photo Swami talking intimately to Sachin, with His hand on his back.

GAV: I will you tell you in a short while about what Sachin wanted to know from Swami. Sachin was very keen to play this game. That is how the match materialised.

GV: You have any memorable experiences associated with that match which you would like to share with us?

GAV: Yes, the one concerning Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin at that stage was under pressure as far as his captaincy was concerned. There was a lot of talk that it was affecting his batting and so he actually wanted to ask Swami what he should do. Whether he should carry on with captaincy or not?

GV: Just as you had similar problem.

GAV: Yes, he kept telling me, “Can I meet Swami for two minutes?” I said, “I will certainly try; I will speak to Swami if I get a chance.” He went out into the field. After every two deliveries he was looking back, because Swami was sitting there. He was checking to see if there was any signal from me. When I managed to get an opportunity to talk to Swami, I said, “Swami, Sachin wants to come and speak with you for some time.” Swami said ‘Wait ,Wait’. Swami also realised that He cannot all of a sudden ask Indian captain from the field to come out. So at the drinks interval, Swami said now you can ask him. Then it was without any interruption of play. So Sachin came leaving a substitute and sat next to Swami. I think he had a chat with Swami during which Swami said, I believe, that: “Don’t worry, whatever you do I am with you.” Every body over there who were present at the match remembers Swami patting him on his back and encouraging him. We all know the fantastic season that Sachin had after that.

GV: My most memorable memory - I have a lot of memories but I won’t tax you with them - but listeners ought to know about this one. It is a very pleasant memory of the conversation I had with Zahir Abbas during lunchtime. I was the Vice Chancellor at that time. I had to make sure that we played the host properly. Zahir was tremendously impressed with the way our boys were taking care of the guests. He asked me a lot questions about our Institute and the way we train our boys. I was very proud. It was my proudest moment. You feel proud when your boys get praised. They did a fantastic job. In fact I felt very miserable that day because I couldn’t see the game. I have not seen a cricket match for donkeys years and here was a great game taking place and I was running around all the time. I could not see it and I felt miserable. Then I found that I was not alone. Thousand boys were feeling miserable because they could not see the game! But they didn’t show it whereas I showed it. They were all doing their duty. It was wonderful and absolutely marvellous.

GAV: It was a very well organised. The Cricket Board officials were also here. In fact one of the suggestions made at that stage was, just like all over the world, they have a tour opener, like in Australia when you go they play near Western Australia - it is a one day game that is played in Western Australia. Similarly whenever touring teams come to India they should come and play the tour opener here at Puttaparthi. If Swami OKs that would happen.

GV: Who knows! But we do look forward to the day when cricket would have more of character and less of commercialism. I do hope the speech you made at Lords would make its impact and that we would return, at least partially, to good old days. Before we sign off I would like to recall what you mentioned at the time when Swami gave away the cup to Sachin Tendulkar. You said, if I remember correctly, that Sachin had exceeded his performance on the ground by a great weight lifting performance because the cup was so heavy! I was also impressed with Clive Lloyd’s speech. He said talent is a gift of God and we must offer it back to God. I was just stunned. I have quoted that any number of times to my students. This is sentence straight from Bhagavad Gita. I am sure this man had never heard of the Gita. But he was able to say what he did because God is in his heart, just as He is in the heart of everyone.

Many years ago I was speaking in Trayee Brindavan, when I recalled this particular incident and said, “Talent is a gift of God”. Swami stopped me, looked at me straight me and said, “Talent is not gift of God”. I wondered, “Oh my God, where did I go wrong!” Just then Swami said, “Talent IS God”! That takes matters to a still higher level. Talent is a manifestation of God. Then I remembered what Krishna says in the tenth chapter. He says among the senses I am the mind, so mind is God. Power of mind is God because with the mind you can do fantastic things. We just don’t spend two minutes thinking about all the things that the human beings have done. That is all the power of mind. If only we think about it that way, life would turn around to better days.

So my request to you, Sir, is: please do advise our younger people as much as you can about the value of sports as a builder of character. I would let you have the last word by telling to our young listeners, particularly, about reaching God through sports. But before that I must tell you something. There was a pole vault Olympic champion way back in 1948 in the London Olympics. I don’t remember his full name; his first name was BOB. I saw him in Mysore, and he had become a preacher by then. He was giving pole vault demonstration. He said, “I have been described as the only preacher who is trying to go to heaven on the strength of his own by jumping!” So why don’t you tell us our young listeners something about what you would like them to do, how to follow Swami and through the medium of sports and develop their personality and character. Over to you Sir!

GAV: I think sport is something where you want to be a winner all the time but if it does not teach you how to accept defeat then you are the biggest loser. I think you learn to win with humility, learn to win with grace and accept defeat with humility with a desire to improve, make yourself a winner the next time that you are playing. But most importantly, if you play the sport as it is meant to be played, then whether you win or loose it really will not matter to you so long as you know in your heart of hearts that you have given off your best. It is not the question of an individual’s ego but it is a question of trying to do the best with the talent that one has inherited. Sport teaches you, quite frankly, what is right and what is wrong. In cricket, for example, there is that word “it is not cricket” which is so important. It has been used in everyday life as well. That phrase actually tells you what the game of cricket used to be in the old days. It is still possible to come back to that. We are not too far way. We have gone a bit away from that but it is possible to get to that. Remember at the end of it all, that whatever one achieves on the field of sport, whether in indoor sport or outdoor sport, your self confidence, your ability to think yourself out of a difficult situation that arise in sport and life is actually an ability given by God. So do not ever forget God.

GV: And do not ever give up.

GAV: Yes, do not ever give up.

GV: Thank you. I won’t say goodbye. I look forward to having you here again and again because it is so nice to talk to you. You must be having lots of stories and incidents to recall. But one point; next time you come, you bring Sachin Tendulkar along with you!

GAV: Yes. Unfortunately, the schedule of the Indian team is so tight that there is hardly any time for them. It will certainly be my endeavour to bring Sachin and as many as the Indian team to come down here. I know Rahul Dravid also went to seek Swami’s blessings.

GV: Yes, I saw him in Bangalore just before he got married.

GAV: There are any numbers of Indian cricketers who are Sai devotees. Swami is there to guide them to look after them.

GV: Thank you, it had been a pleasure having you here with us. Please come again. Jai Sairam

GAV: Thank you, Sairam


Volume - 2 Issue - 17 Radiosai Journal - PSN 2004