“The last innings of GR Viswanath at the Eden Gardens. The last time his name was on that famous scoreboard. And the entire knock lasted just one ball”.
His days were numbered.
Thirteen years ago, on this very ground, he had conquered the pace of Andy Roberts.
His nifty footwork and wristy strokeplay had enthralled the cricket connoisseurs and romantics all these years.
But, now, as an ill-maintained 38 with a well-known fondness for the amber liquid, he was dragging his feet to the unglorified end of a sparkling career.
After a few years of vain attempts at recovering the magic, he was now on his way out.
Indeed, Gundappa Viswanath had even played a match for the Indian Veterans against the Pakistan counterparts a few days earlier. He had registered a blob against his name.
This was definitely his final domestic One Day game. Or List A as it would be commonly known later on. And he would go on to play just one more First-Class match, the pre-quarter final against Bombay at the Wankhede a week later. He would fall to another veteran, Padmakar Shivalkar, for just 13.
But that would have to wait.
The Wills Trophy Final, held at the end of a busy Indian season, had not exactly filled the stands, but there were a number of people who had come to the Eden Gardens that Sunday. It was a game between the Board’s President’s XI and Karnataka, with not a local player in contention. But, there were several who knew it might be their last opportunity to catch Viswanath in action. They had come in wishing that the stalwart would turn the clock back one last time, regale them with those square cuts and flicks.
Among the few thousand hopefuls had been yours truly, having just stepped into his teens.
The morning had, however, given an indication that time had moved on. The era belonged to others. Board President’s XI had batted. Viswanath had been on the ground as long as a slip had been stationed. As the field spread after the early overs, his rather bulky frame had trudged off, making for the cool confines of the dressing room as a younger, fitter substitute had taken his place on the field.
If the assembled crowd was looking for classy batting, that was on offer in plenty. WV Raman was just 22, and in the form of his life. His left-handed batting was a delight that day, with crisp drives and glides, finding the gaps ever so easily. Shrikant Kalyani was one of the domestic giants, and he stroked the ball handsomely through the Board President’s innings. Walking out to face only the final ball of the innings, young Robin Singh dispatched it into the stands behind widish-midwicket.
The 249-run target from 47 overs was steep, and the searching spell by Rashid Patel did not really make it easier for Roger Binny’s men. At the other end, Ajay Sharma was proving difficult to get away. Karnataka were struggling.
And when PV Shashikanth was runout, the second wicket to fall with the score having just limped past 50, Viswanath walked out to bat, welcomed with every bit of enthusiasm, cheer and energetic clapping.
A buzz of expectation went around as he made his way to the wicket.
There was the characteristic look around, the gathering of thoughts as he took guard, and the endearing way in which he looked up to face the bowler.
It was Rashid Patel who ran in. Left arm, nippy, rather quick by Indian standards of the late 1980s. He would make it to the Test team next season.
The ball was just a bit short of length, and outside the off-stump. The familiar shift of weight was in view. Viswanath’s flashing willow executed the famous square cut that had over the years gave rise to so many memories and repeated tales of romance.
But the result was not what the legendary batsman desired, certainly not what the crowd wanted. The connection was made with the thick inside edge. The ball rocketed off the bat and hit the off and middle.
A hush descended on the crowd.
The last innings of GR Viswanath at the Eden Gardens. The last time his name was on that famous scoreboard.
And the entire knock lasted just one ball.
Viswanath turned and walked back, his eyes scrutinising his toes. Gasps and expressions of disappointment from the stands, a couple of swear words floated in. Traditional Eden.
However, at last, better senses prevailed. The thick gathering in the Club House got on their feet and cheered the man back for one last time. Weak, faint echo of the heyday when he had come back to the pavilion after conquering Andy Roberts in 1974-75.
The man did not even look up as he disappeared into the dressing room.
The ones who remained after that moment were witness to the anti-climax of Karnataka batsmen struggling against Ajay Sharma. The Kiran More-led Board President’s XI won with plenty to spare.
But, one line in the scorecard still rankles, eloquent in spite of the nothingness in the last column. The last knock at Eden by the man who had conquered the hearts of the city.
GR Viswanath b Rashid Patel 0!
Sports never owe anyone a happy ending.