PARTAB RAMCHAND | 21 JANUARY, 2019
In the initial years of Test cricket not surprisingly it were the Englishmen and Australians who were the highest run getters. When they played their last Test together in 1912 Victor Trumper and Clem Hill were the top two run getters with just over 3000 runs in Tests.
Obviously this could not last long and about a decade later Jack Hobbs became the first to score 4000 runs. The master batsman from England was also the first to cross the 5000 run barrier and when he retired in 1930 he was with an aggregate of 5410 the highest run getter.
It was another Englishman Walter Hammond who overtook Hobbs in the thirties. He became the first to score 6000 and 7000 runs and when he called it a day in 1947 his tally was 7249. That seemed imposing enough and even with the proliferation of Test cricket it took a long time to go overboard with England;s Colin Cowdrey being the new man at the top in 1970. He did not stay there for long however for in 1972 Gary Sobers overtook his tally and then a couple of years later raised the bar to 8000 finishing with 8032 runs from 93 Tests.
But while the major record changed hands between England, Australia and West Indies Indians were nowhere in the picture. Polly Umrigar for long held the Indian record with 3631 runs from 59 Tests when he retired in 1962 but it was not until Sunil Gavaskar burst upon the scene and then established himself as a world class opening batsman with an insatiable appetite for runs and big scores did there emerge someone with a chance to get anywhere near the peak.
Through the 70s and early 80s he first broke Umrigar’s record and then went past the 4000, 5000 and 6000 run marks. But before Gavaskar could get a crack at the record Geoff Boycott overtook Sobers’ tally and when he played his last Test in January 1982 he had amassed 8114 runs.
A year after this Gavaskar crossed 7000 runs. At 33 he was reckoned to have a good chance to surpass Boycott and from here on his every score was followed with more than passing interest around the cricketing world and especially in India. In the meantime his century tally too was going up and at the start of 1983 he had notched up 25 three figure knocks bringing him within striking distance of Don Bradman’s long standing record of 29.
Through 1983 the runs and the centuries were notched up. First there was hundred No 26 which put him alongside Sobert’s tally and within a couple of months there arrived hundred No 27 which made him second. to Bradman. In the meantime his run tally crept past the 7500 run mark and the suspense was now terrific. As the 1983-84 season commenced every cricket fan sensed Gavaskar had an opportunity to go past both records for India had eight Tests against Pakistan and West Indies.
Century No 28 duly arrived against Pakistan even as the run tally crept towards the 8000 mark. And at Ahmedabad against West Indies in November that year Gavaskar playing his 96th match finally stood at the peak – the first time an Indian became the leading run getter in Test cricket. In the previous match at New Delhi he had equaled Bradman’s record of 29 hundreds also becoming the third after Boycott and Sobers to cross the 8000 run mark. But the feat of becoming the leading run getter in Test cricket was something very special and was duly hailed all over the cricketing world. In India of course he was elevated to the status of a cricketing god.
By the end of the series against West Indies Gavaskar went past Bradman getting his 30th hundred. Later on of course he was the first to get past 9000 runs and then interestingly enough again at Ahmedabad in March 1987 was the first to cross the magical figure of 10,000 runs in Test cricket. But even among his numerous feats the fact that he was the first Indian to become the leading run getter in Tests has to be somewhere near the top and one of the most historic achievements in Indian cricket.